Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Proms 2006 launches Martini music-making

Programme for concert in Philharmonie, Berlin in October 2000:

Johannes Ockeghem, Missa Au Travail suis, Tallis Scholars directed by Peter Phillips
Interval
Gustav Mahler, Ninth Symphony,
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester conducted by Kent Nagano

This imaginative, and risk-taking, programme sold out on two consecutive evenings; that is no mean task for a programme including a Mass by Ockeghem, and in a hall with the capacity of the Philharmonie.

It is the absence of risk-taking that I find so disappointing in the 2006 Proms programme which was published last week. It is all so predictable - Mozart and Shostakovich by the shedload, a total absence of Arnold, Rubbra or Finzi because Proms Controller Nicholas Kenyon has no time for composers that are not 'global brands', there is a strong presence from Reich, Adams and Golijov, because they are 'internet box office', big name touring orchestras ride into town on tired old warhorses like the Rite of Spring, there is the mandatory headline grabbing news story in the form of the 'completion' of Elgar's sixth Pomp and Circumstance March - need I go on?

Where is the creative tension that makes a great programme? Where is the excitement of new discoveries? Where is the challenge of the unfamiliar? Where is the diversity?

It was no coincidence that the 2006 Proms prospectus was released in the same week as BBC Director General Mark Thompson set out his 'Creative Vision' vision for the digitally empowered BBC, delivering 'Martini media' - any place, any time, as in the Martini drinks advertisement. The Proms are now just a virtual jukebox stocked with the tunes that the Martini media generation want to play on demand across a range of platforms. Technology is king at the BBC, and the composer is now its servant.

Strangely though I find all this tremendously encouraging. Risk averse Martini media, like the 2006 Proms, from self-styled global players like the BBC completely ignores the fact that the internet does not acknowledge scale. Martini media will open up huge opportunities for 'micro brewery' music-makers prepared to take risks. Local festivals, new composers, independent record companies, internet radio stations, online music stores and many more will reap huge rewards from the folly of the BBC's Martini music-making.

Exciting times!

Image credit - Jan Op De Beek who kindly gave permission for use, do visit his website for more wonderful caricatures. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Hidden's director on productive frustration

10 comments:

Garth Trinkl said...

pliable, I hadn't remembered the Kent Nagano-led Berlin program linking a Johannes Ockeghem Mass and the Mahler Symphony #9 -- and I was in Berlin in September 2000 for the beautiful Messiaen Saint Francoise d'Assis premiere! What an inspired promotion, by Nagano, of Western classical music!

I hope that if Kent Nagano is selected to follow Leonard Slatkin as the next music director of Washington's National Symphony Orchestra in two long years time, he might repeat this, or similarly inspired, programming.

This pairing reminds me that Michael Tilson Thomas led the San Francisco Symphony, some years back, in a program featuring Giacinto Scelsi's Konx-Om-Pax for large orch and chorus (1969) and Beethoven's Symphony #9. [I can't remember whether this pairing was repeated, as well, the following season or two.]

Here is a short essay on that work by Todd McComb:

http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/works/scelsi/konx-om-pax.html

*

PS. Is Andrej Panufnik also off the BBC Proms radar -- like Arnold, Rubbra or Finzi? Some of your readers may want to sample his Symphony #9 after they -- upon your recommendation -- have auditioned the Arnold Symphony #9.
Thanks.

Pliable said...

Garth, not a note of Panufnik in the 2006 Proms.

There seems to be an increasing number of composers in the 'ignored by Nicholas Kenyon' category.

What is your recommended recording of the Panufnik 9th?

I have the wonderful Unicorn vinyl LP of the Sinfonia Sacra and Sinfonia Rustica cnducted by Panufnik himself. If it wasn't 11.00pm here (we've just returned from a wonderful Victoria Requiem sung by The Sixteen in Norwich Cathedral) I'd fire up the Thorens TD125 and put the Panufnik on!

Pliable said...

The following may be of interest - from Peter Philips (director and founder of the Tallis Scholars) in his book What we really do (The Musical Times ISBN 0954577701)

In October 2000 we sang Ockeghem's Missa Au travail suis in the Philharmonie in Berlin as the first part of a concert whose second part consisted of a performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony conducted by Kent Nagano. The hall was filled to capacity for this experiment, more for the Mahler than for us of course; and we received quite violently divergent criticisms. One newspaper said the hall was not the place for a Mass to be sung; another said this kind of thing should happen more often. No one said that the eight singers were too soft for such a vast auditorium - and the place was full for a reprise of exactly the same programme on the following night.

