What are the four mystery Proms in the 2021 season?

Back at the launch of the BBC Proms season, four dates were billed as ‘Mystery Proms’ – events with music and performers to be announced. Today, the Proms team has announced the details of those four mystery Proms.

Friday 20 August
Mozart’s Requiem
Excerpts from operas by Jean-Philippe Rameau and an orchestral work by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Britten Sinfonia and National Youth Chamber Choir
David Bates conductor

Monday 23 August
Catrin Finch harp and
Seckou Keita kora

Wednesday 8 September
Mahler Symphony No.5
Proms Festival Orchestra

Friday 10 September
Bach Goldberg
Pavel Kolesnikov piano

The Proms Festival Orchestra – a new creation consisting of freelance musicians – on Wednesday 8 September catches my eye in particular, casting my mind back to the Parliament Square demonstration last October highlighting how the Government had failed freelance musicians in setting up the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

David Pickard, Director of the Proms said of the formation of the ensemble, “We are very pleased to be able to engage so many outstanding freelance musicians to form our first Proms Festival Orchestra. Coming together for Mahler’s Fifth Symphony will be an extraordinary and moving experience given the tremendous challenges faced by freelance musicians throughout the pandemic.”

Will I be able to Prom at BBC Proms 2021?

The answer is yes.

Announced today (the alarm was raised by a contact who reads another classical music blog – yes, I was incensed) by the BBC Proms team, this year’s since WILL operate at full capacity with additional tickets for the first half of the Proms going on sale at midday on Friday, 23 July, and tickets for the second half of the season going on sale at 9am on Saturday, 24 July.

Promming tickets will be available on the day of each concert priced at just £6. There will be standing tickets available in the Arena and Gallery with additional seated Promming tickets in the Choir.

Audience members will be encouraged to wear masks throughout, and their COVID status certification will be checked on entry.

You’ll need to have evidence of a negative lateral flow test taken within 48 hours of the performance, or evidence of double vaccination, or proof of natural immunity based on a positive PCR test.

It’s unexpected news. I’d been aware more tickets would be on sale after the 19th July easing of restrictions, but not been aware of Promming now being possible.

The news comes on the day when I found my own thinking both shifting whilst in conversation with an arts administrator on the subject of masks. The need to return to events was the overriding driver, accompanied by a surprising willingness to make personal decisions about whether or not to go masked based on individual situations. Both of us nodded in agreement. “I don’t want to be seen to be agreeing with Jacob Rees-Mogg,” I said. “Who does?” said my lunch companion. “But I’m veering on the side of personal choice.”

The extent to which this will be reflected amongst the Promming audience remains to be seen. Hot sweaty evenings in close proximity of others isn’t something which necessarily leaps off the page now. Though having the freedom to choose whether or not to attend the Proms as a Prommer perhaps is the more potent sign.

It’s a difficult one to square. Cases are reaching the level they did in January (though hospital cases are significantly lower, so to deaths). Not everyone will agree. But having the option, and the opportunity to calculate the risk, is perhaps the more important (to me at least) right now.

First selection of live events announced for 2021

There’s a new phrase to look out for in press releases: live audience. Guaranteed to bring a smile to my face. Worthy of bringing to the attention of readers. Necessary to celebrate. Important to underline.

Now is the time to bring attention to those intrepid arts administrators who are scheduling their first events for people in real life.

I’m not entirely sure whether I can keep a regular set of updates on here, but I am going to try my very best. Here’s the first selection of ‘trailblazers’ bringing live music back to the real world.

Hertfordshire Festival of Music 2021 (4-10 June 2021)

Albion String Quartet

Conductor (and Thoroughly Good Podcastee) Tom Hammond and composer James Francis Brown are staging last year’s COVID-post-poned Hertfordshire Festival of Music, with the help of the music of Judith Weir, violinist Chloë Hanslip, pianists Florean Mitrea and Danny Driver, the Albion Quartet (their Dvorak string quartets 5 & 12 released on Signum from 2019 is worthy of your attention if you haven’t already experienced it), and the ridiculously energetic cellist and actor Matthew Sharp.

Full list of performances on the Hertfordshire Festival of Music website.

London Piano Festival (8-10 October 2021)

It seems like a ridiculously way off (and in a far-away land in Kings Place, London), but the further away that live music experiences are billed, the more reliable the guarantee will be closer to, what feels like now, a nostalgic sense of normality. The brilliant Gabriela Montero, another Thoroughly Good Podcastee, brings The Immigrant, a recital culminating in a live improvisation to Charlie Chaplin’s short film to LPF this year.

