Monday 27 July 2020

BBC Proms 2020, or, A Proms Miscelleny for Week 2

One of the pleasures of programmes at BBC Proms concerts (one or two of the opera houses also do this) is the little information box "Previously at the Proms" telling you how many times a work has appeared at the Proms. In the absence of a Proms Guide, or concert programmes, and courtesy (for all the stats and details of performers) of the excellent Proms archive (though any faulty counting is entirely me), here follows a combination of the Proms performance history of this week's works and artists, and a compilation of what the critics said at the time (in so far as I've been able to locate their pieces). I hope the BBC will not object to this use of their publicly available archive data, but of course if they should do so we will be happy to remove this post. It is intended purely for the enjoyment of readers who may be making up for the absence of live performance by listening along to the season.

Monday 27th July - Lunchtime Chamber Music - Martinu, Dutilleux, Prokofiev (2011)

This was the fourth of Emmanuel Pahud's, to date, six Proms appearances as soloist. He first performed at the festival in 1998 in Mozart's Concerto for Flute and Harp with Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic and he'd already appeared at the 2011 Proms season to give the London premiere of Marc-Andre Dalbavie's Flute Concerto with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Theirry Fischer. This was Eric Le Sage's Proms debut and, to date, only appearance.

Saturday 25 July 2020

The Arts and Covid-19, or, Serious Questions for Oliver Dowden and the DCMS

On the 5th July when the government announced its £1.57 billion arts support package I honestly hoped it would mean I could stop having to ask questions of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the Secretary of State Oliver Dowden. Sadly here we are three weeks later and there are again reasons to be seriously concerned.

Overnight on the 22nd/23rd July the Commons Select Committee for the DCMS published a report on the DCMS's (& to an extent the wider government's) response to Covid. It's an admirable document, from a Committee with a Tory majority, which lays out in detail the devastating impact which Covid has had on the cultural sector (Section 3). It makes a series of detailed recommendations for assistance to the sector (Conclusions & Recommendations, Sections 10-19), many of which have been proposed during the crisis by the sector itself. Among these are a call for extensions to the furlough scheme for these sectors where recovery will be delayed, extending the cut in VAT on ticket sales, and ensuring financial aid is not confined only to those previously receiving subsidies.

Monday 20 July 2020

BBC Proms 2020, or, Archival Mysteries

This past weekend would normally have seen the start of the Proms. As with other summer Festivals that usually have a significant broadcast presence (Aldeburgh and Edinburgh for example), Radio 3 has marked it with a season from the archive. Given the restricted conditions under which we're all operating at present it is clearly a significant feat to have pulled this six week season together. The opera selection is especially rich: Donald Runnicles, Nina Stemme and Deutsche Oper in Salome, Bernard Haitink and the Royal Opera in Don Carlo, Jiri Belohlavek, Karita Mattila and the BBC SO in The Makropulos Affair, and Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin in Die Walkure (again with a very starry line-up of soloists, though my preference from that cycle would have been Gotterdammerung for another chance to hear Andreas Schager's Siegfried - the only live occasion I've been really moved by his death). It's also worth noting that, contrary to my first impression, the balance between core repertoire and new works looks pretty close to what it would be in a standard season, and there is appropriate representation of the eclectic genres and performers often seen in the late night slots. The opening weekend hadn't especially stood out for me but turned out to be gripping listening - with Birtwistle's Panic and the energy of Gardiner's Leonora particularly surprising me. All that said, there are (as with the Aldeburgh and Edinburgh broadcasts) significant limits to this delving into the archive which, bizarrely, the BBC seem disinclined to discuss in any detail.

The BBC has talked up the season as a celebration of archival treasures across four decades - but given this would have been the 125th season to go back only 40 years presents a rather truncated picture. Moreover the actual representation of those 40 years in the 2020 season is uneven. It breaks down as follows:

2010s - 28 and a bit concerts, plus 8 chamber recitals
2000s - 16 concerts, plus 2 chamber recitals
1990s - 10 and a bit concerts
1980s - 3 concerts

The earliest of those 1980s concerts comes from 1987, the other two from 1989 - so the season hardly gives much reflection of that decade. As an aside I find it striking that I haven't seen any professional journalist undertake this straightforward bit of maths.