Prom 5: Flicka’s Proms Debut

Composer Portrait – David Sawer

David Sawer in conversation with Andrew McGregor.


Catrin Finch (harp); musicians from the Royal Academy of Music

23 / 7 / 2002, Lecture Theatre, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

In the South (Alassio) – Concert Overture, Op.50
Piano Concerto [BBC commission: first performance]
The Firebird [Original 1910 Version, abridged Slatkin]

Rolf Hind (piano)
Frederica von Stade (mezzo-soprano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Leonard Slatkin

Reviewed by: Steve Lomas

Reviewed: 23 July, 2002
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

While noting that Anthony Payne notches up his third and fourth Proms’ commissions this season, it is not given to many composers to receive a second from the Proms, still less when barely into their ’forties. With Byrnan Wood in 1992, David Sawer produced one of the finest works written for the Proms in the last decade, one that in an ideal world would have had many performances since. The London premiere of his The greatest happiness principle, in the 1997 season, also made its mark. So expectations ran high for Sawer’s new piano concerto written for Rolf Hind, who had previously recorded Sawer’s superb The Melancholy of Departure for NMC (D020S), a work which repays many hearings.

At the heart of Sawer’s music lies a striking paradox. On the one hand, the tactile shapes that his works are built from give the distinct impression that they could have been realised just as successfully in another art form such as painting, theatre or film. On the other hand, there is a primacy of sound source in the music that makes it unthinkable that it should exist in any other medium but the audible. This thought had already been prompted by the two works performed in the pre-concert “Composer Portrait” in the V & A. Goodnight (1990) for a mixed quintet is absolutely characteristic of its composer in its rotation of nugget-like scale fragments, ticking ostinatos and gently-rocking rhythms. The nocturnal, dream-like quality of the work is further enhanced by a form of Chinese whispers whereby musical figures gradually morph into new shapes. The exquisite Between for solo harp was a commission from the Britten-Pears School and, indeed, it bore more than a passing resemblance to Britten’s own harp suite. It was beautifully realised by Catrin Finch.

Reading Sawer’s programme note for the concerto, I doubt I was the only person who turned over and assumed that a page was missing – no, his introduction was just five lines long. On reflection, however, it seemed to say everything that needed to be said. The music itself wrong-footed in exactly the same way. The work’s two continuous movements (fast/slow) amounted to a curiously foreshortened structure lasting 11 minutes. The first has a basic rule that the piano and the orchestra must not sound together. This resulted in a kaleidoscopic, hocketing texture that is suggestive of the work of Andriessen or Martland; Sawer produces something altogether lighter and more playful. Indeed there were moments when the harmony coalesced into a kind of distorted cocktail ambience. As ever, Sawer’s textures are crystal-clear and bone-dry.

Barely used to the gameplan of the first movement, the sudden collapse of momentum announced the radically different world of the second, the orchestra acting as a giant sounding-box for the piano, colouring and overlaying its every utterance. Glacial chords are slowly built up and then deconstructed until a tentative, astral lyricism emerges. Finally, a varied repeat of the first movement’s wonky mechanisms starts up that seems to begin a finale, but it was all a trick. The piece was over.

As the piece came in at two-thirds of its advertised length, it was difficult not to feel a little short-changed at a first hearing. I strongly suspect that the length will cease to be an issue and the listener can focus instead on the marvellously inventive orchestral writing. Further performances might also reveal a truer picture of the first movement. For all the skill of pianist and orchestra, the gears didn’t quite mesh and one never really had the feeling that every part of the orchestra knew exactly where its particular piece of the jigsaw fitted. The second movement was better realised and Hind relished his new-found freedom to make a sustained statement after the clockwork figuration of the first.

Every Proms season seems to produce at least one revered world-class artist making their belated Proms debut. In earlier seasons this has included Bernstein and Fischer-Dieskau. This time it was Frederica von Stade who was altogether wonderful. Although there is now a heavy vibrato beat in her middle register above mezzo-forte, Ravel’s mainly parlando vocal setting rarely exposed this. Instead, one could revel in her enchanting, honeyed tones and beautifully floated line. Her articulation of the French text was faultless. The orchestral contribution under Slatkin was less happy, suggestive more of torpor than languor in the second and third songs, while the climax of the first song seemed to surge out of nowhere instead of being the moment the whole song was pointing toward.

