wed 25/11/2020

BBC Proms 2011: The Briefing | reviews, news & interviews

BBC Proms 2011: The Briefing

BBC Proms 2011: The Briefing

Mouth-watering prospectus promises both youth and choral blockbusters

In 2010, the prospectus didn't excite but the concerts turned out better than ever. "Let's hope it's not the other way round this year," commented Proms Director and Radio 3 Controller Roger Wright on Thursday afternoon as we milled around with our tea and biscuits under the eaves of the Royal College following a very jolly press briefing.  For what's on offer looks, this time, very promising indeed, to me at any rate. (See theartsdesk's full listings.}

And there's no sign of the cuts kicking in yet, because they haven't. Wright quipped that a certain arts presenter asked him precisely three things: why aren't there more women composers, how are the cuts going to affect the Proms and how are the cuts going to affect the Proms. To which, he added, he was being perfectly honest in replying that he didn't know.

Wright - and I'm not sure why, apart from insufficient acquaintance with his art, this surprised me - turned out to be a marvellous speaker (and I'm really not saying this because indirectly he employs me from time to time): off-the-cuff articulate, self-deprecating and ironic. No flim-flam, because he was preaching to the converted, and honesty about certain works which he couldn't claim from his own perspective were neglected masterpieces. He wouldn't even stick his neck out about the ultimate Albert Hall blockbuster this year, Havergal Brian's "Gothic" Symphony, other than to note the scale of its two orchestras and multiple choirs. This is indeed where the colosseum of Albertopolis comes into its own, and they're making the most of it with a cohort of "choral Sundays".

The naff, woolly overall theme idea was dropped after the "myths" season, but they now pursue a number of lines. The choral specials are one; another is, both cannily and essentially, the pursuit of youth. Soon-to-be-19 piano whizzkid Benjamin Grosvenor will be the youngest-ever soloist on the first night, but that's not a gimmick because he's already a magical performer; Edward Gardner bookends by being the youngest conductor for a chunkier-than-usual Last Night with another "featured artist", British soprano and world-class Wagnerian Susan Bullock in Brünnhilde's Immolation Scene from Götterdämmerung.

Similarly, Rossini's Guillaume Tell in concert under Antonio Pappano on the second night is mirrored by a much greater operatic rarity also premiered in Paris, the version of Weber's Der Freischütz with 1841 recitatives by Berlioz, oonducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner on the night before last.

Listen to Benjamin Grosvenor playing anniversary composer Percy Grainger's transcription of Gershwin's "Love Walked In"

I'm not going through the stunning statistics of the biggest music festival in the world, nor picking out personal plums - we'll be doing that on The Arts Desk nearer the time. But I will say yah boo sucks to some plonker of a journalist who objected to "Maxwell's" Musicians Benevolent Fund commission ("yes, Maxwell's silver hammer" rejoindered Wright quietly - the gentleman meant Sir Peter Maxwell Davies) - or rather the spirit which gave rise to it, the Prommers' raising of huge amounts of money for musical charities. How dare they shout about it night after night, objected our killjoy, when we didn't even get their funny chanted one-liners any more (they weren't often funny, and few of us miss 'em)?

Well, neither that sort of objection nor the myriad conspiracy theories and speculations that crop up spontaneously on the internet will make the slightest dent in the spirit of the occasion. There's nothing like it, so shut up, look forward and enjoy. Oh, and yes, arena tickets still only cost £5, which has to be the best bargain in the whole wide world of quality music-making.

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Without wishing in any way to diss the Proms, I'd say that 4-euro standing places at the at the back of the stalls in the Vienna State Opera surely take the prize for 'best bargain in the whole world of quality music-making'. Ok, now I'll 'shut up, look forward and enjoy'...

Fair enough, HH, and how I benefited from them on a student interail holiday. But that's still the back, isn't it? Here we're talking the only decent place to be in the Albert Hall, plum stalls position. Even if I have a seat I often wander down into the Arena for a second half and usually enjoy myself much more. As for the season ticket - yes, I had a half-season all those years ago - the nice people at the Proms office have kindly computed for us that it works out at £2.57 a concert.

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