Proms 2012: Kaija Saariaho – Laterna magica (UK Première)

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The first UK performance of Kaija Saariaho‘s 2008 work Laterna magica took place at tonight’s Prom concert in decidedly sumptuous company, Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra and Four Last Songs on one side, Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony on the other. It was a superbly-judged juxtaposition; while Saariaho’s music occupies places hard to define, nonetheless there’s often a kind of restrained opulence (i hope that’s not too strong a word) as well, lending her work a sensibility that one could almost describe as ‘Romantic’. Read more

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Proms 2012: Mark-Anthony Turnage – Canon Fever (World Première)

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The 2012 Proms season was launched this evening with the world première of a new work from Mark-Anthony Turnage. Titled Canon Fever, the piece is an unabashed concert-opener, as Turnage explains:

What constitutes a good concert opener? […] The music is irreverent; it doesn’t behave itself, it wakes the audience up. I hate well-behaved fanfares, the sort with clever little harmonic sidesteps and neat academic counterpoint. Give me messy, give me dirty. […] I wanted [Canon Fever] to be virtuosic but also slightly tongue-in-cheek and, hopefully, fizzy. […] I wanted to pack a lot in but not be too careful, so I let it spew out all over the place; there is a cascade of notes that fill up to breaking point. I could have been perverse and added metal scaffolding (brake drums and old-style hunting horns) but I wanted something useful, something that could be played by any orchestra, anywhere. (from an article in yesterday’s Guardian)

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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.

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


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


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


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