Elgar’s In the South got off to a ragged start and only really came together at the end. The downward-fanning discords in the ’arches’ section – one of the most extraordinary passages Elgar ever conceived – should flatten everything before them but here came across as mere harmonic suspensions. Nevertheless Elgar’s resonant, organ-like orchestration registered well in the RAH’s ample acoustics.

Stravinsky compiled three orchestral suites from The Firebird (in 1911, 1919 and 1945). The novelty of Slatkin’s performance was a reduction of his own devising from the original score incorporating some of the connective tissue missing from Stravinsky’s suites and retaining the original orchestration as Stravinsky himself did in the rarely-heard 1911 conflation. It seemed like a good idea on paper and it emerged as a good idea in performance, even if it did beg the question of why not play the whole thing if you’re going to perform this much of it. This was an unfussy and well-executed rendition (Timothy Brown deserves to be singled out for his horn solos). The final peroration was opulent and majestic. My own taste is for something more rhythmically incisive and vividly coloured; however, Slatkin’s approach worked well on its own terms.

  • BBC Radio 3 re-broadcast – Friday 26 July at 2 o’clock

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Prom 4: The Colour Purple

Roman Carnival – Overture, Op.9
Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26
L’ascension – four symphonic meditations
La valse – choreographic poem

Kyung-Wha Chung (violin)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France conducted by Myung-Whun Chung

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 22 July, 2002
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The youngest of Paris’s three symphony orchestras – a statistic worth remembering next time London is said to have too many – arrived with its recently installed Music Director for an odd programme that, while French-based, found Messiaen and Ravel as incongruous bedfellows and Berlioz as a popular companion to Bruch’s evergreen concerto.

Sensitivity and dash marked out Berlioz’s overture, one that was sound-conscious and rather uninteresting once Chung had set out his plush and refined parameters. Anyway my attention was taken up by the headphone-adorned young lady in the Arena who seemed to be chatting into her microphone during the music – much to the annoyance of a couple of Prommers – and avidly reading her yellow pieces of paper. Couldn’t work that one out. Meanwhile, the Berlioz came and went.

The Bruch played to an awful shade of purple decorating the organ loft. At least there were no moving images otherwise yours truly would have been in search of a plug to remove from the socket. My view was adjusted to not see this unnecessary and rather ridiculous adornment. Difficult though to miss the camera tracking across the front of the Arena. Kyung-Wha Chung played with raw commitment, her brother provided a sumptuous accompaniment, and both miscalculated the rhetoric of the piece by being over-histrionic; the arrival of the beautiful ’Adagio’ was sign-posted and a meal made of the tenuto before the soloist enters. It was a real adagio though and very convincing when taken this slowly.

“The organ’s got the mange,” said my neighbour when blue appeared for Messiaen. A bit unkind I thought, but worth noting. I had the choice of watching the stage or checking out the TV pictures from the camera now positioned in front of me. Chung has a real empathy with Messiaen’s music, although this still means that the first and last movements should finish earlier than they actually do. The middle ones went well, a mix of Wagnerian chromaticism and corny cadences attacked with gusto; couldn’t help feeling that the brass was too loud in the opening ’Majesty of Christ…’ section.

La valse – grateful for the programme’s translation: ’The Waltz’! – disappointed. Too rich, too like a Viennese waltz throughout when the range is nineteenth-century imperialism to twentieth-century destruction, Chung missing the music’s darkness and decay with no sense of hysteria at the end; any recognition that this masterpiece is about carnage (for Ravel a metaphor of the First War) was entirely missing. As throughout the concert the playing was good if not always in sync, Chung presenting the music rather than delving into it.

Carmen’s Act 1 Prelude followed, a bit rowdy, and much enjoyed by the lady in front of me who gave her seat a good bashing. I think the RAH’s maintenance department might need to effect a replacement!

  • Concert re-broadcast on BBC Radio 3 this Thursday, 25 July, at 2 o’clock

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PCM 1: Fatuous Façade or No More Nonsense Please Edith

Proms Chamber Music at Lunchtime

Le jardinier de Samos

Prunella Scales & Samuel West (reciters)*

Martyn Brabbins conducting The Nash Ensemble:
Philippa Davies (flute)
Richard Hosford (clarinet)
Mark David (trumpet)
Martin Robertson (alto saxophone)
Marianne Thorsen (violin)
Paul Watkins (cello)
Simon Limbrick (percussion)

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 22 July, 2002
Venue: Lecture Theatre, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Jacques Ibert is one of those unsung composers. Apart from the wacky Divertissement, which was commissioned for the BBC Third Programme, and the saxophone concerto – both getting occasional airings – he is for most simply a name in the musical dictionary (Jean Françaix being another – are such composers predominantly French, I wonder?). So it was a delight to hear his incidental music for a proposed 1924 production of Charles Vildrac’s Le jardinier de Samos at the opening of the 2002 Lunchtime Proms.

