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.

Martinu's music was due to receive a first Proms appearance (his Memorial to Lidice) on 2nd August 1944 by the BBC SO/Adrian Boult, but the concert was cancelled to due to the flying bombs. That work instead received what was its first concert performance in England at a Prom on 16th August 1945 from the LSO under Basil Cameron.

Dutilleux's music was first performed at the Proms on 25th August 1989 (his Metaboles) by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France conducted by Marek Janowski. In total his works have appeared nineteen times, the most performed being Tout un monde lointain (4 appearances).

The only review I've located was by David Karlin for Bachtrack.

Monday 27th July - London Classical Players/Sir Roger Norrington - Beethoven/Schubert (1989)

The second of the three Proms from the 80s included in the archive season. We don't revisit that decade again until late August. Beethoven's Symphonies feature frequently at the Proms with the most recent complete cycle in 2012. This archive season includes a complete cycle which began last week with the first symphony from the Concertgebouw and Riccardo Chailly. Number 2 is the second most infrequently played, notching up a mere 79 appearances, but it did make its first appearance in the inaugural 1895 season on Friday 4th October 1895, performed by the New Queen's Hall Orchestra conducted by Henry Wood. It was first handed to another orchestra in the 1930 season (the BBC Symphony Orchestra) and first to another conductor in 1941 (Basil Cameron). It had its longest run of performances in consecutive seasons between 1928 and 1965 (when it managed to notch up one more performance than season, being given twice in 1942). Its longest absence was between performances in the 2003 and 2012 seasons. The same forces featured in this 1989 concert had previously given the work at a 1984 Prom. In recent years notable visiting performers who have given it have included Music Aeterna/Teodor Currentzis (2018), Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (as part of their 2012 Proms cycle) and the Pittsburgh SO/Mariss Jansons (2003).

Schubert's Symphonies have been performed considerably less frequently, though all have appeared at least once. Numbers 8 and 9 however equal the popularity of the Beethoven Symphonies, with the latter featuring 84 times. It too was first introduced by Henry Wood and the New Queen's Hall Orchestra in that inaugural 1895 season. It managed a slightly shorter run of consecutive seasons (1935-1963), but this included two double performances (in the 1947 season both times conducted by Adrian Boult, and the 1951 season - though one of those performances was at the Winter Proms). A conductor other than Wood was on the podium much earlier than with Beethoven 2 - Arthur W. Payne in October 1902, and another orchestra first played it in 1930 (the Halle under Hamilton Harty in two performances as part of the Northern Proms which the BBC Proms Archive at any rate treats as canon, otherwise that place would be taken by the BBC SO in 1932). Notable visiting performers who have given it include the Royal Concertgebouw/Bernard Haitink (1967), Vienna Philharmonic twice under Abbado (1984) and Franz Welser-Most (2009), the Chamber Orchestra of Europe twice under Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1996) and Haitink (2015), and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Neville Marriner (1997). Pierre Boulez and the BBC SO also concluded the 1974 First Night with the symphony.

Since the Second World War (by the time it occurred to me to consider this point I couldn't face going back through all the pre-war performances again) pairings of Beethoven and Schubert symphonies have been rare, but this same pair of symphonies were programmed together by Malcom Sargent and the BBC SO in the 1963 season, alongside a Handel Concerto Grosso, and a selection of Brahms's Liebeslieder Waltzes. There's also an intriguing 1971 concert where Daniel Barenboim preceded a performance of Schubert 9 by partnering with Pinchas Zuckerman in sonatas by Beethoven and Schubert.

Norrington has appeared 42 times at the Proms (this was the 18th), and these included conducting the London Classical Players in all 9 of their appearances. He first appeared in 1966, sharing the podium with Malcolm Sargent, conducting the BBC SO in Bach, Schutz, Chopin and Beethoven. He gave the Ninth Symphony again in 2001 with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra.

This was one occasion when I would have loved to be able to provide a link to the archive reviews by Michael White for the Independent (Aug 23, 1989) and Richard Morrison for The Times (Aug 22, 1989) which I was able to access courtesy of my institution - though if you are a subscriber to either paper you may be able to locate them. Both critics commented on the quality of the timpani and brass sound, but what really stuck out were their remarks on Norrington's behaviour onstage during the Schubert. Morrison described "increasingly bizarre intervals between movements" and White charged the conductor with "loitering about the stage". It will be interesting to see if the gaps sound unusually lengthy during the rebroadcast.

The complete Beethoven cycle with these forces, recorded in the years immediately preceding this performance is available as a download from Erato.

