Opera + Classical Music Features

BBC Proms 2007: Week One preview

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall (Photo: David Levene/Royal Albert Hall)

Yes, it really is that time of year again – the sun may be yet to make a prolonged appearance in the English summer, but the BBC Proms are primed and ready for their 80th season under the banner of the corporation.

And in the first week of Nicholas Kenyons final season as director, the music covered will range over nearly five hundred years. Not many festivals can compete with that!

It’s a first week that takes in no fewer than twelve British composers, from Thomas Tallis to Sam Hayden. Big choral works, large symphonic structures – and charming Shakespearian miniatures. For these days the Proms seems to cater for every size, every Western nationality and almost every time of the day.

Week one starts by redressing the balance of last years lack of a Beethoven ‘Choral’ performance, and the first night will start with a bang as Jiri Belohlavek rallies his BBC troops. In the first half the principal cellist of the BBC SO Paul Watkins will set down an early marker for Sir Edward Elgar’s 150th anniversary, the composer’s birth marked by the Cello Concerto.

Opening the first concert will be the bustle of Walton’s Portsmouth Point overture, kicking off the theme of compositions commissioned by the BBC in its eighty year tenure. The same year saw Frank Bridge’s There Is A Willow Grows Aslant A Brook premiered in similar circumstances.

Bridge – teacher of Benjamin Britten – could count this among his most charming orchestral compositions, and this will form an integral part of the first Proms Saturday Matinee of the season, an attractive concert on Shakespearean themes that takes in Mendelssohn, Korngold, Stravinsky and Shostakovich.

The clean white lines of the Cadogan Hall will be the setting for the matinee, and will once again play host to the ever more successful Proms Chamber Concerts on a Monday lunchtime. An all-British vocal affair makes up the first programme on July 16, with mezzo-soprano Alice Coote accompanied by the peerless Graham Johnson in songs by Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Quilter and Judith Weir – her Voice of Desire a Proms premiere four years ago.

Voices on an altogether larger scale will ring out that night, as Antonio Pappano conducts a performance of Rossini’s Stabat Mater, a grand hour long setting that will form a sharp contrast with the Berio Sinfonia that precedes it. Voices, too, on the following night of July 17, though these will be rooted in the past.

Davitt Moroney will be bringing the newly discovered Mass Ecco si beato giorno of Striggio to the Proms, for what is described as its first performance in modern times. This remarkable work is in forty and sixty parts, and will need the BBC Singers and the Tallis Scholars to do it justice. Not content with getting their heads round the demands of the Mass, the assembled forces will also perform that most famous of Thomas Tallis’s motets, Spem in alium.

If you’re feeling brave, why not make that concert the second part of a double – with two big American symphonies to start. Charles Ives’ Fourth Symphony is a radical work that was only first performed at the Proms as recently as 1966, so great were its technical demands. Twinned with the Auden-inspired Age of Anxiety, Leonard Bernstein’s Second Symphony, this promises to be a powerfully rewarding Prom from the BBC Symphony Orchestra under David Robertson.

Lovers of earlier vocal works are in for a second treat in the first week, as Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducts a night of music from Campra (his Requiem) and the colourful writing of Jean-Philippe Rameau, with selections and dances from the operas and ballet music. This will feature young players from South Africa in the form of the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble.

It wouldn’t be the Proms without a big symphony or two, and while most of the big guns are held over until the final couple of weeks, Nicholas Kenyon can’t resist unveiling three huge symphonic works in the opening week. Beethoven’s Ninth we know and love, but the Russian composer Reinhold Glire’s Third Symphony Ilya Murometz won’t have reached quite so many ears in its depiction of the 12th-century mythical character. Lasting eighty minutes, it’s a weighty challenge for the BBC Philharmonic and their Russian music specialist Vassily Sinaisky on Thursday July 19, and will be generously flanked by music from Arvo Prt and Rachmaninov.

It’s not just Auntie celebrating an eightieth birthday at the Proms this year, and Kurt Masur will mark the same anniversary with another huge symphony, Bruckner’s Seventh. This will be part of a unique collaboration between two of the orchestras most instrumental in Masur’s conducting career, the London Philharmonic and the Orchestre National de France. The first half of this Prom, on Wednesday July 18, will feature Tchaikovsky’s glowing Serenade for Strings.

Last but not least, an English Prom remains. With Shakespeare representing the theatre at the Proms matinee on the Saturday, the cinema will redress the balance in the evening on the same day, with music from Great British Films compered by the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Wilson. This will include music from Adler, Arnold, Coates, Stephen Warbeck and John Williams.

Music OMH will be covering four Proms in the first week – the opening night, Alice Coote’s vocal recital at the Cadogan Hall, Antonio Pappano’s Rossini and Vassily Sinaisky’s Glire. From that you can already form a picture of the scope of music on offer – and take your choice safe in the knowledge that this week at least, you’re likely to discover something new – or, at the very least, rediscover something anew.

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