As Christopher Cook informed in his spoken introduction, the first night was delayed by eight years, so Ibert fashioned this five-movement suite for flute, clarinet, trumpet, percussion, violin and cello. Martyn Brabbins was on hand to conduct the pieces that require more than two players; the central violin and cello duo he left, quite rightly, to Marianne Thorsen and Paul Watkins. A finale that alludes to a Spanish dance (whether or not for the plot, of which we were given no inkling) follows a very academic fugue.

If that slimmest of Spanish connections was the hook for the inclusion of the piece, no excuses were needed for the quality of the playing – it was the Nash Ensemble after all. But even with just six players, the V & A’s Lecture Theatre acoustic can become so easily saturated.

William Walton’s Façade comes from the same decade, and his exquisite music, pastiching every musical form known to man, matches Ibert in wit and panache. Apart from the indefatigable Lady Walton and Richard Baker touring the now all-too-few music clubs, this is a rare work in its original form. Despite the pluses of the family reciting-team of Prunella Scales – dapper in her flapper’s dress – and Samuel West, I began to see why.

The words are embarrassingly atrocious. Yes, of course they are meant to be nonsense, but a five-year-old coming out with such balderdash would be severely criticised by any dutiful teacher. Why then should we applaud Edith Sitwell, ostensibly an adult and privileged to the hilt, when she spouts such drivel? And not any old drivel – offensively racist drivel. How many references to blacks are there in the sixteen pages of squirmingly outrageous lyrics? And how could Walton have, with any conscience, set such irreducible tripe, let alone produce music of such genius?

While feeling rather too-uncomfortably akin to a collaborator, there was much to enjoy in this performance. With saxophonist Martin Robertson replacing Marianne Thorsen in the line-up the music positively crackled and sparkled, although in some of the mellower numbers Martyn Brabbins seemed to be too slow for the ease of either Scales or West.Both reciters were amplified and, although I assume the balance was better on the radio broadcast (I will find out on this Sunday’s repeat: 1 o’clock Radio 3), there were still passages that (perhaps blissfully so given my distaste of the words) were occluded by instruments. Prunella Scales’s sometimes monotone enunciation didn’t quite have enough variety to make for ease of listening, although Sam West had enough vocal power to ameliorate any such effect in his contribution. I would like to think they had the same qualms about what they were emoting as I had.

Couldn’t someone provide new words? Something about the Sitwells themselves, giving thanks that such obviously privileged, arrogant, boorish, self-regarding but worthless people are (mostly) a thing of the past.

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Prom 2: In (nearly) the Beginning

Die Schöpfung

Christiane Oelze (soprano), Paul Groves (tenor), John Relyea (bass) with Nicola Beckley [alto soloist in final chorus]
Choir of the Enlightenment
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 20 July, 2002
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Always a good place to start (indeed Franz Welser-Möst’s opening concerts as The Cleveland Orchestra’s Music Director this coming September are of this very work), the Proms chose the second night for this performance of Haydn’s The Creation, sung in German, music which had graced the opening night six years ago.

Sir Charles Mackerras was on hand to bring his considerable style and acumen to the performance and, barring the inevitable occasional infelicities from “authentic” instruments and the collapse of what sounded like a box of television equipment (the concert was broadcast on BBC Four), this was a performance to treasure. Starting late, but knocking some ten minutes of the anticipated running time, Mackerras proved a lithe guide to the six days of creation – courtesy of the Bible, Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, an anonymous collaborator and Gottfried van Sweiten’s German translation – and the early days of Adam and Eve (before any appearance by a serpent or apple), tempos kept moving but not without unearthing beauty in almost every bar.

The players were on top form, although (in passing) not as colourful of dress as usual. The ladies were in black whereas they would normally wear at least something golden.Whether there had been a request to dress thus to highlight the colour washes the television producer wanted shone on the organ I don’t know. I am assuming that it was for the TV audience that we got a sudden brightening of illumination when the chorus demanded “Let there be light” and, later, blues for the sea and other colours. We certainly didn’t need it in the hall, and I fervently hope that these weak and distracting gimmicks are not to be a common feature of this year’s Prom season (or future ones). It will not encourage people to watch concerts on television, full stop! Have I made myself clear? [Yes Nick, and you are absolutely right – Ed.]

