BBC Proms – Hans Werner Henze at 80

The delights in next week's Proms include performances of Hans Werner Henze’s (left) vast song-cycle Voices, Haydn’s Heiligmesse, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, Poulenc’s Gloria, and Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915. The nuggets are certainly there, but boy, do you have to dig for them among some really muddled programming. Wednesday’s (2 August) is typical of this year’s ‘throw as much mud at the wall and some will stick’ programmes. Have I missed the link between Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, Britten’s Les Illuminations, yet another Elgar/Payne ‘realisation’, a Bach orchestration by Andrew Davis, and Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No 1? And in another example of perverse programming there are two Proms on Saturday 29 July which happens to be the 150th anniversary of Robert Schumann's death, and there is not one note of his music in the four hours of Proms performances. Much that I love Poulenc's Gloria and the Chichester Psalms couldn't we instead have had one of the two rarely performed Schumann Requiems that I heard in Avignon last year and wrote about here?

But at least Saturday afternoon’s Prom by the National Youth Choirs of Scotland and Great Britain (isn’t Scotland in Great Britain?) features a cappella works by Alan Hovhaness, Thea Musgrave and Steven Sametz as well as the Poulenc and Bernstein. In the evening Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 is sung by Christine Brewer in a concert that also includes Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky. More choral music follows on Tuesday (30 July) when Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic combine Haydn’s Heiligmesse with Schubert’s Symphony No 9 in C major, ‘the Great’.

At least Hans Werner Henze’s 90 minute song cycle on Tuesday (1 August) presents a single coherent piece of programming. Henze’s 80th birthday went almost unnoticed on 1st July, submerged by the Mozart and Shostakovich overload. Voices is from his politically motivated early output, and the style is eclectic including texts by Bertolt Brecht and sounds from Trinidadian steel drums and electric guitars. Mary King (mezzo) and Christopher Gillett (tenor) are soloists with Oliver Knussen conducting the London Sinfonietta. Here is Henze writing about Voices in his autobiography Bohemian Fifths:

Then, at the beginning of 1973, I made a start on Voices, a setting of twenty-two songs. This collection was intended as a contribution to the political art song. With the exception of a single poem by Heinrich Heine (a highly personal product of its age), all are based on texts by twentieth-century poets from Ho Chi Minh (right) to Heberto Padilla, from Giuseppe Ungaretti to the voices of Black America, and from Becht to F.C. Delius. Each song has its own instrumental accompaniment. I wrote them for the London Sinfonietta, a full-length 'Song of the Earth' (as it was called at the time), rather than for the sort of amateur choirs and other non-professional groups with whom I had occasionally worked in the past only to make the appalling discovery that they are incapable of singing or staying in time ... The voices of the title are those of the young and old artists whose work is politically committed. These people are concerned with their fellow human beings, with the contemporary human condition within the world around them and with all the problems of race and class in which they themselves often seem fated to be embroiled.

Thursday (3 August) brings the UK premiere of Toshio Hosokawa’s Circulating Ocean, while Friday has another delight, a rare performance of Karol Szymanowski’s Symphonia Concertante (Symphony No 4) bizarrely sandwiched between Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. It is also good to see Szymanowski’s String Quartet No 2 in Monday’s (31 July) lunchtime (1.00pm) chamber music Prom.

Proms Highlights:
* Saturday 29 June 2.30pmA cappella choral works by Alan Hovhaness, Thea Musgrave and Steven Sametz, Poulenc Gloria and Bernstein Chichester Psalms; National Youth Choir of Scotland and Great Britain, Susan Gritton (soprano), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins.
* Saturday 29 June 7.30pm – Barber Knoxville: Summer of 1915; Christine Brewer (soprano), BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Robertson
* Sunday 30 July – Haydn Mass in B flat major Heiligmesse; BBC Singers and Philharmonic conducted by Gianandrea Noseda
* Monday 31 July – Szymanowski String Quartet No 2; Royal String Quartet
* Tuesday 1 August – Henze Voices; Mary King (mezzo), Christopher Gillett (tenor), London Sinfonietta conducted by Oliver Knussen.
* Thursday 3 August – Toshio Hosokawa Circulating Ocean; BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Kazushi Ono
* Friday 4 August – Szymanowski Symphonia Concertante (Symphony No 4); Piotr Anderszewski (piano), Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Stéphane Deneve.

This personal selection from the next week's Proms appears every week On An Overgrown Path, a full listing of the concerts is available here. All the concerts are broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, and as web casts. Many of them are also available for seven days after broadcast on the BBC listen again service but some aren’t. Check BBC listings for which are available via ‘listen again’ but as a rule of thumb high profile orchestras and artists are usually too expensive for the BBC to buy repeat broadcast rights. Concerts start times are given in British Summer Time using 24 hour clock (19.00h = 7.00pm) Convert these timings to your local time zone using this link.

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Garth Trinkl said…
pliable, while the Proms programming might certainly be muddled, it is also certainly exciting -- especially for those of us in U.S. urban centers where intellectually exciting classical music programming virtually shuts down for the summer months leaving those without cars no way of getting to the various summer classical music venues. Also, exciting classical music programming on U.S. public television and radio closed shop a few years back, with no sign of medium-term revival. Thank you very much for your highlighting of what is most progressive in the BBC Summer urban, television, and radio programming. It is a service to the music world.

To follow up on SF Mike's comment below, I recall that Thea Musgrave's opera 'Mary Queen of Scots' was also performed by the New York City Opera in about 1977. A year or two later, I recall that it was performed by the Virginia Opera, where Ms. Musgrave's husband serves as Music Director. I have an LP recording of the opera from the late 1970s, though I can't immediately recall on what label. I also recall that Andrew Porter wrote a favorable review of the work or the New Yorker. It is available in one of his four New Yorker column compilation volumes.
Pliable said…
I just caught the last two movements of the Prom with Mahler 4 played by Jonathan Nott and the Bamberg Symphony on Radio 3 as I drove home from Adam Khan's guitar recital in Norwich.

Quite miraculous music making. I had the feeling I was hearing the work for the first time, just like my first playing of Horenstein's interpretation on a Classics for Pleasure vinyl LP.

Live music making and the Proms at their best - thank you BBC.

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