i’m not around much at the moment, so there’ll be a short general pause on 5:4. The Proms articles will continue when i’m back, but in the meantime, i’ve set up polls for the recent Proms premières, so the votes can keep coming in. The dedicated Proms 2012 polls page can be found here—get voting!
Wednesday’s Prom concert featured a new work from James Macmillan, a setting of the Creed from the liturgy of the Mass. Composers rarely set the Creed to music, not, i think, simply because it’s such a long & convoluted text (although it is, & this may also in part account for the dearth of contemporary Te Deums). What makes the Creed so different from the rest of the liturgy is its shift of emphasis away from God, focussing instead on oneself. “I believe” are its opening words, & all that follows embeds that personal belief into each of the facets that form the firmament of the Christian faith. So maybe its deep, direct expression of something so personal as faith may cause both composers & audiences to shy away from it. That’s a concert hall thesis; within the context of the actual liturgy, the same situation arguably arises as much from the fact it’s best to allow these words to come from the congregation rather than just the choir. But this Creed is a concert work; & that fact alone is perhaps cause for some celebration. Read more
The Proms weekend devoted to youth orchestras concluded with that of Scotland, & fittingly the concert’s new work came from Edinburgh-born Thea Musgrave. She extended the theme further, choosing for her subject that most evocative of places, Loch Ness, known the world over for the mythological leviathan once purported to inhabit its depths. Read more
It’s been with no little excitement that i’ve watched the Curiosity Rover landing on Mars this week. Astronomy has been a back-burner interest of mine since i was a boy &, not surprisingly, i’ve been especially fond of the sound recordings produced by NASA from the data received by Voyagers I & II as they’ve travelled through & beyond the solar system. So i was intrigued last year to see an independent release of something called Voyager: Sounds of the Cosmos, a large-scale compilation of these NASA recordings, made available in three versions of increasing length, titled ‘Grand Tour Edition’, ‘Standard Edition’ & ‘Legacy Edition’ respectively. However, as i’ve spent more time with it, i couldn’t shake the feeling i’d heard these before, so i did some elementary investigating. It turns out—& the compiler, one Philip Graham, admits this on the Wikipedia page—that the compilation is a bootleg of earlier NASA releases, some of which are still readily available. However, new track titles have been invented & there’s also a bit of duplicity & misguidedness going on, so for the benefit of others who love these sounds as much as i do, i thought i’d just flag up the facts regarding this material, in order to make an informed choice possible.
The most ambitious of this year’s Proms premières took place yesterday afternoon: Bob Chilcott‘s 45-minute ‘environmental cantata’ The Angry Planet. Teaming up with poet Charles Bennett, Chilcott’s work was performed by the vast combined forces of three children’s choirs (from the London boroughs of Harrow, Kensington, & Chelsea & Westminster) alongside the BBC Singers, the Bach Choir & the National Youth Choir, plus soprano Laurie Ashworth—no fewer than 540 singers in all. The work falls into four movements, each of which contains several anthems; overall, the words move from dusk to dawn, exploring themes associated with environmental damage. Read more
Yesterday afternoon’s Prom brought the first performance of Dark Hedges, by the Northern Irish composer Elaine Agnew. It was given by the combined forces of the Ulster Youth Orchestra of Northern Island & the Ulster Orchestra, conducted by JoAnna Falletta, with a solo flute part played by housewives’ favourite, James Galway. Before speaking of the piece itself, it’s worth highlighting the performance, which demonstrated in startlingly vivid fashion the skill & musicianship that young players bring to new music; their playing throughout was deeply impressive. Read more
In a change to the planned schedule (due to Benedict Mason not having finished his new work meld), last Saturday’s Prom featured two UK premières, both by composers rarely heard on these shores. Difficult pieces—but for different reasons—they were given marvellously lucid performances by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Dausgaard. Read more