Proms 2006 – George Benjamin & Jonathan Nott

Written by: Colin Anderson

The Proms this week includes the UK premiere of George Benjamin’s Dance Figures (July 24). Previously performed in both the concert hall (Chicago Symphony and Barenboim) and as a ballet, George underlines that “the fundamental thing is that it’s dance music, nine short movements that have clear statements; quiet and delicate with three rumbustious movements and the sixth is extremely noisy. Everybody in the orchestra has a spotlight at some point.” David Robertson conducts. “He has been an extraordinary loyal supporter of my music and I’m overjoyed that my oldest musical friend, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, is playing Brahms.” At 5.30, also in the Royal Albert Hall, is a Composer Portrait of George Benjamin, which includes his superb Viola, Viola. This shows the mellow, introspective instrument (two of them) in a different light: “fiery, turbulent and very loud. I like the idea of two violas taking on the Albert Hall!”

On July 27 the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and its British music director Jonathan Nott grace the Albert Hall. Fresh from memorable appearances at the Edinburgh Festival, and with a burgeoning catalogue of notable recordings for Tudor, Jonathan says that the Bamberg Symphony is “a generous orchestra, with a bohemian tradition that can’t help itself but get excited by an audience. It’s a great thrill to play at the Proms, which gets back to the roots of why we human beings find live music irresistible. You don’t go there if you want a boring, unchallenging or uninspiring evening.”

The Bambergers’ Prom includes music by Wolfgang Rihm, Schumann and Mahler, “a mixture of necessity, inspiration and good luck! With the contrasting styles, it gives the orchestra plenty of opportunity. Verwandlung is not one of Rihm’s rhythmically driven works. Like a Japanese garden it starts from nowhere and is concerned primarily with beauty of sonority; its calm is disturbed only once. It deals extremely well with the concept of 21st-century melody: in one sense, the second movement of the Schumann takes over where Rihm ends.” In Schumann’s Piano Concerto, Jonathan is looking forward to working again with Hélène Grimaud: “it’ll be fun; there is so much play, dialogue and exchange of wit between the soloist and the orchestra.”

For Jonathan, “the concert’s first half is an equilibrium, not a dichotomy: Go to the top of the mountain and beat your breasts over the lost security of Romantic music, and when the inevitable time comes to wake up and smell the coffee of the harsh reality of 21st-century life, you will find that it is nonetheless an intrinsically good life! Both Rihm and Schumann give you consolation in their respective worlds, while Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, despite popular opinion, should offer you nothing of the sort and leave you feeling disturbed and a little sick. The symphony ends with the question-mark that Rihm takes as his starting-point.”

Is there a Bamberg way of playing Mahler? “Teasing, caressing, acerbic, full of double-meaning and everything but non-committal: that’s what I’m aiming for. It’s a shame we’re not playing Land of Hope and Glory this time, but still, I wonder what the encore should be?!”

  • Proms 2006
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 20 July 2006 and is reproduced here with permission

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