Monday, April 24, 2017
The 2017 BBC Proms Season, just announced, is a travesty, far adrift from the founding principles of the Proms, and indeed of the BBC itself. Once the BBC stood for excellence, with its guiding principles to "educate, entertain and inform", the logic being that the public can tell good quality from bad, and value learning and self-development. Now we have a Proms season whose priorities are not musical so much as an ad for a BBC that is itself dumbed down beyond recognition. Will the ghost of Sir Henry Wood rise, like the Commendatore, to smite those who have despoiled his legacy? The First Night is only 70 minutes or so, so it won't tax the attention span. True, Igor Levit will play Beethoven, and Edward Gardner will conduct John Adams Harmonium, a big, if limited, blast. so it won't be bad. But once we could expect more. Daniel Barenboim brings the Staatskapelle Berlin to "launch this year’s cycle of Elgar symphonies". Direct quote from the BBC Proms website. What Elgar symphonic cycle? One on Saturday, the other on Sunday. The Third, realized by Anthony Payne, is probably too outré for the new Proms market. It's been pushed to the doldrums of late August. Thankfully, Sakari Oramo conducts: he does it well. What kind of audience is this year's Proms aimed at? Read the summary here. Sure, it's good to have pop, light music etc. but not at the expense of serious music. One of the basic principles of marketing is to believe in what you're trying to sell. Raise the bar, aim for excellence, and grow the market .Pitch below the lowest possible denominator, and kill whatever audience you already have while lowering standards and decreasing expectations. If the primary product is music, then sell music,. All the gimmicky sales patter in the world won't make up for non-product. If people really believe Scott Walker is a "Godlike genius", good for them, but don't downgrade Beethoven. Why sacrifice an existing market to try selling to another which might have completely different priorities? Or perhaps that is the hidden agenda. The Far Right, the commercial sector, and vested interests have everything to gain from dumbing the BBC down. Sir Henry Wood believed that people were able, and willing to learn. Now, we live in an era where any kind of expertise is sneered at. Getting ahead means dismantling the edifices of advancement. There's a whole lot more at stake than just the Proms and the BBC. Fortuntely, some of the principles of Proms planning remain, since they follow rules so simple anyone can master them. Add a few big names - Haitink, Christie, Rattle, Salonen, Bychkov, Gardiner - and the punters will pay. Bring in the BBC orchestras, most of which are good enough to do serious music and do it well enough without scaring the unwary. Mark non-musical anniversaries like "Reformation Day" a term Martin Luther would have baulked at, then throw in music that has little to do with one of the revolutions in European history. Hire famous foreign bands like the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, whom everyone loves, and a few cheaper ones. Throw in a few blockbusters like Schoenberg Gurrelieder.(Rattle 19/8) .and Handel Israel in Egypt on 1/8 (William Christie and the Orchestra oif the Age of Enlightenment), Bring along an opera (usually Fidelio which needs little staging) and import a ready-made from Glyndebourne and bingo! The formula works, like a well-oiled machine, running with minimal human intervention. Thus, for those who actually like music there are other good things to seek out. Hidden under the banner "Take a musical thrill-ride from the chaos of creation" on 19/7 is Pascal Dusapin's new Outscape. Look out too for Thomas Larcher's Nocturne-Insomia on 15/8 New British works - David Sawer's The Greatest Happiness Principle on 29/7, and Mark-Anthony Turnage Hibiki on 14/8. Excellent younger conductors like François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles (16/8), Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (21/8), and Jakub Hrůša (26/8 - good programme).
