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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