MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

BBC Proms 2022: Guest Report

Guest contributor Thomas Luce on the recently concluded BBC Proms season:

The British Broadcasting Corporation’s 72 Promenade Concerts, which started in mid-July, ended two days before the Last Night of the Proms originally scheduled for 10 September. This is because such hugely joyful and triumphant public events would be inconsistent with the National Mourning following Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s deeply and widely grieved death on 8 September. 

The 2022 edition of the Proms very successfully delivered the gigantic and demanding variety of classical, modern, and some populist music summarised in my post here on 3 May. All of the programmed orchestras turned up, including those from Australia, Ukraine, Berlin, Finland, Norway, Cologne, and Philadelphia. And, generally, there were huge audiences in London’s Royal Albert Hall, which in the Promenade season can accommodate nearly 6,000 people.

All this year’s Prom concerts remain available on BBC Sounds until 10 October. Of the concerts we attended or heard, I would especially recommend the huge and powerful choral and orchestral programmes — which, until the end of Covid pandemic-related public restrictions (though not, of course, of the pandemic), were not allowable in public. So, for the first time in a couple of years, there were huge choruses with full orchestras: on Verdi’s Requiem(14 July), Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony (24 August), 29 August (Bach’s B minor Mass), Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius (31 August), Beethoven’s Choral Symphony (2 September) performed by the ethnically diverse Chineke! Orchestra supplemented by English choral societies, and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (7 September) in a phenomenal performance by the Monterverdi Choir and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique conducted by John Eliot Gardiner. Also very worthwhile were the two evenings by the world-famous Berlin Philharmonic on 3 and 4 September, which included Mahler’s Seventg Symphony, Schnittke’s interesting Viola Concerto, and Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, as well a the superb performance by Sir Andras Schiff on Sunday morning (4 September) of Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas.

In addition to its recently broadcast public concerts, BBC Sounds makes all of its musical programmes available for a month or so. These include regular daily or weekly programmes, such as each day’s 24-hour playlist. Each Saturday morning also presents interesting record reviews. And each week a different composer is featured in hour-long discussions each day, which are informative and educational. Recently featured composers have included Dieterich Buxtehude and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Another advantage of the performances available on BBC Sounds is that they are not interrupted by advertisements. The intervals usually contain musically illustrated and informative discussions of the programme and its performers. A good recent example was the interval discussion during the Prom of 5 September, which included works by the Franco-American Betsy Jolas and Mahler’s First Symphony, which provided fascinating information on the music as well as on professional performances of both composers.

The last of the dozen Proms that my wife and I went to was by the Philadelphia Orchestra on 8 September. We reached the hall a short time after the Queen’s death was announced. The orchestra was on the stage, but it was announced that because of her death the intended programme would not be performed and there would solely be the National Anthem and the Nimrod Variation from Elgar’s Enigma Variations: a sombre and subtly sad piece that beautifully reflects public grievance, just as Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings comparably does in America. It was very movingly played by the Philadelphia musicians, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Filed under: BBC Proms, review

BBC Proms Announces 2022 Program

From guest contributor Tom Luce:

The published program for this year’s British Broadcasting Corporation Proms has 73 concerts taking place over the 53 days from 15 July to 6 September, with at least 36 orchestras performing.  All of the concerts will be broadcast on the BBC radio and will be available via BBC Sounds as well, which is accessible across the world. Details are available here.

This year’s BBC Proms program returns fully to its pre-pandemic scale and cultural and humanitarian outreach. Amongst the most monumental classical works are J S Bach’s B minor Mass, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and Beethoven piano sonatas played by Sir András Schiff. Appropriately to the morbid pandemic circumstances globally, and especially now to the catastrophic war situation, the program opens with Verdi’s Requiem and also includes Brahms’s German Requiem.

International orchestras are now again included — from Philadelphia, Australia, Berlin, Vienna, Cologne, Norway and Finland. Another of special relevance is the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, which will also be performing in the USA. Also notable is the performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony by the Europe-based Chineke! Orchestra of non-European ethnic players with their new choral association. (Chineke! has on some occasions included a Seattle Symphony player.)

As well as the extensive symphonic and choral repertoire, several operas are to be given concert performances, including Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, Puccini’s Il Tabarrro, and Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers. Many concerts include new music by many modern or current composers: for example, Brett Dean, Betsy Jolas, Florence Price, Valentin Silvestrov, and Thomas Adès.  On weekend mornings and afternoons, there are informal children and family concerts.