Formula saves the BBC Proms 2017! This may be the beginning of the end for Sir Henry Wood's dreams of the Proms as serious music. Fortunately The Formula, perfected by much-maligned Roger Wright, is strong enough to withstand the anti-music agendas of the suits and robots who now run the Proms. Shame on those who rely on formula instead of talent, but in dire straits, autopilot can save things from falling apart. So, sift through the detritus of gimmick and gameshow to find things worth saving (Read here what I wrote about The Formula) Danierl Barenboim is a Proms perennial, for good reason, so we can rely on his two Elgar Proms (16 and 17 July) especially the Sunday one which features a new work by Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Deep Time, which at 25 minutes should be substantial Pascal Dusapin's Outscape on 19/7, 28 minutes, also substantial Anotherr "regular" Proms opera, Fidelio on 21/7, with a superlative cast headed by Stuart Skelton and Ricarda Merbeth, tho' Juanjo Mena conducts Ilan Volkov conducts Julian Anderson's new Piano Concerto on 26/7 , tho's the rest of the programme, though good isn't neccesarily Volkov's forte On 29/7 Mark Wigglesworth conducts David Sawer's The Greatest Happiness Principle On 31/7, Monteverdi Vespers with French baroque specialists Pygmalion On 1/8, William Christie conducts the OAE in Handel Israel in Egypt and on 2/8, John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists do Bach and my beloved Heinrich Schütz. On 8/8 Gardiner returns with Berlioz The Damnation of Faust, with Michael Spyres. First of this year's four Mahlers is Mahler's Tenth (Cooke) with Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Robin Ticciati, back with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on 15/8 with an interesting pairing, Thomas Larcher Nocturne-Insomnia with Schumann Symphony no 2. Throughout this season, there are odd mismatches between repertoire and performers, good conductors doing routine material, less good conductors doing safe and indestructable. Fortunately, baroque and specialist music seem immune. See above ! and also the Prom featuring Lalo, Délibes and Saint-Saëns with François Xavier-Roth and Les Siècles on 16/8 Perhaps these Proms attract audiences who care what they're listening to Schoenberg's Gurrelieder on 19/8 with Simon Rattle, whose recording many years back remains a classic but may not be known to whoever described the piece in the programme "Gurrelieder is Schoenberg’s Tristan and Isolde, an opulent, late-Romantic giant." Possibly the same folk who dreamed up the tag "Reformation Day" like Nigel Faarage's "Independence Day" Nothing in life is that simplistic The music's OK, but notn the marketing. Sakari Oramo conducts the BBC SO in Elgar Symphony no 3 (Anthony Payne) on 22/8 Potentially this will be even bigger than the Barenboim Elgar symphonies, since Oramo is particularly good with this symphony, which may not be as high profile but is certainly highly regarded by those who love Elgar On 26/8, Jakub Hrůša conducts the BBC SO in an extremely well chosen programme of Suk, Smetana, Martinů, Janáček and Dvorák More BBCSO on 31/8 when Semyon Bychkov conducts a Russian programme Marketing guff seems to make a big deal of national stereotypes, which is short sighted These programmes cohere musically, but that's perhaps too much to expect from the new Proms mindset On 1/9, Daniele Gatti conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Bruckner and Wolfgang Rihm An odd pairing but one which will come off well since these musicians know what they're doing They are back again on 2/9 with Haydn "The Bear" and Mahler Fourth which isn't "sunny" or "song-filled". It's Mahler, not a musical. Gergiev brings the Mariinsky on 3/9 with Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich Symphony no 5. Another huge highlight on 7/9 : The Wiener Philharmoniker, with Daniel Harding in Mahler Symphony no 6 - so powerful that nothing else needs to be added to sugar the pill For me, and for many others, that will be the real :Last Night of the Proms Party time the next day, with Nina Stemme as star guest
We’ve had a quick flip through the season and come up with these unmissables: 1 Barenboim conducts Birtwistle premiere (July 16) 2 A European Requiem by James MacMillan – couldn’t be more timely (July 30) 3 William Christie conducts Handel’s Israel in Egypt (Aug 1) 4 Bychkov conducts Khovanshchina (Aug 6) 5 Rattle conducts Gurrelieder (Aug 19) 6 La Scala Orch plays Respighi (Aug 25) 7 Cincinnati plays Copland’s Lincoln Portrait – also timely (Aug 27) 8 Peter Maxwell Davies’s Eight Songs for A Mad King (Sept 2) 9 Mendelssohn Day with Freiburg (Sep 3) 10 Prom 19: Relaxed Prom The BBC’s first ever Relaxed Prom is suitable for children and adults with autism, sensory and communication impairments and learning disabilities as well as individuals who are Deaf, hard of hearing, blind and partially sighted.
It is twenty years since Sir Simon Rattle took up Wagner’s last opera and made it his first in the UK. Baden-Baden has announced he will conduct a new Dieter Dorn production next Easter, his final residency at the festival with the Berlin Philharmonic.