Tuesday 28th July 2020 - Chicago SO/Bernard Haitink - Mozart/Shostakovich (2008)

Mozart is just slightly less popular than Beethoven at the Proms, and eighteen of his Piano Concertos have been heard over the years. No.24 is the second most frequently performed, notching up 36 appearances with this being its 32nd. It still has some way to go to catch No.23 which has appeared 50 times. Both of them first appeared in pre-World War One seasons. Notable soloists have included Solomon and Clifford Curzon (both on several occasions), Rosalyn Tureck, Ingrid Haebler, Alicia de Larrocha, Imogen Cooper and Maurizio Pollini, under conductors including Henry Wood, Malcolm Sargent, Basil Cameron, John Barbirolli, Colin Davis, John Pritchard, Bernard Haitink, Daniel Barenboim and Simon Rattle, leading mostly British orchestras with the exception of the Concertgebouw.

All Shostakovich's symphonies have been heard at the Proms but many of them comparatively infrequently. Number 4 was first heard at the Proms in 1963 in a performance by the BBC SO under Malcolm Sargent and this was its 9th of 11 complete performances, the most recent in 2018. In recent years it has been the province of visiting orchestras including Kirov Orchestra/Gergiev (2002), the European Youth Orchestra twice (under Vladimir Askhenazy (2006) and Vasily Petrenko (2014)) and the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Andris Nelsons (2018), a pairing featured in tomorrow's concert. His Symphony No.1 features in a Proms archive Afternoon Concert on Tuesday 4th August performed by the Ulster Orchestra/Rafael Payare.

This performance was reviewed by Hugo Shirley for Musical Criticism who gave it four stars, and Richard Fairman for the Financial Times. As Shirley notes a recording of the Shostakovich featuring these forces was released on the CSO's own label in the same year as this performance.

Wednesday 29th July 2020 - Boston Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons - Brett Dean/Mahler (2015)

The Sixth is the fourth most often played of Mahler's symphonies notching up 22 performances (this was the 21st). All of the symphonies have appeared at the Proms, but most of them only since the 60s
(there are a couple of isolated pre-World War One performances in programmes where they're followed by fascinating miscellanies). The Sixth first appeared in 1963 played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and I suspect conducted by Norman Del Mar rather than Malcolm Sargent (one flaw of the Proms Archive is that it doesn't link performers to works where there may be doubt). It has been a frequent choice of overseas visitors since 1990 (Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra/James Conlon), followed by the European Union Youth Orchestra/Bernard Haitink (2003), Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Jansons (2005), the Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Haitink (2008, the companion concert to last night's), Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly (2012), World Orchestra for Peace/Valery Gergiev (2014) and the Vienna Philharmonic/Daniel Harding (2017). Symphonies 5 and 7 follow later in the season.

Brett Dean's music has featured fairly frequently in the last couple of decades, but one occasion stands out as another missed surprising omission from these repeats in this Beethoven anniversary year - the Aurora Orchestra Sunday matinee on 2nd August 2015 which paired Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony with Dean's.

This was the eighth of Nelsons's twelve Proms appearances (to date). He first conducted at the festival in 2009, with the CBSO of which he was then chief conductor. This concert came at the end of his first season as chief conductor of the BSO, and he returned with them in 2018. He was most recently at the Proms last year with his latest orchestra, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, where he became chief conductor in 2018. The first of the Boston Symphony Orchestra's ten Proms appearances was in 1984 under Seiji Ozawa when they also played Mahler (his Symphony No.2). Hakan Hardenberger is a frequent Proms soloist notching up twenty appearances, the first in 1986 in the world premiere of Gordon Crosse's Array, and taking in the 1990 Last Night and contributions to 2008's Brass Day.

The number of accessible reviews goes up for this concert. We have George Slater-Walker for Bachtrack, David Nice for The Arts Desk, Colin Clarke for Seen and Heard, and Barry Millington for the Evening Standard.

Thursday 30th July 2020 - The Halle/Sir Mark Elder - Berlioz/Elgar/Grime/Beethoven (2014)

Berlioz proves to have been surprisingly frequently performed at the Proms, but a big contribution turns out to have been made to the figures by multiple performances in the same season of the March hongroise from La Damnation de Faust in the early years. The Overture 'Le corsaire has been less popular, receiving a first Proms performance in 1907 from the usual suspects in a mostly Wagner programme, and not then reappearing until 1934. It has so far notched up 25 performances (this was the 24th), although these include both Last and First Nights.

Elgar's Sea Pictures at first sight holds a middle ranking in terms of popularity of his works at the Proms, apparently notching up 55 appearances. But in fact many of these in the festival's early decades were for excerpts (a practice which persisted through to 1959). A complete performance was not given at the Proms until 1930 at the Northern Proms, and Queen's Hall audiences had to wait until 1932. Janet Baker gave her renowned interpretation at the Proms in 1982 and 1984 after which the work was not heard again until 2000. It was most recently given by Catriona Morrison with the BBC NOW under Elim Chan in the 2019 season.

