Sunday, September 25, 2016
Now the Royal Albert Hall is quiet, though the cleaners and maintenance people are busy, let's take stock of the BBC Proms 2016 season and look ahead. The Proms are so big that plans are made many years in advance - that's the way the business work. No doubt the figures will show good sales, which will please politicians and bureaucrats. But success isn't measured solely in terms of statistics. Short-term targets are all very well, and box-ticking, but what of the longer-term future? Will the Proms honour the musical ideals of Sir Henry Wood or will they become a giant commercial splash promoting anything but serious music? First, kaput to the mantra that the Proms have to be all things to everyone. Proms for kids, Proms for minority interests, etc etc are a very good thing indeed. Even party-time gimmicks have their place - that's why we love the Last Night of the Proms. But any business that loses sight of its USP goes down the tubes. In the case of the BBC, that's a real danger given the competition from vested outside interests. A few years ago, many moaned about the Michael Ball Prom. It brought in new audiences, yes, but not the core Proms audience, but audiences who thought that by hearing Ball at the RAH they "knew" about music. Now, nivellement par le bas become the norm. Even the Children's Prom, which not long ago was so good that even adults could enjoy it , is now more about being cute than getting kids enthused. Will these kids grow up thinking that serious music is poison that must be coated in sugar? I know someone who was taken to the Proms at schools and hated the experience so much that she's assumed ever since that music is for middle-class toffs pretending to be Right On. My friend, and many of her friends, are not fools. They can spot condescension a mile away. Sir Henry Wood believed that ordinary people were capable of learning. Now, those who make arts policy seem ashamed of excellence, trapping us in a counter-productive downward spiral. It's all very well to chaase new audiences, for that is the current mantra. But face demographics, and face the global market for the arts. Through technology, the BBC Proms can reach millions all over the world. In places like Asia - potentially the biggest market of all - people are brought iup to value cultivation. they look to the BBC as a beacon of high standards. Give them too much parochial drivel and lose their attention. Anecdotal evidence is that many Proms regulars are cutting down on what they attend. Driving away the core audience is bad business : killing the goose that laid the golden eggs in the first place. Although one could cultivate the proms as fun for tourists, the fact is that the British public is ageing. This year, I've witnessed many problems for people with disabilities. I don't know if the Royal Albert Hall,is exempt from normal Health and Safety regulations, but surely there must be ways for the BBC to make things fairer for those who can't leap up stairs and stand in the arena. One obvious and very simple solution: keep seats with easy access for people with disabilities, so people with special needs can book ahead, knowing that they will be able to use seats that currently have to be booked blind. One man told me how difficult it is just to come to the RAH, and then be turned away. Better even, he saiud, to spend a bit more than lose so much. Not everyone who is disabled is in a wheelchair or is registered blind or whatever, but people have a right to come to the Proms and be treated with dignity. If these reserved seats don't sell close to date, then sell them openly. It can't be that difficult. Part of being a presenter is the ability to adlib while stages are being changed and so on, and that's a skill! But it would help if the presenters were briefed and not just off Wikipedia. Proms interval features vary : one of the best this year - by far - was the shepherd who spoke during the prom that featured Mendelssohn A Midsummer Night's Dream. Someone with something genuinely interesting to say, not just a motormouth. Also, as a voice person, I can vouch that at least one presenter needs a voice coach. Take breaths for punctuation, don't let your voice squeak higher and higher , faster and faster, calm down and be natural. Hysteria might be fine on some forms of radio (like sports), but it pains audiences who listen to pitch and modulation.
Our series continues with Germany’s second largest city – where Brahms and Mendelssohn were born, Telemann and Mahler worked and the Beatles came of ageThis week’s stop on our tour of Europe’s great musical centres is the northern German city of Hamburg, the country’s second largest, the eighth biggest in the EU and – Wikipedia tells me – the second biggest port in Europe.Wikipedia is less useful when it comes to music: the entry for Hamburg leads with the fact that the German premiere of Cats took place there 30 years ago. But the city is also the birthplace of Johannes Brahms and where the Beatles cut their teeth between 1960 and 62. It is also big in heavy metal and hip-hop. Continue reading...
