Wednesday 8 April 2009

There's Runnicles (and one or two others) - The 2009 BBC Proms

It must be a good day or so since the last publication of an arts programme, so let's have another. Today it is the turn of the BBC and the 2009 Proms. And very interesting it looks too.

By means of some creative accounting (adding up all the Proms in the parks), they get to 100 concerts, a nice round number for the press release. Still, past that and the world's greatest classical music festival slogan (don't get me started on world's greatest again, we'll be here all evening and for all the wrong reasons), there is some rather fine stuff, and, in particular, a lot more big names than we're getting in Edinburgh. But you'd expect that: the Proms' funding is nice and secure, the more so with recent licence fee increases, whereas Edinburgh's corporate sponsorship will have suffered (I don't think we'll see too much money from RBS and the Bank of Scotland in the near future).

In such a vast programme it's difficult to know where to start so, in the absence of a better idea, and because it's in our name, let's begin in late August with Donald Runnicles making what will hopefully be the first of many appearances there as chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Prom 55. The programme comprises Adams' Slonimsky's Earbox, which they played in Glasgow recently, Mozart's K466 concerto (with pianist Shai Wosner) and Strauss's Symphonia Domestica. A completely different programme to the one we're getting in Edinburgh a few days later.

But there's more than just Runnicles on offer this year, and here are a few things that have caught my eye. First off, Mackerras is on hand for, not one, but two Proms. To begin with, in Prom 12 we get Elgar, Delius and Holst's Planets with the BBC Philharmonic. Then, and much more the treat, especially after his stunning 2005 HMS Pinafore, we get some Gilbert and Sullivan in the form of Patience. Mackerras is joined, as he was then, by the BBC Concert Orchestra, this time coupled with the likes of Felicity Palmer, Toby Stafford-Allen and the ENO Chorus for Prom 35. There is only one reservation: why on earth is this semi-staged production not being televised when the straight orchestral concert is? I simply cannot comprehend what decision making process can possibly have been behind this. The 2005 Pinafore was wonderfully dramatic. (Runnicles isn't being televised either, in case you're wondering.)

Probably the biggest treat, and one I'd be dashing south to catch if it didn't fall slap bang in the middle of the Edinburgh Festival, is the triple appearance of Barenboim's magnificent West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, amazingly celebrating its tenth birthday. He begins in Prom 48 with some Tristan and Isolde and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, follows this the same evening with a chamber concert including Mendelssohn's octet in Prom 49. Then, on Saturday 22nd August, in Prom 50 comes a concert performance of Fidelio. This orchestra are wonderful, both in terms of what they represent but more so in the sheer joy with which they play, and which they provoke in their audience. I've only been luck enough to hear them once, at the 2005 Edinburgh festival, where they were rather special.

The BBC Scottish also show up under the baton of Ilan Volkov in Prom 38 for Ravel's La valse, a world premiere cello concerto by Unsuk Chin and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and then again in Prom 40 for more Stravinsky and Beethoven 9 (not on the last Friday, which will surely upset a lot of people, to which I say good as the people who will get upset by this tend to annoy me), soloists include Rebecca Evans and Anthony Dean Griffey. I should probably mention my local band: the SCO are in town for Prom 20 under Seguin's baton for a programme including Stravinsky's Pulcinella, Schumman's piano concerto and Mendelssohn's Reformation (and the wonderful Karen Cargill joins them to sing). As ever, the BBC Symphony Orchestra gets much of the heavy lifting, but does provide some potential treats: Prom 8 brings Simon Keenlyside (notable recently for his superb Don Giovanni and even finer turn in Don Carlos) and Thomas Trotter for a programme that includes some Vaughan Williams songs and Saint-Saens' organ symphony and in Prom 30 they are joined by Oliver Knussen.

Some things tear me: as in Edinburgh, the sublime Joyce DiDonato joins the OAE, albeit for a slightly different programme. Sadly, here, as there, the price is too high: Roger Norrington conducts. Similarly, that most impressive of youth orchestras, the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, are here for Prom 65. While they play Ligeti and Schoenberg, they also play Also sprach Zarathustra and Kindertotenlieder with a baritone (and I don't find that works, even when it's a singer as fine as Mattias Goerne). Worst of all, Jonathan Nott is conducting them and I didn't warm to him during his 2005 residence in Edinburgh. I'll probably still listen though.

In the chamber music programme are the Jerusalem Quartet in PCM7 (who I'd love to support, not least because of the shameful way they were treated when they were in Edinburgh last year; sadly they too clash with the Festival) and the Belcea Quartet in PCM3 for a programme including Britten's second quartet, their CD recording of which is rather special.

One area, where the Proms scores highly over this year's Edinburgh programme is in the quantity of big European orchestras showing up (though no Americas - the credit crunch?). Jansons brings the Concertgebouw for Proms 61 and 62 between them including Sibelius 1, Haydn 101 (Military) and Shostakovich 10 (I've heard him play similar pieces with the Bavarians to great effect: Haydn and Sibelius & Shostakovich). Haitink brings the LSO for Mahler 9 in Prom 5, a symphony he's had much greater success with than last year's 6th. On the penultimate night, Mehta brings the Vienna Philharmonic for a programme including Brahms 4 (they are also there the night before for Schubert's 9th, which would be a must for me, except that I don't much care for Harnoncourt, I may give it a try though).

More than enough to be getting on with then. If only it didn't have to be on at the same time as the Edinburgh festival.


Fergus Macleod said...

Lots to agree with here - although I think Nott will be in his complete element with that programme, and am a bit of a fan, also a fan of Harnoncourt. But it's good to see people disagree! I think the proms look to continue all the good work Sir Nicholas Kenyon did and more. Sadly I will be missing it all but will hopefully catch the end of the Proms and some repeats.

P.S I hate G and S

Tam Pollard said...

That's what's great about a festival. Nobody (at least, very few people) can possibly get to everything, but there should something for everyone and lots to disagree about.

In fairness to Nott, I think he wasn't helped by having done 5 concerts nearly back to back, and that kind exposure can be a bit much for even the greatest. I have liked some Harnoncourt stuff - his Beethoven concerti with Aimard, for instance, but I find he pulls some things around around too much for my taste, Haydn particularly (but I think I'm in a minority there).

Fergus Macleod said...

Beethoven concerti with Aimard are one of my favourite CD sets - especially No.4.

Good blog to read though.

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