Barry Creasy gives a timely update on classical music offerings from the major London venues
Back in April, when the effects of the closure of concert halls and opera houses began to be felt, I wrote an article on the excellent initiatives that classical music organisations were making to continue the flow of music to people in lockdown. Given that a couple of months or so have now passed, and we have all – with varying degrees of melancholia – become accustomed not to having our live musical fixes, it seemed an opportune moment to revisit the situation and look at some of the good (and bad) news from the world of classical music.
The good news is that the streaming of pre-recorded material continues apace, with several more opera houses and concert halls joining their colleagues in providing access to their archives. Kings Place, London for example, now has its K Player series available (currently featuring works by Mozart played by the Aurora Orchestra), the Southbank Centre’s The Show Must Go On(line) presents a series of discussions, blogs and playlists. Recently, Opera America hoisted a list of links to opera houses around the world streaming performances, and a wider list that also includes concert venues worldwide is available on Classic FM’s website.
In terms of London classical music venues the larger ones tend to score slightly over many pop and rock venues in that their buildings are generally either owned or maintained by trusts; paying rent, then, with no money coming in, is not the challenge it is in other parts of the live music business. This does not mean, though, that classical venues can afford to be smug. Recent press releases from the Southbank Centre and the Barbican have indicated that it is highly unlikely that they will be opening their doors to live performances until next year, and the corresponding loss of revenue still presents a very serious threat to their finances.
There is, however, some good news on the London live performance front. After considering medical and scientific advice, Wigmore Hall is now hosting live lunchtime concerts (in an empty hall) throughout June, and these are being broadcast on BBC Radio 3, as well as on HD video from the Hall’s own website. It may yet be a while before larger groups of musicians (and certainly live audiences) can gather in enclosed spaces, but the concerts of chamber music that Wigmore Hall specialises in are ideal in terms of first steps, and, if Monday’s recital by Lucy Crow and Anna Tillbrook is anything to go by, their quality remains high.
“The good news is that the streaming of pre-recorded material continues apace, with several more opera houses and concert halls joining their colleagues in providing access to their archives”
Not to be outdone, The Royal Opera House is also planning a series of live programmes from 13 June onwards. Again, these will performed to an empty theatre, but they will be streamed online. Of particular interest will be the new ballet (described as ‘intimate’) choreographed by Wayne McGregor, an example of a stage work created specifically with the limitations of social distancing in mind.
There is good news, also, from the BBC. This year’s 125th Proms season will not – as some of us dreaded – lie fallow. As Proms Director David Pickard states: “These are challenging times for our nation and the rest of the world, but they show that we need music and the creative industries more than ever. This year it is not going to be the Proms as we know them, but the Proms as we need them. We will provide a stimulating and enriching musical summer for both loyal Proms audiences and people discovering the riches we have to offer for the first time.”
Forming the backbone of the season will be a nightly Radio 3 broadcast from the Proms archive, giving a chance for listeners to revisit great Proms performances of the past; on Sunday evenings, BBC 4 will screen a further, televised archive Prom. These will be supplemented with a series of multimedia events that include a First Night commission performed by all the BBC Orchestras and the BBC Singers. Featuring over 350 musicians, this Grand Virtual Orchestra will see all the groups performing together. To mark the 250th anniversary year of Beethoven’s birth, a new mash-up of Beethoven’s 9 symphonies has been specially created by Iain Farrington, which will be a spectacular digital springboard for the summer.
Home audiences will be encouraged to be more interactive this year, and Radio 3 is inviting listeners to share their favourite ever Proms moments and will take inspiration from these and reflect them on air.
Boldly (and, again, consideration will be given to the alert level at the time, so nothing is yet firm), the BBC is also tentatively planning, from the end of August onwards, to programme some live performances from the Royal Albert Hall, such that the final two weeks of the Festival consist of live broadcasts, culminating in a “poignant and unique Last Night of the Proms to bring the nation together”. No programme has been announced yet, but further details of this year’s Proms season can be found here, and as soon as a programme is announced, musicOMH will publish a round-up.