Thursday, April 19, 2018

2018 BBC Proms celebrate Mahler, Mahler and yet more Mahler


In the 2018 BBC Proms season announced today there are no less than six Mahler symphonies. This represents 60% of the composer's symphonic output, and his First Symphony receives its fourteenth Proms performance in eighteen years. If Proms planners took any notice of this blog, which of course they don't, they would doubtless hope that my attention would be diverted from the copious Mahler and Shostakovich - yet another 'Leningrad' and Fifth Symphony - by the first Proms appearance of Senegalese singer and songwriter Youssou N'Dour, whose 2004 Grammy-winning album Egypt is influenced by Islamic mysticism. But sorry, I am not impressed.

Youssou N'Dour is a leading figure in a generation of musicians who have, to quote Ross Daly, turned world music into "an offshoot of the pop music industry with an emphasis on party music". Of course there is a place for populist crossover projects. But not at the BBC Proms; which should enlighten and challenge its audiences with authentic performances from the global traditions, instead of giving the music a 'congenial' makeover. There are a few gems in the 2018 Proms, including a rare performance of Parry's Fifth Symphony. But, given the enormous resources at the BBC's disposal, those gems are disgracefully few and far between. With the 2018 Proms Alan Davey and David Pickard have done an exemplary job of ticking all the politically correct and media-friendly boxes. But the problem is, as in so much classical music programming today, there is very little in the boxes except ticks. And yes that Clinton Cards moment is for real. It could have come from BBC Radio 3, but is, quite appropriately, from Classic FM.

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5 comments:

Peter said...

Indeed - and Martyn Brabbins and the BBC NOW in Prom 17 is one of the most appealing to me, too. I'm also looking forward to hearing Franz Schmidt's 4th conducted by Kirill Petrenko.

The Claret Man said...

I went to an African prom at the Albert Hall back in the 1990s, where Youssou N'Dour performed, I'm not sure if it was part of the BBC Proms - I think it was a one-off not sponsored by the BBC. So this performance is not ground-breaking.

I've studied Indian classical music - that's a very serious tradition, and I'm disappointed that whenever it is put on at the Proms, it seems to be some form of fusion or crossover stuff that is performed - I would far rather listen to the real thing.

Having had a quick look at this year's season, there is very little that would entice me to travel the many hours it would take me to get to London. As you say, lots of Mahler and Shostakovich, but nothing that it a true must see.

Pliable said...

Thank you Peter and The Claret Man for those comments. The very large and informed readership for this post proves conclusively that it is not necessary to lean on the toxic crutch of social media.

JMW said...

It looks like weeks of ennui, the Schmidt 4th being one exception. I do wonder at the judgment of the festival's programmers; it's as if they are composing programs based upon their record collections of fifty years ago. More surprising is that with all the noise about diversity and inclusion, there is little to reflect their latterly acquired "woke" commitment to opening their platform to the excluded. Will someone please pass my phone number on to them? I would gladly act as a consultant and assist in more imaginative programming and locating the very people they so ingenuously wish to include.

Pliable said...

But John, you completely miss the point. The music doesn't matter any more. Just give Roxanna Panufnik a 'circa 10 minute' commission for the Last Night of the Proms and perfectly justified complaints about unimaginative programming are drowned out by the sound of classical music's virtuous circle getting into top gear - https://www.ft.com/content/73cd2406-422c-11e8-97ce-ea0c2bf34a0b