Two concerts represent particular celebrations: notably, an evening with historic British Coronation music from Handel onwards to reflect the widespread celebration of H M Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee. Another marks the centenary of the BBC itself.

Most concerts take place in the Royal Albert Hall, which can accommodate up to 6,000 audience members. The broadcasts are known to have huge followers nationally and internationally. The scale, scope, and diversity of the overall program, its composers, and performers must also be unique both historically and internationally. — Tom Luce

Filed under: BBC Proms

BBC Proms 2021

The recently concluded BBC Proms concerts are available online. Here’s a guest review of the 2021 edition of the Proms by Tom Luce:


Last year, in compliance with pandemic restrictions, the BBC had to limit both the number and accessibility of its annual Promenade Concert Festival concerts. There were fine and interesting concerts as usual in London’s huge Albert Hall. They were all broadcast but had no public audiences present.

This year, with great skill and imagination, the BBC has achieved a full program which complies with pandemic public health precautions. The Albert Hall stage was enlarged so that orchestral members could social distance from each other and the audience, and the public were admitted after showing proof of double vaccination or negative Covid tests. So nearly a year and a half after the near closure of public music-making, it has been revived.

The 46 concert programs had great diversity in content and performers. The classical composers and their modern successors were fully represented, but there was also a lot of non-European music and popular and folk-based items. How many festival programs have included not only Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, along with the usual Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Stravinsky, etc., but also music by Florence Price and Gity Razaz, n accordionist playing a Piazzolla tango, an evening devoted to a jazz saxophonist and composer, and another to the Golden Age of Broadway?

International travel restrictions meant that nearly all performing groups were based in the UK. As well as the BBC’s own and other regular British orchestras, a fine concert was provided by the Chineke! orchestra, and a chamber group consisting largely of members of the Kanneh-Mason family (cellist Sheku having memorably played Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations with the Seattle Symphony three years ago), which delivered a charming performance of Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals.

All of the concerts remain internationally available on BBC Sounds until mid-October. It’s hard to pick those most worthwhile to hear out of such a fine collection. My own preferences include a wonderful St. Matthew Passion performance by the Baroque-style Arcangelo group under their founder and director Johnathan Cohen, who with excellent soloists delivered both the dramatic crowd interventions and the intimate and reflective arias and recitatives with equal effectiveness (9 September); a magnificently played and conducted Tristan und Isolde from the Glyndebourne Festival (3 September); John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi team in a Bach cantata and a stunningly energetic performance of Handel’s Dixit Dominus (1 September); Simon Rattle and the London Symphony in a Stravinsky program (22 August); a fine delivery of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony by an orchestra of pandemic-impoverished freelance musicians specially brought together by the BBC (8 September); the Chineke! Orhcestra’s fine evening with rarely performed but very welcome  music by Florence Price, Samuel Taylor Coleridge Taylor, and Felo Sowande, as well as a Vivaldi concerto (24 August); and a superb rendering of Mozart’s last three symphonies by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (1 August).

In accordance with British tradition, the first and last nights were national events. I have elsewhere described the first night’s programming as very suitable to pandemic circumstances. A remarkable feature of the last night was a  beautiful choral arrangement of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Arranging the words from the Agnus Dei (“Grant them rest……….Grant us peace”) to this celebrated expression of grief was a wonderful addition to a public concert  occurring on 9/11, 20 years after the tragic events in the USA — a commemoration subtly conveyed by Hall ushers gently lifting the Stars and Stripes as it was sung.

All of the concerts I observed were attended by thousands in the Albert Hall, who responded very strongly, and these performances were no doubt heard by millions via radio. To experience such a public revival of real concerts and the profound effect of music on society has reminded me of two historic observations on music’s importance:

-Plato’s comment: “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe and wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm to sadness and gaiety to life and to everything”.

-”Musica: Laetitia comes medecina dolorum” (“Music: pleasure’s companion: grief’s remedy”), the inscription on the virginal in Vermeer’s painting The Music Lesson.

Filed under: BBC Proms, review

Overview of the 2019 BBC Proms

The following is a guest contribution by Tom Luce, who offers an overview of this year’s  2019 BBC Proms season, which took place between 19 July and 14 September:

This year’s edition of the BBC Promenade Concerts  ended on 14 September with the last of more than 80 concerts over a bit less than two months. It marked the 125th season since the Proms were inaugurated.

As is to be expected from the modern model for the series, there was a wide range of music. The classical repertoire remains the bedrock and was very fully covered, but some show music, jazz and folk were also featured.

