Proms 2012: looking forward

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Having largely ignored the hype and hullabaloo surrounding the launch of this year’s Proms season, my concert guide arrived this morning and so i’ve finally taken a proper look at what lies ahead; it promises to be an interesting and, at times, exciting experience. Once again the season will begin with a new work, this time by Mark-Anthony Turnage, and i for one can only hope he’s not been listening to any R‘n’B lately. Beyond this, the number of world premières is considerable, and i’ll be particularly looking forward to those by Benedict Mason, Charlotte Bray, Elaine Agnew, Bob Chilcott, and Simon Bainbridge; new works by Fung Lam, Julian Philips, Nicole Lizée, Thea Musgrave, James MacMillan, Tim Garland, Brian Elias, Gavin Higgins, Gavin Bryars, Helen Grime, Eric Whitacre and Mark Simpson will also be receiving their first performances. A diverse list indeed, but it’s the UK premières i’m more excited about, especially the works by Kaija Saariaho, Per Nørgård, Harrison Birtwistle, Olga Neuwirth and Michael Finnissy. In fact, the concert featuring Finnissy’s Piano Concerto No. 2, given by the Britten Sinfonia and also including the Birtwistle and Elias premières, plus Brian Ferneyhough’s Prometheus, may just turn out to be the highlight of the whole season.

As usual, all these premières will be featured on 5:4, but aside from the new pieces Daniel Barenboim will be presenting six works by Pierre Boulez during the first half of the season (as a curious counterpart to his Beethoven symphony series), and the centenary of John Cage’s birth will be marked with a large-scale concert in his honour, including that most excellent of choirs, EXAUDI. Having pulled out all the stops last year in resurrecting Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony, Proms director Roger Wright has gone even further this year with performances of two of the largest works ever written, BerliozRequiem and Schoenberg‘s ravishing Gurrelieder (the cost of this year’s season must be truly eye-watering).

So, lots to look forward to, and it all kicks off on 13 July.

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Proms 2011: Peter Maxwell Davies – Musica benevolens (World Première)

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The 2011 Proms season began with a première, and the last night began with one too, a concert-raiser from Master of the Queen’s Music Peter Maxwell Davies titled Musica benevolens, the title of which tips the hat at the work’s commissioners, the Musicians Benevolent Fund. It was performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra with the BBC Symphony Chorus, joined by the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Household Division, all conducted by Edward Gardner. The concert programme indicated Max’s piece would last 4 minutes; one can only wish that had been the case. Read more

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Proms 2011: Harrison Birtwistle – Concerto for Violin & Orchestra (UK Première)

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As already noted, this year’s Proms season has seen an abundance of new concertos, the last and most substantial of which was given its UK première on 7 September: the Concerto for Violin & Orchestra by Harrison Birtwistle. Birtwistle wrote the work for soloist Christian Tetzlaff, who gave the first performance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra earlier in the year; on this occasion he was joined by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Robertson. Read more

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Proms 2011: Thierry Escaich – Evocation III (UK Première)

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Thierry Escaich‘s recital on 4 September brought to a close the contribution of the organ to the new music at this year’s Proms (preceded by Michael Berkeley’s Organ Concerto and Stephen Farr’s recital at the start of the season). Escaich’s programme included much familiar fare—Reger, Franck, Liszt—in addition to an example of the rather tiresome party favourite beloved of so many organists these days, improvisations “in the style of” other composers. Fran(c)kly, this kind of escapade does no-one any favours, and Escaich was on much more certain and meaningful ground in the UK première of his own Evocation III, a short work based on the 16th century Lutheran chorale, ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland’ (“Now come, Saviour of the Gentiles”). Read more

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Proms 2011: Michael Berkeley – Organ Concerto

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The Prom concert on the evening of 3 September included a performance of Michael Berkeley‘s rarely-heard Organ Concerto, performed by David Goode with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. There are few British composers who seem to be so centrally connected to the world of music than Michael Berkeley. Son of Lennox, godson of Britten, Berkeley is arguably best known to many through his broadcasting work on television and radio, although as a composer he’s charted an interesting, if at times, quizzical path. The reason i mention the sense of interconnection projected from Berkeley’s cultural persona is because it’s often struck me that his compositional voice doesn’t so much bubble up from within, but appears to be forged from notions, ideas, mannerisms and traits from a plethora of other composers. That’s not intended as a negative criticism at all; on the contrary, in his best music, Berkeley, far from being a ‘stylistic magpie’, comes across as a sort of æsthetic impresario, in the process generating something quite unique irrespective of the apparently disparate nature of its sources. Read more

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Proms 2011: John Tavener – Popule meus (UK Première)

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Right, where were we? Saturday 3 September brought the last of the Proms’ Matinee concerts from the Cadogan Hall, each of which has featured contemporary music prominently. This final occasion was no exception, including works by Tippett and Sofia Gubaidulina, and presenting the first UK performance of John Tavener‘s Popule meus. The work bears a similarity to one of Tavener’s most well-known pieces, The Protecting Veil, also scored for solo cello and strings, augmented here by a prominent role for timpani; it was performed by the Britten Sinfonia with the solo part taken by Natalie Clein. Tavener’s title, Popule meus (‘O my people’), is a reference to the Reproaches, one of the most poignant texts to be sung during Holy Week, in which God puts humanity on the spot about their wholesale rejection of Him. It takes place at a time of great solemnity on Good Friday, and becomes one of the most challenging moments in the Christian year. As such, it is in every way the complete opposite of Tavener’s piece, which strives for tragedy, but ends up merely tragic. Read more

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Proms 2011: Graham Fitkin – L & Cello Concerto (World Première)

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The music of Graham Fitkin has been featured twice this week at the Proms, both occasions in the hands of cellist Yo-Yo Ma. First came L, a work for cello and piano composed for Ma’s 50th birthday (commissioned by Kathryn Stott, who accompanied the performance), while this evening’s Prom brought the world première of Fitkin’s Cello Concerto. Read more

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