Tuesday, July 30, 2013

BBC Proms 2013

(Image courtesy of BBC Proms Twitter Profile)
     When one ponders the question as to which is the grandest classical music festival in all the world, one is granted the luxury of a great many choices from which to make this final authoritative judgment. Several factors shall be variable ones due to the importance placed upon certain criteria that are of consideration to some while being meaningless to others, and then there are the different forms of excellence upon which different sets of people disagree, but for me there can only be one choice. Of course, Europe has ever been the more favorable locale for festivals devoted to classical music in the summer than the United States in my humble esteem, but, dear readers, do not discount the offerings of such events here in my native land to any lowly standard as might seem unfit for discerning ears. Within these United States, our offerings include the attractions of the Oregon Bach Festival, the Opera Theatre of St. Louis's summer season, Santa Fe Opera's summer season, the Ojai Music Festival, the Aspen Music Festival, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, the Mostly Mozart Festival, Glimmerglass Opera's summer season, the Tanglewood Festival, Caramoor's festival, and many others that I here neglect to mention due to the constraints of space and my fallacious memory. All of these are well worth mentioning, and their artistic quality are of a caliber that should each deserve its own post to describe in a given season; however, Europe, with its majestic castles, its extended history, and its foreign allure to me, holds my greater interest insofar as classical music festivals are concerned. We want for no lack of these in the summer there. Italy features a great many of them. There is a Rossini festival in Pesaro, Verbier has a world class festival offering, Edinburgh International Festival offers exhibitions of music, literature, theatre, and film, and a host of small towns and large cities across Europe make a considerable income from tourists by hosting a classical music or opera festival in the summer. All of them have their qualities that make them attractive to audiences. Verbier appeals to me, personally, due to its outdoor setting. Its excellent roster of artists on display every year makes it a selection that should easily make it a prime summer holiday destination for any aficionado of fine music. However, it suffers from a rather limited run. For this year, its twentieth anniversary season, it lasts for less than three weeks, which can be a trifle disappointing.

     What if there was an annual classical music festival that continued for a month and a half, attracted the best performers in all of classical music, programmed its season to offer every sort of selection from the most popular to that bordering upon the arcane, held its main performances in an arena to maximize the opportunity of seeing such performances for the greatest amount of people, and was based in London, England, a destination worthy of any visitor? As many of those who have previously perused my humble writings here shall be aware, there is, indeed, such an enticing festival as I have described. It is called the BBC Proms. The Proms, as they are colloquially known in most circles, are in their 119th year of existence, and were began in 1895. Ever envisaged as a means for commoners to enjoy the often luxury of classical music and opera, tickets were cheaply priced from the beginning to attract as many audience members as possible to the events. This is still the practice, more or less, to this very day, and it is my opinion that this manner of marketing is what has given the Proms such popularity as they have entertained over the years, for the influence and appeal of classical music only extends so far.

     Presently, the main venue for the Proms is the Royal Albert Hall. Yes, I am the first to declare that it is not the most suitable venue for a classical music concert, but it is able to allow more of us the delight of witnessing the moments of magic in a performance than a standard concert hall even the size of the Metropolitan Opera House or Carnegie Hall might, and I applaud this. For concerts where the quality of sound is of utmost importance or that have a limited interest from the public, there is Cadogan Hall, which is home to BBC Radio 3's stellar lunchtime concerts.It is a much more intimate setting than the arena, and it seats just over nine hundred people if seating is at maximum capacity, which makes it far better suited to chamber ensembles, a cappella concerts, and recitals. For the 2013 season the BBC Proms are presenting a total of eighty-eight concerts this year in a span of time from July 12 to Spetember 4, 2013.

(Image courtesy of www.cadoganhall.com/hire-the-hall/)


     While a portion of these concerts are featured with the clear motive of playing to the popularities within the masses, there is no classical music festival on earth that can boast such a distinguished roster of artists in its season. Among Proms audiences, there are two nights that unify the various parties who attend, and these are the first and last nights of the Proms. The first night of the Proms is celebrated by many because of the heralding of the coming season, but it pales in comparison to the last night of the Proms in terms of pageantry, ostentatious revelry, and the glamor associated with the occasion. The final evening of the Proms performances carries with it an exceptional performer, a famous conductor, and celebrates all things British all the while. For the 2013 season mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato was chosen to close the season, which came as an immense delight to her many adoring fans. Nevertheless, not to detract from the exquisite pleasure it is for DiDonato to be bestowed such an honor, this year is also monumental for the reason that it is the first Last Night of the Proms that is to be conducted by a woman, and maestro Marin Alsop, whose wrist was recently injured, has been chosen to lead the evening's musical forces. This season also includes the maiden performance of a complete cycle of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen with a cast including baritone Iain Patterson, bass Eric Halfvarson, mezzo-soprano Anna Larsson, soprano Ekaterina Gubanova, bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, soprano Nina Stemme, tenor Lance Ryan, soprano Waltraud Meier, and bass Mikhail Petrenko accompanied by the Staatskappelle Berlin under the baton of Daniel Barenboim. Additionally, each year the Proms plays host to many a world-premiere.

