Proms 2005 – Week 2

Written by: Colin Anderson

Proms 2005 continues – Detlev Glanert has a beastly world premiere and Paul Groves sings his first Gerontius…

Beasts and a journeying soul are included in this week’s Proms. Detlev Glanert supplies the beasts in his new orchestral work, Theatrum bestiarum, on 26 July. “Human beings are the beasts of the piece. I see them as a zoo. Maybe it’s very actual now.” A reference to the recent London bombings. “It’s very interesting what human beings can do to other human beings; the beast inside. The piece is dedicated to Shostakovich.” The link is that Shostakovich expresses isolation and artistic ambitions controlled by authorities. “I was interested to write songs and dances for large orchestra about this human beast – crazy and dark, and wild and sad. Everything is connected to everything!”

I ask how this idea is realised in the music itself. “It’s a vibrant and dramatic piece full of rhythmic explosions. I use the organ of the Royal Albert Hall as an orchestral instrument.” Detlev laughs that James MacMillan has written a creature-inspired organ concerto that is heard at the Proms a few nights earlier (July 21); “we have exchanged e-mails on that!” Theatrum bestiarum fits into a fairytale Prom that includes music by Liadov and also Stravinsky’s re-working of Tchaikovsky’s music for The Fairy’s Kiss. “Very Russian, so my dedication sits perfectly! You can say that these two lighter pieces are surrounding this black hole.”

Detlev Glanert is on record as sympathising with Mahler’s notion that a symphony should encompass the world. “I take inspiration from today but I use the material that gives us the past; I hope I transform it to a new material like all composers did over hundreds of years.” Based on the music of Glanert’s that I know I suggest he writes music at once familiar but brand-new. “Yes, thank you for saying that, that’s exactly what I try to do: the new and the old in balance.”

Two days before beasts are uncaged, tenor Paul Groves gives us his first Gerontius (second actually, the first is in Manchester a couple of days earlier). Elgar’s oratorio The Dream of Gerontius is “beautiful music. It’s the first time I’ve done it but I’ve known it for quite a few years; I had a recording when I was a kid, the one with Richard Lewis and Janet Baker.” That was with Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra; apt too, for Paul’s debut Gerontius is with the Hallé and Mark Elder. “The reason I’ve waited so long to actually sing it is because there are some parts that are dramatic and I thought I should wait until I’m a little older – and I think the time is about right.” A demanding part? “Yes it is. Actually it suits me pretty well in that I’m coming from singing so many Mozart roles. I can sing the high and quiet stuff very well; the dramatic stuff I have kind of grown into. It is technically demanding and has many different colours that you should use; I have been working on it for a while. Mark Elder is really an operatic conductor who understands that the singer needs to be heard. He’s great at that; that’s one reason why I am doing Gerontius now because the first one with Mark will be quite fun and I know I can do it.”

A great journey, a troubled soul seeking rest. Music of significant spiritual dimension, a release from troubled times. Does Paul think of such things when singing? “Every time. Whatever has happened recently colours the way I sing and act on stage. That’s why we love live performance, to get some sense of the performers’ feelings and emotions. I was in New York, I live there, on 9/11; it took quite a while to not think about it every time I sang. I think we are going to have to live with things like this for the rest of our lives.”

  • The Dream of Gerontius is on 24 July, and Theatrum bestiarum on 26 July
  • BBC Proms 2005
  • Box Office 020 7589 8212
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 20 July 2005 and is reproduced here with permission

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