Helen Grime's works have been featured 6 times at the Proms, the earliest in 2009 (Virga in a BBC SO Prom conducted by Oliver Knussen). A description of Near Midnight by the composer is available here and this was, judging by the information given there, the work's second performance.

With Beethoven's Third Symphony we're back in very familiar Proms territory. The Third is also the third most often performed of Beethoven's symphonies at the Proms, notching up 120 appearances to date and just edging out the Seventh (currently sitting on 119). It was first introduced in an 1896 concert alongside premieres of the Overture The Consecration of the House and the Romance, Op.50. It notches what must surely be a candidate for the longest streak of appearances in consecutive seasons (from 1906 to 1986, and again achieving more performances than seasons with two appearances in multiple seasons). Since then, however, there have been more gaps, and its last appearance was in the 2017 season (from the Aurora Orchestra). This was, by my reckoning, the 118th performance. In recent years overseas visitors who've performed the work have included the San Francisco SO/Michael Tilson Thomas (2015), the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich/David Zinman (2011), and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim (who have given it twice in 2003 and as part of their previously mentioned 2012 cycle.

The Halle's first association with the Proms was via a Northern Proms season of twenty four concerts in May-June 1930. Their first London Proms appearance was in 1953 and for a series of seasons in that decade they gave multiple concerts each year. They have appeared annually since 2003. Sir Mark Elder made his debut at the Proms with the London Sinfonietta in a programme of modern works late night at The Round House in 1975, and gave his first Albert Hall concert the following year, since notching up a total of 59 appearances. Alice Coote made her Proms debut in 1997 in a performance of Honegger's Jeanne d'Arc au bucher with the RLPO under Libor Pesek, and has appeared 17 times in all, including a First Night, a Last Night and most recently in 2017 with the Glyndebourne Clemenza di Tito.

Accessible reviews for this concert come from Edward Seckerson for The Arts Desk, Nahako Gotoh for Bachtrack, and Claire Seymour for Opera Today.

The Elgar was recorded by these forces a few days after this concert and is available on the Halle's own label.

Thursday 30th July 2020 - Nils Frahm - Late Night with BBC Radio 6 Music (2015)

This prom divided critical opinion. You can read views from the morning after from Aditya Chakrabotty in The Guardian (4 stars), Charlotte Valory for Bachtrack (1 star), and Steven Johnson for Musicomh (5 stars).

Friday 31st July 2020 - Sondheim at 80 (2010)

This is a rare occasion when I wrote about the concert at the time. I had pretty mixed feelings about it, and my writing then has a harshness I would try more to temper now. Should you wish to seek it out the review can be found in the blog archive.

Of the other occasions when Sondheim has appeared at the Proms, two stand out. One was Dawn Upshaw's late night concert with Eric Stern on piano and conducting the London Sinfonietta back in 1996 which I remember hearing on the radio (I'd love to know if that's still in the BBC Archives). The programme included some non-Sondheim gems and one that particularly sticks in my memory is Upshaw's performance of Weill's brilliant Saga of Jenny. The other concert looks a real oddity - in 2002 Welsh National Opera came with Terfel and Renee Fleming, started with bleeding chunks of Wagner, Strauss and Mozart before transitioning (rather bumpily one imagines) to Broadway.

Conductor David Charles Abell has appeared a number of times in this kind of repertoire, starting in 2002 with a concert adaptation of Oklahoma. Simon Russell Beale had previously narrated Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale in 1996 and Prokofiev's Ivan the Terrible at the First Night 2003. This is Bryn Terfel's second appearance in this archive season. It was his 7th (of 15) appearance at the festival, and his second that season. He has appeared at two First and two Last Nights. His tenth appearance concludes this week of the archive season. Of the other singers Maria Friedman had previously appeared at the Proms, in an Eisler/Weill late night prom in 1998, while Judi Dench had turned up in 1991 to narrate Peter and the Wolf at a Children's Prom. Julian Ovenden has since returned on multiple occasions.

This concert was widely reviewed by Andrew Clements in The Guardian (4 stars), an unidentified blogger, by Ivan Hewett in The Telegraph (£), by David Nice for The Arts Desk, and Paul Callan in the Express.

Saturday 1st August 2020 - Janacek's The Makropulos Affair (2016)

Some notable Janacek interpreters have brought his operas to the Proms. Sir Charles Mackerras conducted Katya Kabanova in 1974 with English National Opera. Sir Andrew Davis brought Glyndebourne's Makropulos Affair in 1995 with Anja Silja in the title role. Behlolavek had previously conducted the less well known Osud in 2008. Unsurprisingly the most frequently performed piece by the composer at the Proms is his Sinfonietta (the memorable performance conducted by Mackerras which concluded 2007's Brass Day may be found secondhand on a BBC Music Magazine disc).