All you need to bring music to life is expert performers and a cohesive performance. Christiane Oelze excelled, particularly in the opening to Part Two (Day Five), the description of the birds in the air (“Auf starkem Fittiche schwinget sich”) matched by woodwind solos. Americans Paul Groves – an ardent Uriel – and John Relyea – sonorous and imposing as both Raphael and, in Part Three, Adam – were well matched, and the Choir, expertly drilled by chorus master Anthony Walker, added lustre.

It occurs to me that The Creation should be the start of a two-part programme, the second night heralded by Liszt’s From the Cradle to the Grave, followed by Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration before ending with Mozart’s Requiem.Those who missed Mackerras’s interpretation, or who can’t get to hear the re-broadcast this Tuesday afternoon (23 July at 2 o’clock), ought to note in their diaries 30 January 2003, when the OAE return to The Creation as part of the South Bank’s Haydn series – Iván Fischer conducts with soloists Lisa Milne, John Mark Ainsley and Christopher Maltman.

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Opening Night: Spanish Fiesta & Pagan Feast

Fandangos [UK premiere]
Symphonie espagnole
Belshazzar’s Feast

Maxim Vengerov (violin)
Willard W White (bass-baritone)
Choral Arts Society of Washington &BBC Symphony Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: 19 July, 2002
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

This electrifying performance of Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast certainly ensured that the composer’s centenary was marked – and the 108th Proms season launched – in considerable style.

If the first half of the concert was somehow less satisfying, this was due to the programming rather then the performance.With the forces available for Belshazzar, one might have thought that, being the Golden Jubilee Year, Walton’s magnificent Coronation Te Deum might have started the proceedings. Instead, the focus was on the Spanish theme that has been chosen to run through the season.

Chabrier’s effervescent evocation was given a performance of great sparkle and verve, with exemplary playing all-round. Especially noteworthy was the delicacy of the quieter passages – woodwind and harps near the beginning were delectable – whilst the full orchestra played out with panache and exemplary rhythmic precision.

Roberto Sierra’s Fandangos was another treat. Here was a contemporary composition that is surely destined to become a popular orchestral display piece. Based on a keyboard Fandango by Antonio Soler (1729-1783) and also including elements of one by Boccherini (1743-1805), the composer describes the work as “a fantasy, or a super-fandango”. And so it proved. A strongrhythmic drive throughout propelled the music onward. One of thememorable features is the way in which Soler’s Fandango seems to disappear, swallowed up in a welter of brass and exotic percussion, only to re-emerge unscathed. The strings have some florid passages with contours and textures that sometimes suggest Philip Glass, and the orchestration is vividly and individually coloured. A thoroughly enjoyable work that was played and conducted with infectious enthusiasm.

Maxim Vengerov then joined the orchestra for Lalo’s concertante showpiece. Whatever the composer may have intended (“a solo violin soaring over the rigid form of an old symphony”) it is in the virtuosic violin writing where most of the piece’s interest lies; Vengerov gave a thoroughly convincing and stylistic performance. Again, quiet passages were most effective, with mere whispers of sound from both soloist and orchestra making their mark. Indeed Slatkin and Vengerov made a very effective case for this piece which, in spite of its ’local’ colourings is not entirely without its longeurs. Vengerov received a rapturous reception and then played an encore – the ’Sarabande’ from Bach’s B minor Partita, poignantly dedicating it to the children across the world suffering from the trauma of war and religious persecution.

After the interval, Walton’s blazing masterpiece was given a tremendous performance. The combined choral forces were excellent, with superb intonation and firm attack, whilst the orchestral playing was flawless. Walton’s vivid and, in some places, still startling orchestration was brought graphically to life. Someone sitting behind me laughing at Walton’s novel percussion and brass writing spoiled my enjoyment. Amazing how selfish and thoughtless some concertgoers can be.

Willard White was an imposing and authoritative soloist, but it wasSlatkin’s interpretation that made one marvel anew at the sheer originality of the score. This performance made one realise just how astonishing the music must have seemed in 1931, and one can hardly pay a higher compliment than that. I had forgotten how utterly desolate and sad is the setting of ’By the waters of Babylon’, whilst the barbaric splendour praising the pagan gods can seldom have been more vividly conveyed. In the final pages, Slatkin took his time over the concluding, spaced-out chords, reminding us that Walton’s First Symphony was just around the corner.