From the classical archive, 20 May 1856: The Manchester Guardian reviews Clara Schumann’s ‘Soiree Musicale’ at the Town HallWe have already had occasion to advert to Madame Schumann’s piano forte playing. The concert of last night affords us another opportunity of noticing her claims to public support; and these can be summed up in a few words. Madame Schumann has mustered all the mechanical difficulties of the instrument, her touch is delicate and refined, and powerful when power is wanted. Her execution is even rapid and certain in scale passages; brilliant and sure in arpeggio ones. But, guiding and controlling all these lesser forces, she has a musical genius of the highest order. Beethoven and Mendelssohn never had an interpreter more sympathetic in feeling, nor more certain in expression. With the dreamy Chopin, she is not so much en rapport: and as regards the interpretation of her husband’s music, all we will venture to say at present is, fortunate the composer that has such an interpreter. Her playing of Beethoven’s sonata was superb: she seemed to have caught the very soul of that great musician and compelled him to re-utter himself. We are certain that the finale of the sonata in D minor never was, and never will be more perfectly rendered. Continue reading...
And they must be praying this will continue throughout the season. The Baltimore Symphony scored heavily with the black-tie crowd thanks to a rare appearance by Itzhak Perlman in the Mendelssohn concerto . Seattle made $920,000+ thanks to having Bill Gates in the audience and Joyce DiDonato on stage. Third best were Houston, at $730,000, with Sir Ben Kingsley narrating Peter and the Wolf. The last-named was kept well away from the door.
The RSC has teamed up with the Southbank Sinfonia to revive some of the most compelling scores written for our favourite Shakespeare playsWhat’s your favourite ballet music? For me, it is Stravinsky’s Firebird. Favourite film music? Bernard Herrmann’s scorching score for Vertigo. But your favourite music written for a play? Not so easy to recall. In fact, what can I even think of that qualifies? Wracking my brains, Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream comes to mind, but even that, technically, was originally written as a concert piece and only later padded out to accompany a stage performance.Why is it that music for ballet – and lately films – packs out concert halls, but we seldom remember, let alone celebrate, music written for theatre? Is the music less substantial, its job less important? It’s a question that set me and conductor Simon Over on an expedition to Stratford-upon-Avon to find out what noteworthy music had been written for the Royal Shakespeare Company in its century-long history. There we met its head of music Bruce O’Neil. Continue reading...
Carolin Widmann (violin), Chamber Orchestra of Europe (ECM)These concertos have a troubled relationship: Schumann’s suppressed work from 1853 was “discovered” against the wishes of his descendants and presented as an example of Aryan purity by Nazi propagandists in 1937 in a monstrous attempt to supplant the hugely popular concerto by the Jewish Mendelssohn. Violinist Carolin Widmann, who also directs the COE, takes an admirably brisk approach to both works, emphasising the cantabile nature of the slow movement of the Mendelssohn without any hint of sentimentality, though tuning occasionally suffers as a result. And tuning is not always secure in the demanding Schumann, with an occasional hollowness of tone that spoils an otherwise elegant and expansive reading. Continue reading...
Felix Mendelssohn (3 February 1809 - 4 November 1847) was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. Felix Mendelssohn was recognised early as a musical prodigy, but his parents were cautious and did not seek to capitalise on his abilities. Early success in Germany, where he also revived interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, was followed by travel throughout Europe. Mendelssohn was particularly well-received in Britain as a composer, conductor and soloist. His essentially conservative musical tastes however set him apart from many of his more adventurous musical contemporaries such as Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner and Hector Berlioz. The Leipzig Conservatoire which he founded, became a bastion of this anti-radical outlook. Mendelssohn's work includes symphonies, concerti, oratorios, piano music and chamber music. His most-performed works include his Overture and incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Italian Symphony, the Scottish Symphony, the Hebrides Overture, his Violin Concerto, and his String Octet. After a long period of relative denigration due to changing musical tastes and anti-Semitism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, his creative originality has now been recognised and re-evaluated. He is now among the most popular composers of the Romantic era.
Great composers of classical music