The 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing was marked with some space-related programs: Holst’s The Planets, of course, music from space movies, and various commissioned pieces.

Climate concerns were also reflected — not least through the first European performance of In the Name of the Earth by John Luther Adams a composer well known in Seattle, sung by 600 unaccompanied choral singers with some audience participation.

A good proportion of the newly commissioned world premieres was from women composers, reflecting a BBC objective of gender equality in its music commissioning. Some neglected older works were given rare performances. These included a fine symphony, a powerful cello concerto, and an interesting string quartet by Mieczysław Weinberg, a contemporary and protégé of Shostakovich.

Performers and ensembles of global stature were well represented. Orchestras came from Vienna, Leipzig, Dresden, Paris, Shanghai, Prague, Munich, Bremen, Hanover, the Middle East, and the United States. Conductors included Barenboim, Haitink, Rattle, Jansons, Dausgaard, Salonen, Bychkov, Grazinte-Tyla, Andris Nelsons, Andrew Davis, Eliot Gardiner, Pappano, and Sakari Oramo.

This year, the main contribution from the United States was youthful and collaborative. Musicians from the Juilliard Orchestra combined with London’s Royal Academy students in one concert. Another was given by the National Youth Orchestra of the United States, which gave an outstanding program of fascinating contrasts. The first half consisted of Berlioz’s song cycle Les Nuits d’Été, ravishingly sung by Joyce DiDonato. The second offered Richard Strauss’s monumental Alpine Symphony, in which the ensemble was supported by some extra brass players from Britain’s National Youth Orchestra. Under Antonio Pappano’s direction, they excelled equally in the delicate subtleties of the Berlioz and the huge power and energy needed for Strauss’s lengthy and demanding Alpine expedition. They diplomatically concluded with a touching rendering of Elgar’s Nimrod variation. Equally diplomatically, in their program, the Shanghai players chose the Beatles’ Hey Jude as an encore.

As usual, the series attracted high attendances. For the main orchestral concerts, the attendance rate apparently averaged 89%. In its Proms configuration, the Royal Albert Hall’s capacity is 6000 — double or more than that of most large concert halls. So on average, around 5,400 people attended each of nearly 60 concerts on consecutive days over two months, many of the programs including new or unfamiliar music. It is doubtful whether so great an outreach has ever been achieved elsewhere.

All of the concerts are broadcast by the BBC and can be heard internationally on its website for up to 30 days. Of those still accessible — though not now for long — I would choose the superb performance of Berlioz’s neglected masterpiece Benvenuto Cellini that was  led by John Eliot Gardiner on 2 September, as well as a profoundly moving performance on the following day of Bruckner’s 7th Symphony by the Vienna Philharmonic under the inspired direction of Bernard Haitink, who has now retired permanently.

By way of contrast, I would also choose an item from the final concert, the Last Night of the Proms (14 September). The first half of this iconic event has a variety of fairly short pieces, including some songs. The solo singer re-emerges in the second half to lead the audience in popular patriotic songs traditional to the occasion.

This year, the American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton was the soloist. Advance publicity heralded an emphasis on diversity, including LGBT rights and other minorities fighting bigotry and oppression. The opening, a newly commissioned piece by Daniel Kidane, was entitled Woke.

In the second half, Barton led the audience in Thomas Arne’s Rule Britannia, Britannia Rule the Waves… The tradition is that towards the end the singer unfurls the British flag. But on this occasion, it was different. As the London Times’ critic reported: “Half way through her blazing performance of Rule Britannia, Jamie Barton produced a large gay pride rainbow flag, which she waved as vigorously as she sang. I have rarely heard a bigger cheer in the Albert Hall.”

I would also recommend Barton’s performance of Harold Arlen’s Over the Rainbow in the first half. It was ravishing, not least because of the sensitive and nuanced delivery of the song’s subtle harmonization and changes of tempo and mood by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under their conductor, Sakari Oramo — a concluding illustration of their magnificent contribution to the whole series.

Filed under: BBC Proms

Guest Report: Tom Luce on the BBC Proms

In this guest post, Tom Luce offers his reflections on the 2018 BBC Proms:

This year’s two-month season of the British Broadcasting Corporation Promenade Concerts based in London’s Royal Albert Hall ended on Saturday, 8 September, with the iconic “Last Night” celebration.

The preceding 90 concerts followed the pattern of recent years in providing full coverage of classical music but extending still further the boundaries of performance and repertoire.