I hope Slatkin will re-record Belshazzar’s Feast. His interpretation certainly needs to be preserved. BBC Radio 3 re-broadcasts this Prom on Monday, 22 July, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

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Leonard Slatkin introduces his concerts in Proms 2002

Reviewed by: Leonard Slatkin

Reviewed: 18 July, 2002

This week marks the second year in which I will be leading the BBC Symphony in the opening and closing of the Proms. Each of my programs has a special personal touch.

For the First Night on 19 July, we are joined by the Choral Arts Society of Washington in a performance of Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. I enjoy these collaborations with disparate musical organizations as it really brings different musical thoughts together.

In addition, we are playing a work that I commissioned two years ago, Roberto Sierra’s Fandangos. It is based on the harpsichord piece by Soler and subsequently adopted by Boccherini. Sierra’s work fits nicely into the Spanish theme that runs through the Prom season.

Next Tuesday (23 July) is a very special night. As you know, the Last Night from this past September was altered because of the events of the 11th. Our soloist that evening, Frederica von Stade, was unable to fly here to sing Ravel’s Shéhérazade. So it was natural that we would include it in this season’s offerings. The occasion also marks, believe it or not, Flicka’s first ever Proms appearance. We also have the premiere of a new Piano Concerto by David Sawer.

In August, on Sunday the 18th, I lead a program which contains one of the pieces that became associated with me early in my career, Prokofiev’s Fifth symphony. Surprisingly, I have never conducted it in London before.

On September 10 we have André Watts playing Rachmaninov’s concerto No.2. André and I go back a long way and I love making music with him. This program also includes a work that I have never done in London before. Shostakovich’s massive 8th Symphony.

And as for the Last night, on September 14, I suspect many of you have read all sorts of things about what we are and are not doing. I will only add that the traditions are back but they are not the traditions of the last twenty years, but stretch back even further. And yes, Rule Britannia is in, but not in the Sargent version. Rather it is the true ending of the Wood Sea Songs, in which the audience is invited to sing along. But no coloratura voice before it, just the orchestra. There will be a lot of surprises this night so b+B82e prepared.

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Proms 2002 – A personal introduction by the editor

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 10 July, 2002
Venue: Royal Albert Hall

“The sky’s the limit,” said Nicholas Kenyon, Proms supremo, when he launched the 2002 season of concerts back in April. Now that these events are just around the corner, the First Night is 19 July, one can take more of an interest than a couple of months ago when the performance schedule then allowed this annual summer epic to seem faraway. Who am I kidding? One has to organise our expert team of reviewers. Curious how I had a queue for some concerts, and no-takers for others.

The equally curious thing about the Proms – a great institution to be sure – is how concerts that might ’bomb’ at the box-office of the Royal Festival or Barbican Halls can muster such support simply because it is a ’Prom’. I’ve never understood that. No more than I can grasp that some people only go to Proms concerts. The other ten months of the year, in terms of concert-going, seem to be spent ignoring London’s musical riches.

To them, the 2002 season will be a novelty. To those who have a year-round interest in concerts, broadcasts and CDs then some aspects have a ’been there, done it’ stamp – Vänska conducting Sibelius and Nielsen, Oramo conducting Nielsen, Haitink and Bruckner, Gatti and Mahler. Hickox does Walton’s First Symphony again … and there’s more on the ’oh, not again’ list. Then there’s the AWOL list – Colin Davis is a notable absentee this year, so too is Vernon Handley, but that’s another story.

Anyway, we’re in Spain this year and shall be entertaining some Old Testament characters. Leonard Slatkin begins proceedings with Chabrier’s colourful España and ends the First Night with Belshazzar’s Feast to honour Walton’s centenary. In between is the UK premiere of Fandangos by Roberto Sierra – “you’ll like that, it’s fun” said Slatkin to me the other day – and Maxim Vengerov will throb his way through Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole. No, I’m not his biggest fan … and the hype doesn’t help. No more than it does for Evgeny Kissin or Valery Gergiev. Is mine an anti-Russian stance? No, of course not, because I look forward immensely to Viktoria Mullova playing the Mendelssohn concerto (24 July), part of a particularly attractive programme from the Barcelona Symphony, and I am sorry that Vadim Repin is not appearing this year following his fabulous Tchaikovsky last time. One does wonder though about Gergiev doing three concerts in two days – Boris Godunov (24 August) followed the next day by 150 minutes of Gubaidulina and, then, Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony – as an encore! This resembles a circus act.