Karita Mattila had first appeared at the Proms in 1985 with Abbado, Christa Ludwig and the European Union Youth Orchestra in Mahler's Resurrection Symphony. She has also appeared at the First Night twice, in 1994 and 1997. This was the last of Behlolavek's 39 appearances before his death the following year. Many of those unsurprisingly were with the BBC Symphony Orchestra as its Chief Conductor. They included six First Nights and four Last Nights. He first conducted them at the Proms in 1996 in a concert of mainly Czech music, ending with the Sinfonietta.

This performance was very widely reviewed: by Tim Ashley for The Guardian (4 stars), by David Karlin for Bachtrack (3 stars), by Anne Ozorio for Opera Today, by Hannah Nepil for the Financial Times (£), by David Nice for The Arts Desk (5 stars), by Jim Pritchard for Seen and Heard, by Cara Chanteau for the Independent (5 stars) and by Keith McDonnell for Musicomh (5 stars).

Sunday 2nd August 2020 - Lunchtime Chamber Music - Purcell, Blow (2009)

Of the Purcell works, only Hail, bright Cecilia clearly had had several previous Proms performances, five in total, going back to a 1970 Prom by the ECO/Raymond Leppard. The others are either recorded as Proms premieres, or it is not clear from the archive data on the website when they were previously given. Purcell performances did go back to the early years, in various Henry Wood arrangements including an arrangement of 'When I am laid in earth', first given in 1909 and a Suite for Organ and Orchestra first given in 1910. Dido has been given complete five times (the first in 1964), and The Fairy Queen twice more recently. Blow's Ode had previously been given by the King's Consort also alongside Purcell works in 1995. Blow's music had first appeared at the Proms in a late night performance of his opera Venus and Adonis at St Paul's, Knightsbridge in 1989.

This was Richard Egarr's fourth (of seven) Proms appearances. He had first appeared in 2003 leading one of those performances of Dido with a starry cast including Sarah Connelly (Dido) and Carolyn Sampson (Belinda). Iestyn Davies had made his Proms debut the previous year in Glyndebourne's L'incoronazione di Poppea, but this was already his fourth appearance (and his total has now reached 11 including a Last Night).

The performance was reviewed by Robert Hugill on his blog, and by Michael Church for the Independent.

Sunday 2nd August 2020 - BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox - Elgar/Bliss/Walton - 2006

We've already discussed Elgar representation at the Proms. In the South (Alassio) has notched up a decent total of 17 performances, the first in 1908. And, after a long mid-century absence it has appeared frequently since the 1980s. Bliss's A Colour Symphony was first given complete at the Proms in 1937 (I suspect with the composer himself on the podium), with a single movement ('Green') heard almost ten years previously. It has received four post-Second World War performances of which this was the most recent. Bliss's music was first heard at the Proms in 1921 - the world premiere of his Melee fantastique, followed in 1923 by his Concerto for piano, tenor voice, strings and percussion - an intriguing combination. Neither work has resurfaced at the festival in modern times. Bliss's most performed piece has been his Piano Concerto given its English premiere (the somewhat ambiguous entry in the on-line archive makes me wonder if it had been heard in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland) at the Proms in 1939, and performed on ten later occasions. The Proms also celebrated his 80th birthday in 1971 in a programme combining his own works with Elgar's First Symphony, with the LSO conducted by Adrian Boult.

Walton's Belshazzer's Feast is his most frequently performed work at the Proms, notching up 34 appearances so far (just keeping ahead of his First Symphony. It first appeared in 1946 and most recently in 2019, and has graced both First and Last Nights. This was its 30th appearance.

We've already discussed Bryn Terfel's Proms career. This was Richard Hickox's 37th (of 39 appearances). He first appeared leading a performance of Handel's Messiah in 1973. His later appearances included many with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales as their Principal Conductor. Those later performances included a number of rarities with starry solo line-ups - Dvorak's Dimitrij in 2004 with Stuart Skelton and Dagmar Peckova, and Mendelssohn's incidental music for Antigone the previous year with a line-up including Roderick Williams and David Tennent - it would be interesting for Radio 3 to revisit those. From the earlier period, there's an intriguing 1983 Prom where Hickox shared the podium with Lutoslawski (the latter presumably conducting his own works), and the line-up also included Shura Cherkassky in Chopin's second Piano Concerto.

The performance was reviewed by Andrew Clements in The Guardian (4 stars), by Dominic McHugh for Musicomh (4 stars), and by Melanie Eshenazi for Seen and Heard.

If you've made it this far in this rather mad blog, congratulations. If we have the energy we'll try to repeat this endeavour for the remaining weeks of the have been warned!

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