We live in an increasingly mobile world where we work and consume our entertainment on the move, with new technologies allowing our culture to become increasingly decentralised. Classical music is obsessively riding the wave of virtual mobility with a plethora of new apps and streaming services, yet the art form is swimming against the tide of physical decentralisation by concentrating its infrastructure investment on expensive central facilities such as the €789 million bricks and mortar Elbphilharmonie. My wife and I recently took mint tea at a pavement café in Rabat with the irrepressible Olivier Holt. Olivier was having a break from rehearsing L'Orchestre Philharmonique du Maroc (Philharmonic Orchestra of Morocco) for the final of the international violin competition that was taking place in Casablanca and Rabat. Morocco had attracted world-class competitors including finalists 17 year old Elias David Moncado who won the hearts of the audience but not the judges, West-Eastern Divan member Mohamed Hiber, and overall winner the South Koran/American Juilliard graduate Elly Suh. Olivier Holt is the orchestra's conductor and artistic advisor, and my interview with him last year was headlined 'My role as conductor is to provoke curiosity and joy'. In Morocco Olivier succeeds in provoking much curiosity and joy in conditions that are a million miles from those in the multi-million euro designer concert halls of the Western world. Rabat's soon to be replaced Théâtre National Mohammed V in Rabat is an acoustically-challenged gloomy venue that would not be out of place in Cold War East Berlin, while L'Orchestre Philharmonique du Maroc is not yet quite up to the standard of the Berlin Philharmonic. But Olivier Holt's mission is to make the most of a not quite perfect job, and he does this with a cheerful élan that puts his peers on the celebrity conducting circuit to shame. Olivier Holt and other unsung heroes are setting the example of bricks and mortar mobility on a macro scale, but micro mobility within Western metropolitan conglomerations is also key to a healthy future for classical music. Public transport in urban areas is often expensive and unreliable, city centre car parking is impossible and food prices are crazy. If attracting a new audience is the first priority, decentralisation from downtown venues such as London's Barbican Hall and Southbank Centre to neglected suburban venues such as the acoustically admirable Fairfield Halls is where classical music should be spending its money. And, of course, the hegemony of the metropolises needs to be challenged by taking good music out to the provinces much more frequently. All too often the argument of sound quality is used to defend the centralisation of live classical music into acoustically impeccable city centre venues. But new technologies in the form of digital sound enhancement systems now mean that acoustically poor venues can be made more than acceptable. And before the purists have a hissing fit about digital manipulation of live music, they should remember that the distribution platform of choice for the music industry is the acoustically-challenged MP3 file, and the listening mode of choice for consumers is the acoustically-challenged ear bud. Classical music must get bricks and mortar mobile to reach new audiences. Quite rightly Simon Rattle and the great and good of classical music have vigorously defended music education against accusations of elitism. Yet the multi-million pound Rattlephilharmonie that is being demanded for central London is a prime example of geo-political elitism. We received two complimentary tickets for the Rabat concert of L'Orchestre Philharmonique du Maroc. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.
It’s astonishing that over 600 musicians and teachers have lined up (Letters, 6 April) to denounce Charlotte C Gill’s reasonable and not remarkably radical or controversial critique of music education (Music education is now only for the white and the wealthy, theguardian.com, 27 March). Why such a robust rebuttal? It’s even more astonishing that “improvisation” is not mentioned on either side of the argument. Improvisation is central to music-making: it complements and enhances all other technical and practical disciplines, and it is common to most genres and musical traditions worldwide. It probably also helps to improve educational attainment; and the ability to improvise – to think on your feet – is certainly a useful life skill for young people in an increasingly volatile and uncertain world (a world, moreover, that desperately needs more good music). Most people would agree that music education could be broader – more creative, more inclusive. Surely we should be better off discussing how this might be achieved, and get on with putting it into practice? Tony Haynes Grand Union Orchestra, London• I disagree strongly with the arguments advanced by your eminent music educators including Sir Simon Rattle about the importance of being able to read music. Aged 63, I have taught myself jazz saxophone to a reasonable standard over the last seven years essentially by ear, despite spending more than £5,000 on 500 hours of musical adult education. Music is essentially intended to be heard, not read, all over the world and going back through history. While I understand the importance of musical literacy to the western classical tradition, from which most of these eminent musicologists seem to originate, there are many musical traditions such as jazz and blues that have grown essentially aurally. As Billie Holiday once said: “Whatever we did, we did it by ear!” See my online short course teaching people to play aurally via Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue album: www.howtoplayjazz.org. Gerry Rogers London Continue reading...