If Vengerov isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, I do look forward to hearing Ilya Gringolts and James Ehnes again (3 August & 4 September respectively), so too Nikolaj Znaider who hopefully will put Nielsen’s concerto on the map (he’s already made a superb recording for EMI); in that same concert (30 July) is Per Nørgärd’s Sixth Symphony, a compelling piece just issued on Chandos.

New, or twentieth-century music in general, remains a problem for some people; it is though a welcome and important part of the Proms. One blinks though to see Pierre Boulez’s Le visage nuptial listed: it was played last season! But so was the ’New World’ symphony, Mahler 5, Tchaikovsky 4 … so why not, the Boulez is a great piece (14 August). So is Oklahoma! That’s on 17 August – Richard Rodgers is another centenary composer. Other new pieces come from David Sawer (23 July), Mark-Anthony Turnage (1 August) and Anthony Payne (5 August) – really looking forward to the Payne.

Payne also contributes a variation to a composite piece for the Last Night (14 September), along with Colin Matthews, Magnus Lindberg and Lukas Foss, among others, on a tune by Purcell – a Prommer’s Guide to the Orchestra perhaps. The Last Night itself reverts to tradition, more or less; my own feeling is that, however terrible the events of September 11 that led to the very different Last Night of 2001, that more tweaking could now have been done. The die-hards will disagree, but I think it’s time to move on. Variety is the spice of life. Enough said and, anyway, Leif Ove Andsnes playing the Grieg should be special, and I hope the “to include” advice regarding the Rodgers sequence allows in the Carousel Waltz – you’ve got to have that!

I’m also looking forward to hearing André Watts playing Rachmaninov’s Second concerto – it’s a number of years since he played in London (last time it was Mendelssohn’s G minor concerto at St John’s). This is part of Chief Conductor Leonard Slatkin’s five Proms with the backbone of the Proms, the BBCSO (13 concerts), that will embrace excerpts from Stravinsky’s original Firebird score (odd that) and David Sawer’s new Piano Concerto (23 July); less conspicuous is excerpts from Rodion Shchedrin’s re-working of Bizet’s Carmen on 18 August with Prokofiev 5.

Of visiting orchestras, it will be interesting to see how Gerard Schwarz is shaping the RLPO and what James Levine is doing to the Munich Philharmonic after its glorious time with Celibidache; Alfred Brendel shows for this Prom (3 September) – but it’s Mozart again. The National Orchestra of Lyon playing Sibelius 5 is a curiosity (23 August) – a first? The Royal Concertgebouw plays Mahler 3 under Chailly (28 August) and, less predictably, an Italian-based programme that stands out (the night before). Of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s two programmes under Salonen, the first looks like an advert for existing CDs (30 August), and the second couples symphonies of Shostakovich and Beethoven, the latter being the ’Choral’, the only Beethoven symphony in the season. If only such a moratorium could have been extended to Gurrelieder (28 July), the latter a CD ’hit’ this year – oh, Ben Heppner has withdrawn – and Shostakovich 5 (7 August). Still, the Shostakovich may well prove to be “charismatic”, to use one of the many superlatives in the Proms Prospectus – presentation (hoodwinking the punters) seems so important these days.

Mouth-watering evenings include Thomas Adès conducting Sibelius (29 August), Metzmacher juxtaposing Ives and Mahler (2 September), Rattle’s Maher 8 (11 August) and Abbado’s appearance on 22 August. There are also some enticing operatic double-bills, not least Oliver Knussen’s Sendak-inspired scores.

As relief to the RAH evening and late-night events (73 in total), there are eight chamber music recitals in the Victoria & Albert’s Lecture Theatre (eight Mondays from 22 July at 1 o’clock) and four Composer Portraits in the same venue – Julian Anderson, Pierre Boulez, Anthony Payne and David Sawer – which make an attractive prelude to the appropriate evening concert.

There’s no hiding from the Proms. If you can’t get to a concert in person, then everything is on Radio 3. BBC 4 (ex-Knowledge, digital) shows quite a few concerts and BBC 1 & 2 will be present too. Hopefully BBC 4’s presentation will be less down-market than last year – one can always turn the sound down for the chat – and one wonders who the first Radio 3 announcer will be to talk themselves into the music! And then there’s between-movement applause and various noises-off to contend with. There is though air-conditioning!

My choice of (potentially) outstanding concerts is Proms 7, 10, 15, 18, 30, 33, 37, 44, 50, 52, 53, 57 and 69.

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