Of 23 world premiere commissions, more than half were from women composers. A Tango Prom included some dancing on the stage, and a late evening concert introduced the Senegalese star Youssou N’Dour and his adventurous mixture of West African and Cuban popular music. Another featured electronic music associated with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

An emphasis on young performers included a concert given by recent members of the BBC’s “Young Musician” program. And one of them – 19-year-old Jess Gillam – was the brilliant soloist in the saxophone and orchestra arrangement of Milhaud’s Scaramouche played during the festive final concert. There were several impressive appearances by the BBC’s “Proms Youth Choir” drawn from young singers all over Britain.

Three centenaries were recognized in the programming as well.

The end of the First World War was marked with much interesting and reflective music from that period, as well as requiems by Verdi, Brahms, and Benjamin Britten. A new commission from Anna Meredith for the opening concert illustrated the separation stress of war for fighters and their families. For the final concert, a commission from Roxana Panufnik covered both the miseries of war and the prospect of reconciliation.

Debussy’s death in 1918 was commemorated with his own and other French music of the same epoc,h including a semi-staged Pelleas et Melisande from Glyndebourne Opera and a concert performance by Simon Rattle and his London Symphony Orchestra of Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges. Several pieces by Lili Boulanger, the talented French composer who died very young in 1918, movingly reflected war losses.

The centenary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth was celebrated by stunning semi-staged concert versions of West Side Story and On the Town, much of his orchestral music, and, in the companion Proms chamber series, some songs.

Seattle readers will be interested to know that Ludovic Morlot led a fine concert of Debussy and other French music with Britain’s City of Birmingham orchestra, standing in for their musical director, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, who was on maternity leave. And also that Thomas Dausgaard, his designated successor at the Seattle Symphony, conducted four concerts. Two were with the BBC Scottish Orchestra, which Dausgaard currently directs. The others were a pair of concerts by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra he also directs, which included all six of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and six “companion pieces” newly commissioned from half a dozen contemporary composers.

The BBC is a British public corporation. It operates under a Royal Charter requiring it to provide services which “inform, educate, and entertain.” Another requirement is that its services “should be distinctive … and should take creative risks, even if not all succeed, in order to develop fresh approaches and innovative content.”

These obligations explain, and probably inspire, the creative and adventurous programming the Proms series features, and also the very high quality of associated presentation material. All the main concerts are preceded by free lectures on their most interesting features. The quality of the concert program notes is invariably outstanding.

This year’s program confirms that, in scope and quality, the series has no equal. To my knowledge, it is not unusual for Americans and others from abroad to plan their summer holidays in London so that they can attend Proms concerts to experience classical music performances of exceptional breadth and quality within a consistently innovative framework.

All of the concerts are broadcast and most remain for thirty days globally accessible through the BBC’s Radio 3 Proms website.

Making recommendations amongst such riches still available is difficult. For big symphonic events, I would go for the Morlot and Rattle concerts on 15 and 18 August already mentioned; the Budapest Festival Orchestra’s program on 22 August including Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony; his Third Symphony given with great power on 2 September by the Boston Symphony; an astonishingly vigorous and harmonious Beethoven Seventh symphony given later on the same day by the Berlin Philharmonic under Kiril Petrenko, their new music director-designate; and, finally, a Berlioz concert on 5 September, in which John Eliot Gardiner and his orchestra accompanied Joyce Didonato in two movingly delivered deaths — of Cleopatra and then Dido — followed by a superb performance of Harold in Italy.

Of at least equal interest are more-intimate experiences. On 29 August, András Schiff in a late-night concert (starting at 9.30pm and finishing close to midnight) played all twenty-four Preludes and Fugues in the Second Book of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier to an impressively absorbed audience of some 3,000 people. And on 6 September, close to the end of the series, and following a fine performance of Britten’s War Requiem earlier the same evening, Peter Philips and the Tallis scholars sang a somber and touching program of Compline music entitled Before the Ending of the Day.

–Tom Luce, London 9 September 2018

Filed under: BBC Proms

Guest Report: Tom Luce on This Year’s BBC Proms

During a recent London stay I got to more than a dozen of this season’s BBC Promenade Concerts and have heard many of the others through the BBC’s website.

It is 90 years since the BBC first promoted and managed the series. In recent decades the Corporation has progressively enlarged its boundaries without losing a strong representation of core classical music. The boundaries stretched include the number and timing of concerts, their venues, the repertory performed and the number and provenance of its performers.

This year there are 92 concerts – on average nearly two concerts a day for the eight week season. 74 are in London’s Royal Albert Hall the series’ traditional venue, 10 being late-night concerts following conventionally timed evening events.

There are weekly chamber concerts in a smaller London hall, and concerts in venues chosen to reach people for whom central London concert halls are geographically inconvenient or socio-culturally unfamiliar– Hull on the North-East coast, a South London multi-storey car park, and an East London Music Hall for example.

New music has included 10 BBC commissions given world or British premieres and a rather larger number of other pieces given first British or European performances. The core repertory from the seventeenth century to our own is comprehensively covered but there are excursions into high quality examples of other musical traditions.

This year’s offerings include a brilliantly staged, sung, danced and played Oklahoma, a late night celebration of Indian and Pakistan’s classical music (very late – scheduled to end around one in the morning), and a fascinating cross-fertilisation of that tradition and US minimalism in a performance of Passages, jointly composed by the young Philip Glass and the late Ravi Shankar.

Some concerts mark the achievements in their own fields of such icons as Charlie Mingus, John Williams, Scott Walker, and “Ella & Dizzy”. Family concerts also feature, as does – an interesting innovation this year – a short “Relaxed Prom” for “children and adults with autism, sensory or communications impairments or learning disabilities…”.

Each season marks major composer anniversaries or world events reflected in the repertoire. This year the 80th birthday of John Adams, the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation and the 100th of the Russian revolution were influential on the programmes.

48 orchestras and ensembles play the concerts led by over 60 conductors. The BBC’s in-house orchestras, based in London, Wales, Scotland and Manchester, between them make nearly 30 appearances.

Other British orchestras and groups from London and the regions take a large share of the others but there are 14 from abroad – for example Berlin, Vienna, St Petersburg, Amsterdam, Paris, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Milan, Bremen, Freiburg, Oslo, Stockholm and the European Chamber Orchestra. Fine choirs from Latvia and Spain have also made contributions.

Judging from my attendance and listening this year and in other recent years standards of performance range from high to superlative. Performances of Elgar’s two completed symphonies, Harrison Birtwistle’s new major work Deep Time, and the Sibelius Violin Concerto by Daniel Barenboim with violinist Lisa Batiashvili and the superb Berliner Staatskapelle were at a level that I do not expect ever to hear equalled.

The same is true of the Gurrelieder concert given by the London Symphony and a huge chorus under Simon Rattle and a profoundly moving and accomplished performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and their Chief Conductor Sakari Oramo. Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust given by John Eliot Gardiner and his teams came as close to a definitive performance of that fascinating but elusive and challenging work as one can ever hope to hear or imagine. 

Equally memorable was a performance of Bach’s St John Passion by John Butt and the Edinburgh-based Dunedin ensemble. This was placed within a re-enactment of a Lutheran Good Friday service. Short organ pieces by Bach and Buxtehude, as well as three chorales briefly pre-rehearsed and then sung by the entire audience (all 5,000 of us), were wrapped around the Bach Passion, and there was a beautiful liturgical anthem by Jacobus Handl to end the 3 ½ hour event.

The Bach performance was itself excellent (and, wisely, the audience participated only in the extra service chorales, not the chorales within the Passion setting), but experiencing Bach’s masterpiece in this wider liturgical context did deepen understanding.

The concerts generate a strong audience response. Many are sold out or nearly so. The Albert Hall can hold 5,500 in its Promenade Concert configuration, when the central arena at stage level and the highest gallery are available only to those willing to stand for the performances. Up to 1,200 people do this “promenading”.

Acoustically the hall is a paradox. Its huge size and famously resonant acoustic make it ideal for massive choral works such as the Berlioz Requiem, Mahler’s Eighth and Second Symphonies and Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder. But smaller groups and even solo instrumentalists can come across surprisingly well. A sequence of late night concerts in the 2015 season covered Bach’s solo violin sonatas and partitas played by Alina Ibragimova, Yoyo Ma playing all six cello suites and Andras Schiff delivering the Goldberg Variations. This is not barnstorming stuff, but each and every note got across to large and enthusiastic audiences.

The hall’s shape and configuration help to explain the paradox. Its oval footprint means that there are seats behind and alongside the performers as well as to their front. This gives a “music in the round” feeling and means that sections of the audience can see each other as well as the performance stage, which creates a sense of communal participation lacking in the conventional rectangular concert hall design.

Prom audiences are characteristically absorbed and attentive while the music is played but enthusiastic to the point of exuberance when it stops. This, the bullish and celebratory tone of the BBC’s radio announcers and some of its promotional material attract criticism from those who prefer music to have a more austere and perhaps more introverted aesthetic.

But it is all part of the BBC’s successful policy of broadening the repertory and outreaching to wider audiences. The concerts are generously accessible. Promenade tickets allow access for less than US $8, and season promenade passes work out at less than $5 a concert. All concerts are broadcast on BBC Radio, and some on TV as well. All are streamed on the BBC website in high quality audio which is available to UK and international audiences for up to 30 days after each performance.

A handful of concerts remain before the present season ends on 9 September. Two are by the Vienna Philharmonic – Mahler’s Sixth Symphony on 7 September, and a Brahms, Mozart, and Beethoven concert on 8 September with Emmanuel Ax on piano and Michael Tilson Thomas on the rostrum. The late night concert on 7 September features Andras Schiff playing in its entirety the first book of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier. On 6 September there are two concerts – a Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich concert in the Albert Hall followed by a late night Open Ear Prom at Tate Modern featuring new music from the London Contemporary Orchestra.

So the final week illustrates the whole series – the highest possible quality in the classic repertory coupled with exciting and exploratory innovation. The Proms series is indeed unique.

–Tom Luce

Filed under: BBC Proms

Chineke! Makes Proms Debut


This evening is Prom 62, in which the Chineke! Orchestra makes its BBC Proms debut.
One of Chineke!’s founding cellists is Seth Parker Woods, whom I wrote about for this month’s cover issue of Strings magazine. They’ll also be playing music by George Walker for the first time on a Proms program.

link to broadcast from BBC Radio 3

Filed under: BBC Proms, George Walker, Seth Parker Woods

Harmonium in Londinium

First night of the BBC Proms 2017! Tonight’s program includes a world premiere for the opener — Tom Coult’s St John’s Dance — Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the remarkable Igor Levit as soloist, and Harmonium by John Adams, with Edward Gardner on the podium. 

Harmonium is an early Adams work — his first major commission for San Francisco Symphony — and sets poetry by Emily Dickinson and John Donne. Adams recalls:

Harmonium was composed in 1980 in a small studio on the third floor of an old Victorian house in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Those of my friends who knew both the room and the piece of music were amused that a piece of such spaciousness should emerge from such cramped quarters.

Filed under: BBC Proms, Beethoven, John Adams

Yo-Yo Ma and the Bach Cello Suites


The superstar cellist’s performance from last week at the BBC Proms can still be streamed here:

David Karlin gave Ma a five-star review on Bachtrack:

One man. Four strings. Thirty-six dance movements. Five thousand listeners, perfectly hushed, many of them having queued for hours and rushed to fill the promenade space of the Royal Albert Hall as soon as the ushers let them out of their starting blocks. Yo-Yo Ma’s late night Prom – a performance of all six of Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites – was an eagerly anticipated event and a giant undertaking. Many of the audience were cellists (two and half hours of unaccompanied cello is a tall order for anyone else) and the atmosphere in the hall was electric.

Alexandra Coghlan at The Arts Desk:

This humility serves Ma well in music that holds a mirror up to any performer, exposing affectation or excess just as clearly as coldness or humourlessness. His Bach is intimate but not introverted, free and improvisatory in spirit but meticulously prepared and understood. He began as he meant to go on, with a G major Prelude so casual and direct it was as though we were joining a conversation in mid-flow. It was the only possible start to a musical epic – just the right degree of bathos, reminding a crowd bedding down for a long evening of serious music of the wit and overflowing good humour also be found here.

John Allison at The Telegraph:

Post-concerto encores drawn from these suites are, of course, common at the Proms, but this was the festival’s first complete performance. The bucolic Prelude to the Suite No. 1 in G major signalled what was to come, a performance full of dynamic shading and carried on warm tone quivering with life. The solemnity with which he placed the low, phrase-ending notes in the Sarabande pointed towards the evening’s more profound moments, several of them encountered in the tragic-sounding D minor suite, though even here he found wild abandon in the closing Gigue.

From George Hall’s review

During a magisterial survey of these complex, subtle compositions, Ma’s attention to detail was as notable as his grasp of the bigger picture. The playing was at times tender and introverted, at others bold and sonorous. Throughout, Ma held the measure of Bach’s organic, largely abstracted dance movements and unfolded them before the audience in a way that was intellectually satisfying and heartfelt.

Filed under: Bach, BBC Proms, Yo-Yo Ma

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