The 2011 Proms season commenced this evening with the world première of a new work from Judith Weir. Evocatively titled Stars, Night, Music and Light, Weir has drawn on three lines of text from the sixth stanza of George Herbert‘s poem ‘Man’, a poem that echoes the sentiments of Psalm 8, celebrating humankind as the apogee and centrepiece of God’s creation. Herbert’s lines are wonderfully deep, even a touch abstruse at times, but Weir’s sliver of text is beautifully simple, as is the music she’s composed for the occasion.
And an occasion this is; i’m not sure it’s an envious position in which to be, writing the piece that gets the UK’s most celebrated and well-loved music festival up and running. Getting such traditional wheels in motion no doubt implies all manner of tacit restrictions on the kind of thing one might (or ought not to) compose. Perhaps it’s for this reason that Judith Weir strikes such a very, very safe and familiar pose, not merely tonal but even drawing comparisons with Vaughan Williams. While it doesn’t quite live up to Petroc Trelawny’s preambular optimism—it’s neither “high octane” nor especially “energetic”; the smooth, repetitive lines from the choir (despite the ongoing compression of the text) seem to nullify the orchestra’s attempts at momentum—it certainly fulfils Weir’s modest ambitions. An amuse-bouche with a soft, sweet centre: traditionalists will see it as the perfect way to begin this year’s season.
The first performance of Stars, Night, Music and Light was given by the BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek.