Written by: Colin Anderson
Yes, it’s the Proms again. Season 107 has 73 evening and late-evening concerts between 20 July and 15 September. Concerts are not produced overnight; therefore this year’s Pastoral theme wasn’t planned to reflect the current foot-and-mouth and farming crisis – but there’s no harm in it doing so. This season’s offerings are not lambs for slaughter though … and there’s no lack of overseas ensembles, or, hopefully, visitors to hear them.
This year’s guests include Orchestre de Paris with Christoph Eschenbach – a Beethoven/Berlioz evening and one combining Schumann’s great Second Symphony and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring – not sure why – but Eschenbach’s an interesting musician who will have something to say. The Chicago Symphony brings plenty of Mahler – Symphonies 1 & 7 – with Barenboim, who also conducts Elliott Carter’s Partita and introduces Augusta Read Thomas’s Aurora, which Barenboim directs from the piano. Other American guests include the Boston Symphony with Bernard Haitink. Martinu’s Sixth Symphony from this team is keenly anticipated in music written, like Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, for the BSO – Haitink did the latter at last year’s Proms, so what a shame Smetana’s From Bohemia’s Wood and Fields isn’t being aired this time – pastorally ideal – especially as it’s on their tour schedule and gets into one of the Boston’s Edinburgh Festival concerts! Otherwise it’s Daphnis et Chloe complete and Brahms 2, sometimes referred to as being pastoral.
The ’real’ Pastorals – Vaughan Williams’s and Beethoven’s – come from Roger Norrington and Colin Davis respectively, the former, a First World War-inspired masterwork, is played by a German orchestra, South German Radio’s from Stuttgart; Davis includes Beethoven’s Sixth in superbly planned LSO programme, which begins with Sibelius’s The Oceanides followed by Tippett’s wonderful farewell to composition, The Rose Lake. Colin Davis also conducts a Prom with the European Union Youth Orchestra – a satisfyingly substantial programme of Tchaikovksy 4 and Elgar 1. The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain plays Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony under Andrew Davis, who with the BBCSO places Schoenberg’s Variations (Op.31) with Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto. A bit of a contrast!
The Czech Philharmonic has an all-French Prom with Ashkenazy. Their only home-grown piece will be Dvorak 7, which is tied with the novelty – if indeed it proves to be – of Gliere’s Concerto for Coloratura Soprano arranged for Sergei Nakariakov’s trumpet. The Finnish Radio SO include Sibelius’s last two symphonies under Jukka-Pekka Saraste.
Not sure what the NHK Symphony and Dutoit will make of Shostakovich 5, but their concert will be one of the first to sell out – Martha Argerich plays Prokofiev’s Third Concerto. Gergiev includes Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande in the Kirov Orchestra’s Prom – hopefully, unlike their shambolic The Rite of Spring in London last year, the Schoenberg will at least be co-ordinated!
Altogether different values will inform the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra’s two concerts with Herbert Blomstedt (a Proms debutante!) – Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream stands out, while Dvorak’s ’New World’ and Mahler 4 should enjoy refined and long-viewed advocacy. Similarly Gunter Wand’s visit, with North German Radio’s Hamburg forces, for two unfinished symphonies – Schubert’s and Bruckner 9 – will be an evening of deeply considered and (potentially) long-remembered music-making.
London’s Orchestras make their traditional single appearances. The LSO is on twice in fact – its other programme, which juxtaposes Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem with Verdi’s Four Sacred Pieces, is under Antonio Pappano, Covent Garden’s incumbent. The LPO and Kurt Masur include Enescu’s First Suite, the Philharmonia – with Eschenbach – should sell out as Renee Fleming is around for Mozart and Strauss, while the RPO and Daniele Gatti offer a Verdi Requiem on the penultimate night.
Verdi, of course, is one this season’s Anniversary Composers. He has another night to himself – Mark Elder brings his Halle Orchestra down for scenes from Il Trovatore and Don Carlos, and Aida’s Act 2. Other composers dead either fifty or one hundred years, or born in 1901, are Schoenberg, Finzi, Rodrigo, Rubbra and Constant Lambert.
As always the Proms has commissioned a number of new pieces. Sally Beamish’s Knotgrass Elegy is the topical commission – very country – saxophone and counter-tenor to the fore. James MacMillan receives another BBC commission. Will John Tavener’s 50-minute Song of the Cosmos be one minute’s worth repeated 49 times?
Composers on the cusp of recognition have premieres – Stuart MacRae, Ian Wilson and Julian Philips. Seniors with something new include Harrison Birtwistle and Alexander Goehr.
There’s an evening of film music – Hollywood’s Golden Age – conducted by Elmer Bernstein … and Klezmer and Gypsy music makes it to the Proms for the first time.
The BBC Orchestras will be heard in 27 concerts, the Symphony in 13 of them. Hopefully not an unlucky number! Leonard Slatkin, the SO’s new Chief Conductor, and a contributor to The Classical Source (I hope Leonard will preview his Prom concerts in due course), has six Proms including the First and Last Nights. The former looks to youth for its soloists, 16 singers in Vaughan Williams’s wonderful Serenade to Music, and Guy Johnston – the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year – plays Elgar’s Cello Concerto. The European premiere of Christopher Rouse’s Seeing is keenly anticipated, a dark, disturbing ’concerto’ for Emanuel Ax, which should dovetail nicely with the opening funereal tread of Mahler 5. Slatkin leads the premiere of Alexander Goehr’s ’… second musical offering (GFH 2001)’ – I’m really looking forward to that (GFH is Handel) – and he also includes Leonard Bernstein’s Jeremiah Symphony and Michel Camilo’s Piano Concerto with Camilo as soloist. I’m delighted that Slatkin conducts Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, a masterpiece. The Last Night has Sousa’s Liberty Bell (the Monty Python theme tune!) and Frederica von Stade (who is also new to the Proms).
The BBCSO also play Pierre Boulez’s latest Notations orchestration – VII – in a programme that includes Ives, Tobias Picker (the world premiere of his Cello Concerto) and Janacek under David Robertson. It also welcomes John Adams for Ravel, Debussy and Adams’s own Naïve and Sentimental Music, a 50-minute piece that I loved when I first heard it.
Handel’s Acis and Galatea and Haydn’s The Creation are yet more examples of Pastoralism, and with artists like Alfred Brendel, Pierre Boulez – who conducts his rapturously beautiful Le visage nuptial and Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle – Heinrich Schiff, Simon Rattle – Fidelio – Yuri Bashmet, Joshua Bell (let’s hope that West Side Story arranged for violin and orchestra is better than I imagine!), Thibaudet and Tasmin Little, this should be a feast of music on BBC Radio 3 and Television – and in the Royal Albert Hall itself. Nothing beats live music.
And there’s so much more … PCM – Proms Chamber Music … Composer Portraits … pre-concert talks. For booking details – the purchase of a Season Ticket means each concert costs just £1.95! – the BBC Proms 2001 Guide is a must; it’s available from this Monday, 30 April, ’from most good bookshops’. You can also hook-up to the Proms’ website – www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/proms – happy surfing and listening. The Classical Source will be publishing Proms-related material and reviews.