There’s a premiere of premiere of Sally Beamish’s new two-piano work, Sonnets. In the same concert a group of five pianists – Katya Apekisheva, Finghin Collins, Gabriela Montero, Charles Owen and Kathryn Stott – perform works by Mozart, Schubert, Ravel, Rachmaninov and Poulenc on two interlocking Steinways.

The Festival culminates on Sunday morning when Charles Owen is joined by mathematician Marcus du Sautoy to explore the symmetry between maths and the music of J.S. Bach, including a performance of Goldberg Variations. Live performance AND immersion in nerdy detail. I’m in the queue before YOU.

Tickets and event details via the London Piano Festival website.

BBC Proms 2021 (30 July – 11 September 2021)

This completely passed me by. I didn’t see it in my social media feeds. And I am ENORMOUSLY relieved to discover that in whatever form the BBC Proms is going to go ahead this year. And I am prepared to wait my turn to attend.

London Philharmonic Orchestra and Philharmonia Concerts at Southbank Centre from 28 May

News from the Southbank Centre is that two of their resident orchestras the London Philharmonic and Philharmonia will announce their live audience events on 14th April.

Manchester Collective at King’s Place

Manchester Collective (18 June 2021)

Manchester Collective show interrogates the darker side of the American dream, evoking the intrigue and momentum of New York City’s sleepless nights and crowded streets. Steve Reich’s signature throbbing masterpieces bookend the programme and set the tempo throughout. Fast. Slow. Fast. The Double Sextet features an explosion of fractured rhythms and the composer’s characteristic shifts of mood. Elsewhere in the programme, the Collective perform the world premiere of a new work by the “inventive, challenging, and glorious” Hannah Peel. Finally, David Lang’s underhand masterpiece ‘Cheating, Lying, Stealing’.

A socially-distanced concert at King’s Place. Tickets at the Kings Place website

Nicola Benedetti, Aurora Orchestra & Nicholas Collon (4 July 2021)

Aurora Orchestra performs Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Nicola Benedetti. Benedetti could play a C major scale with orchestral accompaniment and would still be an uplifting affair.

Royal Festival Hall with a live audience. Tickets available here from 14 April. 

Oh for the love of cocking God

The BBC Proms have made another announcement about Rule Britannia. That thing they weren’t going to do, they are now going to do. Those who cried ‘Foul play!’ and ‘Down with the wokes!’ and ‘This is political correctedness gone mad again!’, are now jumping up and down and claiming victory. The words of Rule Britannia are now going to be sung by the BBC Singers.

First, it seems incredible to me on one level that a concert I don’t especially care about is once again the subject of a blog post. Second and perhaps more importantly, I can’t believe the BBC has done such a complete U-Turn on something which so fundamentally insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

That a new DG has taken up the reins this past fortnight during which time there’s been a change of mind about how to go about things can’t be a coincidence. Seems like someone somewhere has had a word in someone else’s ear.

It’s all just a bit embarrassing really. What it really means is that the anachronism that is the Last Night of the Proms is here for another generation at least. At that’s a bit of a crying shame.

Perfection

I’ve been a little restless today. I haven’t been able to put my finger on why exactly. Not until now.

I’ve wanted to write (since watching last nights Proms gig with the LSO) but couldn’t. So I read instead (about Vaughan Williams and the British perception of music and landscapes). Then I read Gretchen Ruben says about what Rebels can do to meet their inner expectations (spoiler: the secret is self-deception). Then I started work on a database service I’ve wanted to provide musicians for a couple of years. Endless displacement activities. Open book stuff.

At the tail end of all of this I discovered I’d massively cocked up and failed to turn up for a Zoom interview by an hour. And after that I felt I was ‘able’ or at least ‘motivated’ to write.

Back to the LSO’s blistering performance last night. Hearing a concert (or seeing it on TV) is, it seems, only the beginning of the classical music experience for me now. Hearing something when I’m not able to be physically present in the same space means I’m dependent on the moment when the music has the most impact on me – the moment when the musical experience takes me by surprise. And if it has (and it did) then reflecting on how much and why is important. Until that point is reached it seems the concert isn’t ‘over’.

That’s weird. I know.

