Thursday, 19 April 2018

Tickbox Triumph - BBC Proms 2018

A fake antique ! An early postacrd revived as Shell ad in the 1970's.

Proms planners these days pride themselves on working by formula. This year, it seems, they're working by robot, planning by tick box, not musical input. Lots of good enough things, though none of the flair there once was.  The First Night of the Proms (13/7) will be wonderful - big choral and orchestral British masterpieces - with Ralph Vaughan Williams Towards the Unknown Region and Gustav Holsts's The Planets with the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, the BBC Symphony Chorus, the BBC Proms Youth Ensemble, the BBCSO and Sakari Oramo . Sure to be a rousing evening. But Anna Meredith's 59 Productions comes after the interval. It's only 22 minutes and so no matter how good it is, the concert's lop sided. But the boxes are ticked - British, women composers, new music, rather than thinking how best to present the music, as music.

The First Night for more challenging music will be Prom 5, with Debussy Pelléas et Mélisande , fresh from Glyndebourne.  Glyndebourne does things well, as music.  Pity the ethos isn't carrying through to the rest of the Proms.  The next night, another good programme, Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony, music so thrilling that it wows everyone, whether they like music or not, and with Oramo/BBCSO, it will be stunning. It's marketed with Gershwin An American in Paris, a valid connection but not the most inspired.  Personally I'm thrilled that Prom 8 (20/7) will feature Morfydd Owen's nocturne. Owen was an extraordinarily gifted Welsh composer, who died young, in 1918. (Please read what I've written about her here).  Music by young musicians is interesting, but a whole programme isn't necessarily the way to showcase them best.

Mahler's Symphony no 8, (22/7 ) with Thomas Søndergård and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, with good singers, will be a big draw.  Mahler 8 is always something to experience. The tag "Symphony of a Thousand" was created by marketeers selling tickets for the premiere, not by Mahler himself.  It is a curse, conditioning audiences to root for quantity rather than quality, for excess, not spirituality or musical finesse.  

More British music on (27/7), Hubert Parry's Symphony no 5, with Vaughan Williams's Symphony no 6 and Holst's Ode to Death. It's the anniversary of Parry's death, get it ?  But it's a good programme and with Martyn Brabbins conducting this is going to be a Prom to remember.  One of my musts this year.  Two London Symphoniues (31/7) Haydn Symphony no 104 with Vaughan Williams Symphony no 2, Andrew Manze conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony.  August sees a parade of well known orchestras, conductors and repertoire. Many good things there, showing that music is alive and well in the real world of performance.  I'm keen on Per Nørgård, Bergen and Bychkov's Stravinsky. At least the Proms provide a platform for worldwide broadcast. 

Things liven up in September, the last week of the Proms when the mega stars arrive.  The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, with Kirill Petrenko does Dukas, Prokofiev and Franz Schmidt on  1/9, then Richard Strauss tone poems and Beethoven Symphony no 7 on 2/9. The Berliners are everyone's "local band" thanks to Digital Concert Hall, but there's nothing like hearing them live.  Andris Nelsons returns on 3/9 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Bernstein and Shostakovich.  On 5/9, another "must", when John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Orchestra Révolutionnaires et Romantiques in a Berlioz programme featuring extracts from Les Troyens and Joyce DiDonato sings La mort de Cléopatre.  Jonathan Cohen conducts Arcangelo in Handel Theodora on 7/7. 

Andrew Davis conducts the Last Night of the Proms on 8/9 with Gerald Finley as star turn.  Parry's Blest Pair of Sirens, Stanford Songs of the Sea and Roxanna Panufnik  Songs of Darkness, Dreams and Light plus the usual jolly fare.

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