Family Prom

Gayaneh – Sabre Dance
Chopin, orch. Stravinsky
Waltz in E flat, Op.18 (Grande valse brillante)
Richard Rodney Bennett
Lilliburlero Variations [world premiere of orchestral version]
A Song of the Night, Op.19/1
Pomp and Circumstance March No.4 in G, Op.39/4

The Rough Guide to the Proms Family Orchestra

Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, Op.28
The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra – Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Purcell, Op.34

Jennifer Pike (violin)

BBC Proms Family Orchestra & Chorus
Lincoln Abbotts (director)

BBC Philharmonic
Tecwyn Evans

Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: 26 July, 2009
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The opportunity of a “free family prom” attracted many first-timers to a classical music concert; indeed of the two-thirds-full Royal Albert Hall many were children. Producing a suitable concert for such a wide age-group has significant challenges.

Khachaturian’s ‘Sabre Dance’ from his score for the ballet Gayaneh accompanies an Armenian sabre-wielding war-dance. This performance was a sleepy affair, all the notes in the right place, but lacking energy and drive. The relaxed pace continued into Stravinsky’s orchestration of Chopin’s ‘Grande valse brillante’ which was far Chopin’s vivo marking. Stravinsky made this arrangement for Diaghilev’s Paris production of Les sylphides (music by Chopin orchestrated by numerous composers. In the Arena, a young girl did an impromptu ballet indicating that perhaps the tempo was correct, after all!

Jennifer Pike. Photograph: Tom BangbalaRichard Rodney Bennett’s Lilliburlero Variations dates from 2007, the Irish march-tune used as a set of variations for two pianos; this orchestration was made this year for this Prom and received a sympathetic performance. Holst’s A Song of the Night was written in 1905 but was unpublished until 1984, fifty years after Holst died. It’s a sumptuous piece and was excellently played by former BBC Young Musician Jennifer Pike. Tecwyn Evans’s time spent in the opera-house pit stood him in good stead as he steered the orchestra expertly through Holst’s intricate elaboration of the main theme.

The youngest children now restless, parents trying to calm their offspring, what better than a bit of Elgar to round off the first half? His Fourth Pomp and Circumstance March was written after the composer returned from a trip to the USA where he had conducted his oratorios “The Kingdom” and “The Apostles”. Sonorous playing by the brass brought the hall to life once more as an antidote to the excellent, but non-child-friendly music heard before it.

The interval bought valuable time for the scene change that was necessary for the collaborative work to come out of the Proms Family Orchestra and its director Lincoln Abbotts. He has been the driving force behind projects that bring together musicians of all ages and experiences and from 2003 to last year he was Learning Consultant to the BBC Proms and an inspirational leader to goad what could potentially be a ramshackle group of bangers, scrapers and blowers into a musical cohesion that is attractive to listen to and disciplined. The Rough Guide to the Proms Family Orchestra was inspired by Britten’s ‘Young Person’s Guide…’ and quotes from it. The text by “Bard of Barnsley” Ian McMillan emphasises the ethos behind the enterprise. The piece had clear folk-idioms running through it, both English and Algerian, surely representing the multicultural society that is the United Kingdom today.

Another substantial platform change was necessary to make way for the return of the BBC Philharmonic. At this point, as well as others, a compere would have been welcomed to smooth the gap. Sarah Walker’s contribution, though helpful, was only there at the start of each half.

As with the Holst, the BBC Philharmonic in Saint-Saëns’s Introduction and Rondo capriccioso was matched perfectly to Jennifer Pike’s whimsical tone. As the finale, the orchestra was dissected and put back together in Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. The composer wrote the piece in November 1945 for the Ministry of Education to demonstrate the instruments of the orchestra to schoolchildren. With that in mind, it seems a trick was missed by not showing the children assembled in the audience what instruments look like before the piece was played. No matter though as the BBC Philharmonic was on fine form, proudly at its best.

Critically the publicity machine should have made it clear that this concert was really not suitable for very young children. This was however billed as a family concert and its attractive programme together with a daytime slot and free-ticket price made it an ideal introduction to live classical music.

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