Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Proms by Algorithm - BBC Proms 2019

BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall - photo : Chris Christodoulou, courtesy Royal Albert Hall

What has happened to the BBC Proms ? Was the 2019 season devised by algorithm ?  BBC and Proms management venerate formula, but formula is no substitute for vision.   When David Pickard took over as Proms Director,  many hoped that he'd be able to stem the dumbing down of BBC Radio 3. But perhaps he's caught the virus.  Sir Henry Wood believed that audieces could rise to the challenge of good music.  Now it seems that music is no more than an excuse to sell tickets to audiences who want "the music experience" as opposed to music itself. Proms-by-Algorithm isn't music.  The BBC's own research has shown that the obsession with attracting "new" audiences doesn't develop the market. Indeed, it drives away the core audience.  On the plus side that means those of us who used to go to Prom after Prom each year can now save time and money ! Nearly everything will be broadcast.

Musicians, however, will save the day. Good musicians can't produce pap and live with themselves.  We can always rely on Bernard Haitink and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, whatever they're doing (Bruckner 7, 3rd September). Daniel Harding and the Orchestre de Paris (Beethoven 6, 26th August) and Andris Nelsons and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (Bach and Bruckner 8, 23rd August).   There's also Mariss Jansons, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (30 and 31st July),and Myun-whun Chung and Staatskapelle Dresden (5th September) in Brahms and Rachmaninov), Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonc (two programmes  - Mahler 4, Tchaikovsky, Schubert and Smetana), Mariss Jansons, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (30 and 31st July).  Perhaps my top choice will be John Eliot Gardiner Berlioz Benvenuto Cellini with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and a great cast (Monday 2nd September). 

Some of the less obvious choices are interesting because the programes are planned by musical minds : Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra are doing a really daring Prom on 20th August - Charles Koechlin : Les Bandar-log, Edgard Varèse Amériques and William Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, which has been done many times but rarely in such context ! Also, less well known repertoire : Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in the London premiere of Mieczysław Weinberg Symphony no 3 (22nd August). Weinberg's Cello Concerto gets its London premiere, too, with  Sol Gabetta and the BBC Symphony Orchestra with their new principal Guest conductor Dalia Stasevska.

This year's First Night of the Proms (19th July) features Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, with a good partly Czech cast and Asmik Grigorian, Karina Canellakis conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The Glagolitic Mass is spectacular and has been done several times in recent years, but my preference would be for the Second Night programme on 20th July, with Jakub Hrůša and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, doing Smetana Má vlast and Antonín Dvořák Violin Concerto in A minor (Joshua Bell). Also interesting Christine Goerke's Wagner Prom (9th September with Marc Albrecht and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Olivier Latry, organiste titulaire of Notre Dame Cathedral,  back in London after 10 years on Sunday 4th August at 11 am. 

As always lots of British and BBC Orchestras - lots of Sakari Oramo, Vladimir Jurowski all-Russian Prom 17th August, Andrew Davis, Edward Gardner, Thomas Dausgaard, John Storgårds and many others. So very little that's outstanding and unusual, but enough solid fare, thanks toi the musicians who are performing.

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