     With every passing year that the BBC Proms continues its foray into the world of classical music excellence, I compile a list of the performances for which I possess the utmost excitement and hopeful intention for hearing. This year is no different than previous ones, so I present my aggregation of aural splendor here for your better edification as to my musical likings. If you wish, most serene reader, please continue reading my recommendations for the remaining season.

Prom 23: Mozart, Schumann, and Sibelius -- Pianist Paul Lewis from Harmonia Mundi's label, and a BBC New Generation Artist, plays Mozart's Masonic Funeral Music, K477, and Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K503.

Proms Saturday Matinee 2: Britten, Tippett, Holst, and L. Berkely -- Mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly turns to the music of her native land in this Saturday matinee prom at Cadogan Hall.

Prom 29: Tannhauser -- As part of Wagner's bicentenary this year, the BBC Proms, like many other festivals around the world, are celebrating Wagner's compositions. In addition to the Ring Cycle, Donald Runnicles, esteemed Wagnerian conductor, leads the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra supporting a cast starring Robert Dean Smith and Heidi Melton in her Proms debut for which I am exceptionally excited.

Proms Chamber Music 4: tenThing -- Norwegian trumpet sensation Tine Thing Helseth is joined by her brass ensemble, tenThing, in a program of music that is sure to add a spicy Spanish flair to this year's Proms with compositions by Bizet, Piazzola, and others.

Prom 33: Bethoven and Berlioz -- Dame Mitsuko Uchida makes an appearance with the BBC Proms after almost twenty years of absence playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major.

Prom 36: Sir John Eliot Gardiner Conducts Bach --  Sir John Eliot Gardiner leads the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Orchestra in readings of Bach's Easter Oratorio and Ascension Oratorio.

Prom 38: Free Prom - Beethoven's Ninth Symphony -- Vasily Petrenko conducts Beethoven's Ninth featuring soprano Lisa Milne, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston, a former BBC New Generation Artist, tenor Andrew Kennedy, and baritone Gerald Finley as soloists. They are accompanied by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. Also on the program are Turnage and Vaughan Williams. This Prom is free to the public to attend, and it is quite the exquisite offering of which many should take advantage.

Prom 43: The Tallis Scholars -- Celebrating their 40th year, the Tallis Scholars perform at the Royal Albert Hall in a program including Taverner and Gesualdo under the direction of conductor Peter Phillips.

Prom 46: Dvorak, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, and Strauss -- Soprano Kristine Opolais joins her husband, conductor Andris Nelsons, and his orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, for performances of Verdi's Willow Song from Otello, and the Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin. Also on the docket that evening is Dvorak's Symphony No 8. in G Major.

Prom 52: Vir, Sibelius, Bantock, and Elgar -- Violinist Lisa Batiashvili plays Sibelius's famous Violin Concerto in D Minor with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Prom 53: Tchaikovsky, Wagner, and Prokofiev -- Joined by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and vibrant young conductor Ynnick Nezet-Seguin, soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci sings Wagner's Wesendonck-Lieder. This promises to be an exciting concert if for no other reason than that these three are performing in it.

Proms Chamber Music 8: Dowland --  Erudite and accomplished tenor Ian Bostridge performs songs by John Dowland accompanied by the viol ensemble Fretwork and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny. This music is among that which is most adored by my ear, and it may well be my most anticipated Prom of the season. This Prom marks the 450th anniversary of Dowland's birth.

Prom 71: Gorecki, Vaughan Williams, and Tchaikovsky -- BBC New Generation Artist soprano Ruby Hughes performs Gorecki's magnum opus, his Symphony No. 3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, and this is certainly on my shortlist of those Proms selections that I must hear this season. Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston sings Vaughan Williams's Four Last Songs.

     It bears mentioning that all of the BBC Proms concerts are broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, and they are available for further listening for a full seven days following their original airing courtesy of the BBC's iPlayer website, which is now easier than ever to use. The BBC also provides a wealth of further reading and interviews with experts on the various musical styles and compositions that are offered every year, and the site is well worth a visit for the inquisitive mind.

     As the 2013 BBC Proms continues, I hope that all of you enjoy the performances that you hear. I am anxiously anticipating hearing as many of these exquisite gems as I can this season, and I hope that you have all enjoyed discovering my humble musings upon the subject. May I one day meet some of you, my cherished readers at the Proms one of these days, and I leave all of you in the grace of God with every blessing you could wish. You all possess my enormous gratitude for your continued reading.

1 comment:

Ilene said...

This is awesome!