The temperature of the Proms has risen appreciably with some stunning recent concerts from visiting orchestras. By the look of the week ahead, there are more to follow!
And for those whose resistance to purely orchestral music may be rising after six weeks, the August Bank Holiday offers vocal works that span one thousand years or thereabouts, from the Rhineland Harper to Michael Ball. Whatever the purists might think of this, that’s an unrivalled diversity within a music festival!
This is traditionally the time where the big symphonic masterworks are rolled out, and week seven kicks off with one of the biggest of all, Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony, as Prom 53 (Friday 24 August) . This mighty ninety minute work will be conducted by the hugely respected Bruckner interpreter Bernard Haitink, presiding over the Concertgebouw Orchestra, with whom he has recorded the piece and has a lasting and prosperous relationship. He will conduct the 1890 Nowak edition of this work as did Christoph Eschenbach with the Vienna Philharmonic in 2005, a relatively unusual feature for a conductor more used to the shorter Haas version with its extra music in the third movement.
Haitink’s second Prom with the Concertgebouw the following day is a curious affair, but should it succeed in revealing the influence of Wagner on Debussy will have been worthwhile. Debussy loved Parsifal, and it’s with the Prelude and the Good Friday Music that the concert opens, while the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde will close the prom. In between are Debussy’s wonderful Nocturnes and a rare outing for his Six pigraphes Antiques , orchestrated by Rudolf Escher.
It’s a good week for lovers of Serge Prokofiev, and while it sees the umpteenth Proms appearance of the Fifth Symphony in recent years, Valery Gergiev will be on hand to introduce to many the wonderful but flawed Seventh Symphony. The Seventh came off particularly well in his recorded cycle for Philips with the London Symphony Orchestra, and they will team up again to conclude Prom 59 on Tuesday 28 August. Alexander Toradze will join them for the Second Piano Concerto, a barnstorming vehicle of virtuosity well worth seeing live. Each Prokofiev piece is twinned with a Tchaikovsky overture, Romeo and Juliet kicking off the concert and Hamlet the second half.
The Fifth Symphony will be conducted by the BBCSO chief Jiri Belohlavek, part of an attractive Prom 56 on Sunday 26 August. It’s a chance to take in one of the rarely heard but incisive piano concertos by Bohuslav Martinu, the Fourth appearing as Ivo Kahanek‘s Prom debut. Britten’s Four Sea Interludes complete an interesting and varied concert
Two German orchestras visit the Proms in week seven, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra under Pierre-Laurent Aimard and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra headed by Mariss Jansons. Both will reveal two very different sides of Beethoven – the former performing his exuberant Piano Concerto No.2, the latter taking the Choral Symphony head on. Aimard’s late night Prom (no.54, late night Friday 24 August) includes one of Haydn’s heftier symphonies, no.102, which forms part of the London set. As a contrast Aimard will perform a selection of his famed Ligeti tudes.
Jansons, meanwhile, will be the second conductor of the Ninth this year – and with it will bring a Proms first from 1949, Honegger’s Symphonie Liturgique. This, his third in the form, is a deeply moving work of great familiarity to Jansons, and receives a most welcome outing (Prom 62, Thursday 30 August).
In the first of two Proms the night before Jansons will conduct two of the 20th century’s most-performed works, Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra and Sibelius’ Second Symphony. Those lucky enough to stay on will see Oliver Knussen return for his second Prom of the season, the late night Prom 61. This will again feature Second Viennese School repertoire in Webern’s infamous Five Orchestral Pieces, alongside his own Requiem and Orphelia Dances. The Requiem, subtitled Songs for Sue, sets texts of Auden, whose centenary the Proms have celebrated in a low key fashion this year. Knussen will conduct the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in these and the well-received Julian Anderson piece Book of Hours in an enticing late night Prom.
Three concerts occupy the bank holiday Monday, with vocal music aplenty. The seventh Proms Chamber Music concert provides a look at the Lost Songs of a Rhineland Harper, examining the sound of song in Europe a mere thousand years ago. A voyage of discovery for anyone who attends I’d wager, led by the accomplished vocal group Sequentia.
The BBC Concert Orchestra often get overlooked in the Proms, so it’s good to see them given two concerts to complete the holiday. First on is the Water Diviner’s Tale, a collaboration between composer Rachel Portman and poet Owen Shears described as a dramatic musical for all ages’. Bringing together old and new, professional and amateur, it acts as a good example of the Proms looking to reach out to a wider audience.
The same can be said of An Evening With Michael Ball, where the popular entertainer will join the orchestra from 8.00pm, no doubt including songs from the shows as well as his own single hits. This is undoubtedly the one prom choice that has upset the classical purists, but really we should all be aware of the BBC exploiting the potential of the Proms to reach as many music fans as possible. It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but looks likely to be a success.