Opera + Classical Music Features

BBC Proms 2007: Week Three preview

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall (Photo: Andy Paradise/Royal Albert Hall)

Strike up the band – it’s time for brass at this year’s Proms – a whole day of it, in fact! If you either play or have an interest in a brass instrument then you can’t afford to miss it Brass Day will officially take place on Saturday 28 July.

The Proms’ previous ventures in embracing amateur musicians in performances have been so successful that Brass Day offers more of the same, with an opportunity to get involved in a grand fanfare on the steps of the Royal Albert Hall before the performances begin inside.

The day looks like providing a fine illustration of how contemporary composers have risen to the challenge of writing for brass, still a richly rewarding idiom. There will be two world premieres in the form of a brief fanfare by Judith Bingham and the more substantial He is armoured without by Peter Wiegold. These will be placed alongside more established contemporary repertoire from Hans Werner Henze and HK Gruber, whose fiendish trumpet concerto Aerial will be played by its dedicatee Hkan Hardenberger. This is placed just before the interval of the evening concert, preceded by Schumann’s rousing Konzertstck, where a starry foursome of horn players will include David Pyatt and Michael Thompson. Three conductors will preside over the evening’s events, culminating in Sir Charles Mackerras taking to the podium for Janacek’s exuberant Sinfonietta.

The modern end of the brass spectrum will form the culmination of a day begun in the Renaissance and Baroque, with Gabrieli and Monteverdi from His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts, and traditional Uzbek music for trumpet. In the third part of a mammoth matinee concert, Hardenberger will conduct the BBC Philharmonic brass with musicians from the Royal Northern College of Music in Elgar Howarth’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

With the ears likely to be ringing after so much brass, the following night will see the volume drop a notch, with Prom 22 offering a third complete concert of French music on Sunday 29 July. It’s a charmer, however, with principal attraction Anne Sofie von Otter singing the Berlioz song cycle Les nuits d’t, one of the first of its kind. Marc Minkowski will conduct Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble, continuing the Shakespeare theme with selections from the incidental music to Faur’s Shylock and a rare chance to hear the full score of Bizet’s L’Arlsienne.

French music will feature heavily in the week ahead, as will the theme of Proms firsts with the BBC continuing to exploit their own historical capacity of promoting new music. Both combine in a challenging but what should be an ultimately rewarding late night London Sinfonietta Prom, as Boulez’s Drive 2, in revised version, meets the London premiere of Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s Neruda Madrigales. Susanna Mlkki, director of the Parisian Ensemble Intercontemporain, will make her Proms debut (Tuesday 31 July late night).

Earlier that evening Ilan Volkov will take charge of what looks to be an excellent programme of 20th century music, with the stormy Sibelius symphonic poem Tapiola, Ecuatorial by Edgard Varse and Britten’s Piano Concerto, all Proms firsts, teamed with Debussy’s La Mer. Steven Osborne will be the soloist in the Britten.

Another piano concerto appears the night before – and there’s yet more Berlioz. With excerpts from one of the earlier takes on Romeo and Juliet forming a substantial second half, Esa-Pekka Salonen will guest conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra, not only in this but in the European premiere of his own Piano Concerto, with Yefim Bronfman the soloist.

Another premiere to get excited about is the Sixth symphony of David Matthews, in Prom 27 on Thursday 2 August. Renewing acquaintance with the form after a gap of eight years, Matthews will be featured in a composer portrait at 5pm that evening in the Albert Hall, as a prelude to the concert, which will surround the new symphony with Debussy (Printemps), Ravel (La Valse) and Prokofiev, with Janine Jansen playing the second violin concerto.

Ilan Volkov gets a welcome second Prom this year, and the revered conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra will lead his charges in a model of economy and a vast, final symphonic statement. That will come courtesy of Mahler’s ninth symphony, twinned appropriately with Gyorgy Kurtg’s Stele, an object lesson in how to use the components of the orchestra without excess.

Finally on the orchestral front, last year’s Last Night conductor Mark Elder will return on Friday 27 July with the Hall, looking at Shakespeare’s Macbeth through the ears of Richard Strauss, then accompanying soprano Joan Rodgers in Britten’s early song cycle Our Hunting Fathers. Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony, the Inextinguishable, provides the ultimately uplifting second half.

If you have a Monday lunchtime spare in London, you might want to consider the Proms Chamber Music concert at 1pm in the Cadogan Hall. Though chamber music it isn’t, as Stephen Layton leads Polyphony in an hour of English choral works from Vaughan Williams (Shakespeare songs, naturally), Benjamin Britten and Sir John Tavener, whose The Lamb will provide a haunting close.

Music OMH will attend the Hall, brave the Birtwistle and Boulez and take in the Salonen premiere, whilst revelling in the 20th century treats offered up by Ilan Volkov. Come back to read about them!

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