Or at least it marks a shift. Because up until this year writing about a concert was something that I felt I should do in order to demonstrate my presence at a concert retrospectively. A sort of personal responsibility to advocacy of the genre. Now, a year later, writing about a concert is something I have to do in order to make sense of it to myself. To arrive at a sort of closure.

Rattle and the LSO was one of the most remarkable pieces of television (and radio – I’m listening as I write this in the bath) I’ve seen in a long long time. There was a detail to the sound mix which brought an urgency, relevance and immediacy to say the Elgar Introduction and Allegro that I’d not heard before. Every instrument sang. There was more punch in the overall ensemble. And the content – emotionally – seemed not only to reflect the implicit visual narrative (a space in which us at home were denied access) but also provide a soundtrack for what has happened to the arts over the past six months, but hints at what might be lost if the ridiculousness of this situation is allowed to continue.

That kind of programming isn’t an accident I don’t think. It’s a measure of how COVID has brought about an opportunity to experiment with a different way of bringing concert programmes to life. Look at it this way: if I’d seen Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Adès, Kurtag, and Vaughan Williams fifth symphony I might well have overlooked it.

But when you’ve been starved of something you love (and when an artist has the opportunity to programme works in response to present constraints) then the resulting concert has the potential to respond more immediately. And it did. With devastating effect.

After a gritty and impassioned Elgar, Mitsuko Uchida performance of the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was terrifying. Crushing, even. The pieces by Kurtag created a displaced feel to them. Ades’s Dawn was other worldly. Transcendental – just as perhaps he’d intended.

And the Vaughan Williams. I ended up crying a lot during the third movement. It was though something had been lanced. Someone or a group of people had come along and presented a playlist of music live performing to a perceived audience. They not only entertained, but spoke to us and sought to represent us all at the same time. And in doing so they reinforced precisely the thing that makes this art form so utterly indispensable. And so vital right now. Music as a series of statements that speak to, reflect back, an articulate the mood of a collection of people the players can’t see in the moment.

The eyebrow-raising element for some will be this. After all my crowing and complaining about TV at the Proms last year, it was TV that came good this year. Because without the audience, a boom camera had the most access to the stage – more than ever before. With no audience in the Hall, the audience at home was able to experience a potent narrative made possible by the sight of a vast interior, access to the edge of the stage, and an enviable range of wide angle lenses. The script wasn’t needed to compensate. The music was allowed to speak for itself.

Not every concert can be like this. Nor every concert will be. But if you’re looking for an illustration of why this art form isn’t just relevant but needed, here was an example.

Quite a remarkable evening.

Grass pushing through concrete

I can’t take credit for the title – that was a line from Stephen Fry during last night’s touching first live Prom concert in the 2020 season. A fitting evening with poignant music choices and a satisfyingly pared-back presentation style too.

Radio deftly highlighted the impact that the COVID measures were having on live performance with an explicit reference from conductor Sakari Oramo and a delightful implicit one from the orchestra when, in between movements of the Beethoven symphony, silence exposing the sound of players turning the pages of their music.

On TV there was a solid pace, natural to and fro, and some much-appreciated advocacy from Stephen Fry. The simplicity of content meant the core implicit messages were clearer to make out: when something (live music in its broadest sense) is under threat, its value to us as individuals needs to be emphasised.

Ironically, there was a sense that the Prom concert denied a physical audience dramatically improved proceedings, possibly because it was a far more controlled environment. There was, as a result, a sense of occasion about the first live Prom concert, our eyes falling on the unoccupied spaces marked out by lines of lights. We had a sense of the distance that still needs to be travelled yet.

The central point illustrated both by Fry on TV and in the programming was the way in which a classical music programme can speak to a shared experience, or prompt thoughts around that experience. In this case: a new work inspired by questions around identity, by composer Hannah Kennedy, a piece about sleep, music that evokes memories or perceptions of lockdown (Copland’s A Quiet City), and Beethoven’s Eroica – a work I’ve always seen as a powerful statement of hope for the future.

It all got a little too much during the Copland. A Quiet City seemed like an apt choice, and as Stephen Fry later pointed out, made for a more heightened experience because of the thoughts and feelings those of us watching and listening brought to the experience. Not everyone, obviously. How could we all be thinking and feeling the same thing? How would we ever know? But this was a music choice that was perhaps helped bring people together in a shared, albeit it remote, experience. Something to coalesce around. Trumpeter Phil Cobb’s vibrato gave things a unsettling sense of vulnerability; Cor Anglais player Alison Teale’s rich warm tone added strength and a sense of hope.

