Right, let’s get (belatedly) cracking. For a few years, the annual Proms season began with a première, which was nice but reduced the piece (or, at least, reduced composers’ aspirations) to a mere curtain-raiser. Gary Carpenter‘s Dadaville, which received its first performance in the opening Proms concert last week, did not begin the concert (that task fell to Nielsen), but the piece would in fact have worked wonderfully well as a concert-opening overture, but one with considerable chops and ambition. Read more
All good things etc., & this year it fell to composer Anna Clyne—& the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Marin Alsop—to get underway the biggest party-masquerading-as-a-concert of them all, the Last Night of the Proms. In calling her short work Masquerade, Clyne is presumably alluding chiefly to the carnival atmosphere of a masquerade ball, an atmosphere to which her music went some way to living up to.
What is this “I”: is it my physical presence, is it the temporality in which I stand and pass away, is there an independence of my thoughts from that which I am, or is my entire being merely a fiction of me myself?
This metaphysical conundrum is the starting point for Language of Leaving by the German composer Charlotte Seither, given its world première at the Proms last Wednesday by the BBC Symphony Orchestra & BBC Singers conducted by Josep Pons. It’s a question as circular as it is taxing, subjective & strange, & Seither’s gambit is to seek a way into it via speculative music, avoiding a direct mode of expression in favour of a large tapestry of weird, fantastical sonics, equal parts humanistic, supernatural & magical. Setting a text would be impossible in a context such as this, so Seither instead uses words by Francesco de Lemene in the most oblique & intangible way, reducing them to a collection of hints, glimpses & afterthoughts.
Last Wednesday’s world première of Param Vir‘s new Proms commission, Cave of Luminous Mind, gave particular pause for thought in light of its position in the season. Twice recently we have been presented by works from composers of Indian descent (Nishat Khan & Naresh Sohal), works seeking at least in part to acknowledge the disjunct traditions of east & west, yet both composers seemed compelled not to seek a deep synthesis, but to contrive a weak symbiosis by diluting their respective sources of inspiration & tribute. Aside from these works, just once has the (holy) ghost of religion raised its head in this year’s new music (from Sofia Gubaidulina), & then in violently apocalyptic fashion. Which brings us to Cave of Luminous Mind, another of Param Vir’s works in which “Tibetan Buddhism is once again a source of inspiration […] inspired by the meditational journey towards enlightenment of the Tibetan saint Milarepa”, & which is dedicated to contemporary music’s most radical of spiritual seekers, Jonathan Harvey. On its own terms as well as in light of these preceding works, Cave of Luminous Mind was already thought-provoking even before the BBC Symphony Orchestra, under Sakari Oramo, had played a single note. Read more
Prophets, visionaries, seers, they’re an acquired taste, are they not? Often they get relegated to an idealistic niche characterised as “head in the clouds”—yet a more careful survey reveals that most luminaries are among the most earthly-wise & practical of people. This difficult-to-digest paradox coloured much of the music at yesterday’s late night Prom, which, alongside Feldman’s timeless Coptic Light, featured the UK première of Gerald Barry‘s 2009 work No other people. & the first performance of Frederic Rzewski‘s new Piano Concerto, performed by the composer with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ivan Volkov. Read more
The beauty & diversity of nature has been a recurring theme in this year’s new music at the Proms, whereas religious sentiment has been entirely absent—until, that is, last Tuesday’s performance of Sofia Gubaidulina‘s The Rider on the White Horse. Culled & reworked from her 2002 oratorio St John Easter (which, with its counterpart St John Passion, comprise Gubaidulina’s magnum opus), the work draws on imagery from the most vivid & strange book of the Bible, the Revelation to John.
It’s rare for the Proms not to feature music by Mark-Anthony Turnage (he’s only been absent from five of the last twenty seasons), & this year’s commission comes from the Royal Philharmonic Society, requesting a work to sit alongside their most famous commission, the climactically hysterical behemoth that is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. When pieces begin in such a way as this, it’s always interesting to see how the composer squirms & wriggles around the legacy to which they have been connected; in Turnage’s case, there have been somewhat mixed messages emerging, Turnage expressing both love & dismay at the Beethoven. Read more