Henry Holland said...

Here's an upcoming Los Angeles Philharmonic concert that I've had no luck getting tickets to (time to bite the bullet and get a subscription next year):

Ligeti: Requiem
Beethoven: Symphony #9

*sigh* I want to go so bad.....

Speaking of the Proms, at work today, I listened to searing performance of Szymanowski's glorious opera Krol Roger with Hampson, Szmetka; Rattle from....the 1998 Proms.

SimonT said...

I think that's a bit harsh. Like you, I deplore the lack of VW and Arnold (and, yes, I'd like to see some Panufnik) and I could do without so much Mozart but I actually find there are more concerts I want to go to this year than for some time. They do have to get a balance and maximise sales. I think it's definitely time they did away with the Last Night altogether!

Pliable said...

Simon, apologies if the tone is harsh, but I guess that is part and parcel of trying to get over a point of view in a limited number of words.

But I have real concerns about the BBC's 'on demand' direction. This results in programming works for which there is a known demand, to the detriment of those that may not be known, but which may be demanded after being heard a first time.

What happens to works that can't be categorised, packaged, and served up on demand any place any time?

Would all those great concerts I attended in the 1970s at the Roudhouse in the Glock/Boulez era have happened in the brave new on demand world? Would Soft Machine have played the Albert Hall?

It may seem harsh, but I don't think they would have happened under Nicholas Kenyon and the Martini media regime.

Garth Trinkl said...

"we've just returned from a wonderful Victoria Requiem sung by The Sixteen in Norwich Cathedral" ...

pliable, I'm deeply deeply jealous!! -- not only of Britain's wonderful choral music opportunities, but of the fact that middle age Brits are healthier than middle age Americans! (I'll check who I listened to doing the Panufnik #9 -- I recall the very interesting, but strangely shaped, Piano Concerto is on the same CD reissue. I listened, for some reason, to about a half dozen Panufnik works last week, probably to follow up on having listened to the Arnold #9 three or four times the previous week.]

[Henry, just this morning a friend e-mailed me and said that she had found tickets for a Wagner Ring Symposium in Seattle that was sold out -- on craigs list.]

*

..."They do have to get a balance and maximise sales." ...

Simon, while I agree with this comment completely, I still believe that it is imaginative programming that gets many classical concerts up towards the 100% attendance range.

For example, if an 80 minute Beethoven #9 or Mahler [or Bruckner?] Symphony might be expected to attract 85 or 90%, might not the addition of Ockeghem, Scelsi, Ligeti, or John Adams's Transmigration, in order to encourage an additional 10 or 15% largely younger people to attend the concert?

In America, concerts are now often becoming shorter, and there are some highly placed American new music advocates such as Greg Sandow at ArtsJournal.com and Frank Oteri at NewMusicBox.org who are beating the populist jungle drums for shorter, no more than one hour long, classical concerts in America.

*

P.S. pliable and Simon, I'm off this evening for my second 3 and 1/2 hour installment of Britain's Royal Shakespeare Theater performing Chaucer's Cantebury Tales. I thoroughly enjoyed the second half (which I saw first), last week.

SimonT said...

That's all right, Pliable, tone doesn't bother me. By and large, I agree but, as an arts marketeer, I can see the financial needs. I like the idea that programming like the Beethoven/Ligeti, Mahler/Ockeghem can sell-out (so, yes, Garth). There's an interesting one at the Barbican next week (Shos 8 plus an E-P Salonen premiere), which I'm hoping to get to.

Certainly, some of the Proms programming is tired and predictable - we don't need another Mahler 5, Beethoven 9 or Symphonie Fantastique (much as I love them). But amongst them, there's plenty else to enjoy.

I have the Sinfonia Sacra/Rustica on disk and I'd love to hear that at the Proms too.

Enjoy the Chaucer Garth.

Anonymous said...

A good example of imaginative programming happened on Radio 3 last night:Berg Lyric Suite/Schubert Impromptus/Schoenberg Pierrot Lunaire;short and relevant comments before each piece by MItsuko Uchida and wonderful music making.

SimonT said...

The Shostakovich/Salonen programme at the Barbican on Friday was very good. I believe it was broadcast on Radio 3. The Salonen (Wing on Wing) was surprisingly good, despite the thoroughly pretentious inclusion of the sound of a "Plainfin Midshipman - a Pacific-dwelling singing fish".