BBC Proms – unplanned Schwarzkopf tribute
On the contemporary music front the UK premiere of Steven Stucky’s Second Concerto for Orchestra played by the Philharmoia conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen on Sunday (13 August) should be a highlight. Stucky currently holds the corporate sounding title of Consulting Composer for New Music (well I guess it’s better than Vice President New Music) in Los Angeles where Salonen is Music Director, and the mutual admiration society extends to the score where the letters ESA are used as a motif in the first movement which is titled ‘Overture (with friends)’. Despite that I’m sure the music itself will be just great.
The next day another talented Finn Sakari Oramo arrives with his fine Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra to deliver two salutary reminders. In the first half of the concert fellow Finn Soile Isokoski’s performance of Strauss’ Four Last Songs will be a poignant reminder of the recently departed Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. In the second a well-deserved outing for Bártok’s Concerto for Orchestra serves to remind us that there was more than one important voice among the mid-20th century composers. And Bártok also gets an outing on Wednesday (16 August) when Garrick Ohlsson plays the Third Piano Concerto.
But the Americans get my vote for the Prom of the week. Scotland's Donald Runnicle’s brings New York’s Orchestra of St Luke’s to the Albert Hall on Thursday (17 August) with a programme that includes Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks, Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, and Ian Bostridge singing Witold Lutoslawski’s Paroles Tissés (Woven Words). With all those delights in the first half I’ll forgive them yet more Mozart in the second.
Proms highlights week commencing 12th August:
Sunday 13 August 8.00pm – Steven Stucky, Second Concerto for Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Essa-Pekka Salonen
Monday 14 August – Strauss Four Last Songs, Bártok Concerto for Orchestra, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo
Thursday 17 August, Stravinsky Dumbarton Oaks, Lutolawski Paroles Tissées, Wagner Siegfried Idyll.
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. All Proms should be available for seven days after broadcast on the BBC listen again service, but check BBC listings for confirmation. Concert start times are 07.30pm British Summer Time unless otherwise stated. Convert these timings to your local time zone using this link.
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I've just finished listening to tonight's Prom of 'popular' repertoire - Stravinsky's Firebird, albeit in the rare complete ballet version. The orchestra was the wonderful BBC Scottish, the conductor was their dynamic 30 year old Chief Conductor Ilan Volkov, and the performance was just phenomenal.
Listening confirmed the Leboyer effect, working in a great acoustic produces great ensemble. You could hear the effect of the orchestra's acoustically wonderful new home in City Halls in Glasgow on their intonation tonight. Those mighty closing pages, which Fokine honoured by making his dancers stand still because he realised no choreography could match such music, have never sounded more moving - this is truly an orchestra, and a conductor, on a roll.
The Berlin Philharmonic, and the other 'London today, Edinburgh tomorrow' orchestras are going to be hard-pressed to match that kind of music making.
Bravo BBC Scottish!
Geoff Brown at Glyndebourne
BENJAMIN BRITTEN’S opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream may have been written for his Aldeburgh Festival, but Glyndebourne, a midsummer night’s dream itself, is surely its best home.
Apart from the Downs and the grazing sheep, you are guaranteed Sir Peter Hall’s production and John Bury’s magnificent designs — 25 years old, but with their magic very much intact.
Actually, for small people that magic may have increased. There is now the Harry Potter factor. What is Puck but a Hogwarts pupil with a ginger shock who hasn’t sorted his spells? Jack Morlen, aged 11, bold as brass, assumes the role with great bravado and the spindliest legs that ever walked through frozen ice.
Trinity Boys Choir, Glyndebourne’s regular fairies, undertake their singing and floor-crawling with unusual purpose; chorus master David Swinson and the revival director, James Robert Carson, must have worked them hard.
From every angle, this is a show about transformation. The characters’ hearts; the music’s chord progressions and motifs; Bury’s romantic Samuel Palmer-inspired forest, which constantly morphs in the changing light.
And every cast brings its own mutations. Bottom can be yanked close to a red-nosed clown, but Matthew Rose controls himself, kept his dignity, and is all the funnier. He also wins the prize for best projection: even wearing his ass’s head, every word is audible.
But ringing voices can also be perilous. Timothy Robinson’s tone as Lysander is steadfast, but shouldn’t a lover bring to the bower variety and soft edges? Jared Holt’s Demetrius has his brick wall moments too.
On the other hand, the metal chill inside Bejun Mehta’s counter-tenor is invaluable for Oberon. This forest isn’t all fun, even with the droll rustics. Iride Martinez, from Costa Rica, cuts a bright swath with her coloratura as Tytania. Tove Dahlberg’s Hermia appeared tentative, though it’s her misfortune to play scenes with the Helena of Kate Royal, who makes acting and singing indivisible.
In the pit, the London Philharmonic contribute their own magic with conductor Ilan Volkov (his Glyndebourne debut). Ignore my quibbles; hesitate no longer.
The latter may be the ONLY great English-language opera in existence. We have plenty of great English-language comic musicals/operettas, possibly the best repertory in the world, but for opera, I'm afraid it's simply "Midsummer."
"Dream," by the way, not "Marriage," as much as I admire Tippett.