Opera + Classical Music Features

BBC Proms Week Eight : Preview

Royal Albert Hall

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

The last few weeks of the Proms seem to scurry past like the finale in a Beethoven symphony.

And this year is no different, though previewing the last week emphasises the sheer quality of what remains, even at this late stage.

Beginning with the Last Night, the night that draws many a music fan to the festival for their only visit or viewing of the year.

As is customary, the loose ends are tied up with the Proms themes, though much of the interest will focus on the chief of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with Jiri Belohlvek taking charge of the concert for the first time. Joining him will be some high profile soloists – violinist Joshua Bell, soprano Anna Netrebko and tenor Andrew Kennedy.

Bell will doubtless impress in the gymnastics of Ravel’s Tzigane and the rather more tender Vocalise of Rachmaninov, while the glamorous Netrebko will surely delight in scenes by Bellini and Lehr, not to mention the wonderful Morgen of Richard Strauss. Kennedy looks set to take on an excerpt from Elgar’s less heard The Spirit of England. The usual packed program sees Belohlvek on home turf in Dvorak’s Othello overture, one of the composer’s most dramatic symphonic scores, while the traditional closing sequence will take on greater significance in Elgar’s anniversary year.

Final week at the Proms always brings high profile visitors, and they don’t come much higher than the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Conducted on this visit by Daniel Barenboim, the choice of repertoire leaps off the page for their second Prom, no.68 on Tuesday 4 September. A bizarre but extremely interesting quartet of pieces begins with Bartk’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta – a classic 20th century score but hardly familiar Vienna Philharmonic territory. Then the choices get even more obscure, with Kodly’s Dances of Galanta closing the concert, soon after Ligeti and Enescu. Core repertoire forms their first visit in Prom 67 on Monday 3rd September, however, with Barenboim overseeing Schubert’s delightful Fifth Symphony before what should be a towering performance of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, the Romantic.

It’s worth noting that this concert, a 7pm start, is followed by an attractive late night Prom from the BBC Singers of Domenico Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater. This will in a small way mark the 300th anniversary of the death of Dietrich Buxtehude, the organist Bach walked some two hundred miles to see. John Scott will give the Royal Albert Hall organ a dusting down.

Bach features heavily in the day’s chamber music concert at Cadogan Hall, with pianist Angela Hewitt crowning another extremely successful season of Monday lunchtime recitals. Hewitt’s tasteful interpretations of Bach on the piano are something of a rarity these days, so it will be a treat to enjoy the First and Fourth Partitas, with two Domenico Scarlatti sonatas sandwiched in between. The Cadogan Hall plays host to the final Saturday matinee concert also, with 1st September playing host to a Britten/Auden celebration from the Nash Ensemble. Britten’s film music for The Way To The Sea and Night Mail will be performed, the latter to the accompaniment of the film itself, while tenor Andrew Kennedy will warm up for his Last Night contribution with the wonderful word painting of the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings.

Back to the visiting orchestras, and San Francisco, whose symphony orchestra will give two concerts over the weekend in Proms 64 and 65 (Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 September). Their conductor Michael Tilson Thomas has received much praise for the recent Mahler cycle the team have committed to disc, and the Seventh Symphony in their second prom will be well worth hearing. As will the first concert, coupling one of the 20th century’s most performed symphonies – Shostakovich’s Fifth – with one of its most characterful, Charles Ives’s Third Symphony, the Camp Meeting. In between the soprano Deborah Voigt will sing the final scene from Richard Strauss’s Salom.

James Levine is a rare visitor to the Proms, as is his orchestra, the Boston Symphony. This is their debut European tour as a partnership, and they could hardly choose a bigger work to bring in Prom 70 on Thursday 6 September. They will perform the massive Damnation of Faust by Berlioz, who has had a prolific Prom season this year. Soloists include Yvonne Naef and Jos Van Dam, with the famous Tanglewood Festival Chorus also appearing. The orchestra take stage on the following night in Prom 71, with the tour de force that is Bartk’s Concerto for Orchestra and Brahms’s much loved First Symphony. There will be home grown composing talent on display too, in the shape of promising young composer Elliott Carter. Did I say young? Well, he’s ninety-nine in December and still writing freely. His Three Illusions will receive their UK premiere.

Riccardo Chailly will bring the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra to Prom 69 for a concert packed with popular Romantic repertoire – Brahms’ Fourth Symphony and Beethoven’s dramatic Coriolan overture, with the large scale Violin Concerto completing the first half with soloist Viviane Hagner. Finally the BBC Symphony Orchestra continue their heroic performing schedule with Mahler’s vibrant First Symphony in Prom 63 on Friday 31 August. The first half is of considerable interest too, the world premiere of Thea Musgrave’s Two’s Company, with oboist Nicholas Daniel and percussionist Evelyn Glennie as soloists. Musgrave’s music is rarely less than concentrated, so it will be interesting to see how she unites these two vastly differing instruments.

If you haven’t been to the Proms yet this year all is not lost – turn up late afternoon at the Royal Albert Hall and you should still get in to the arena or the gallery and enjoy some top class music making. Should you be unable, MusicOMH will cover the majority of the final week, so make sure you check in regularly to read about it!

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