The BBC Singers performing Eric Whitacre’s Sleep

What went before the Copland – the BBC Singers performing Eric Whitacre’s Sleep (on the day his news work ‘The Sacred Veil ‘ was released on Signum Classics) was a bit of a tear-jerker. Familiar faces spaced two and a half metres apart in the stalls of the Royal Albert Hall. The sight – like that of a chamber orchestra on stage for the Beethoven later in the concert – seemed a little too much bear. Forgive the pun, there was a dissonance – a jolt with how we expect a group of people to stand. Challenging no doubt, but done anyway so that the music can live because determination insists upon it.

The Beethoven was a fascinating listen. It was apparent from the beginning that distance between players themselves and conductor Sakari Oramo was probably going to dictate a cautious approach to speeds and dynamic contrasts (though its worth qualifying here that I’ve been listening to Les Concerts Des Nations brilliantly gritty and rip-roaringly fast recording of Beethoven 3 over the past few weeks). During the first movement I wasn’t sure whether this sense of cautiousness worked. But the same cautiousness seemed to help expose the intricacies and complexities in the work, highlighting one aspect of the symphony’s revolutionary status.

Three quarters of the way through the second movement where the march pivots on rocking chords in the upper strings that appear to slow to a near-stop, I was bought-in. This was a gentle conclusion. A pause. But not an end.

It could have been exuberant from here until the end, but somehow it not being so seemed right given the moment. Live performance might be partially back, but its at a point when the fragility of the ecosystem needs to be highlighted. There needs to be determination and strength, but it doesn’t feel right to celebrate, not yet. Not by any means.

At the end of the concert unexpected applause broke out from the orchestra themselves – applause for soloists Alison Teale and Phil Cobb and, presumably for one another. Deserved undoubtedly, but also a moment that broke the tension of the night. And on radio we learned how having arrived on stage two-by-two, the BBC Symphony Orchestra would now leave two-by-two. “It’s going to be some time before the stage is empty,” explained presenter Petroc Trelawny.

Should Rule Britannia be ditched from the Last Night of the Proms? Yes. Here’s why.

It’s not a bad way of getting a discussion on Radio 4’s Today programme I suppose.

Get the conductor of an event (Dalia Stasevska) to say something provocative about the content of a much-loved institution; make sure it taps into the public conversation; invite on a couple of contributors with opposing views; be sure to make one of them an out-dated representative of the industry.

‘Debate’

Result? A bit of PR for the approaching fortnight of live Proms concerts. Job done. Little wonder Martha Kearney trumpeted (boom, etc) the introduction to the ‘debate’ with “There’s always a row about the BBC Proms” to which Norman Lebrecht responded, “Well it’s the only way the Proms can get the attention it needs.” Such nonsense.

I digress. The focus of the ‘debate’ was the issue over whether or not the Last Night of the Proms should ditch Rule Britannia, the words of which celebrate slavery.

Norman disagrees of course, saying that the words are ‘innocuous’ and the song unifies people. Wasfi Kani from Grange Opera suggests replacing the song with Jerusalem and the Beatles classic ‘All You Need Is Love’.

According to Norman who can’t help but have the final word, Jerusalem will cause people to fall asleep. He’s obviously overlooked the fact that Jerusalem has featured in the Last Night for decades already.

It’s probably not seriously being considered anyway

What’s important here is that – as far as I can decipher from the statements in the broadcast and what I’ve seen online – this isn’t an official decision being made, soon to be made, or made already by the BBC Proms team.

The prepared statement read out by Kearney during the feature was from the Head of BBC Music (commissioning – does Kearney mean Jan Younghusband?) dodging the question with a response that the BBC is currently trying to figure out what musicians they’re able to have for the audience-free live broadcast anyway. Meaning, that the decision maybe down to the musicians allowed on stage due to COVID regulations rather than an editorial decision.

In other words, no one is seriously thinking editorially about whether or not to include or not include the song, and nobody wants to comment on that either. It’s bluster – sort of dog-whistle journalism – inviting those with a view to join the debate. Hence the Express – that bastion of journalism – wading in with a headline and an online poll.

Rule Britannia should be ditched though

Our willingness to cling on to an outdated and unrepresentative piece of music in order to celebrate an anachronistic view of identity is embarrassing. That we would be debating it in light of George Floyd’s murder and the protests which resulted seems blinkered, bloated, and self-satisfied.

It is right that attention is drawn to the way that something like Rule Britannia is dissonant with present-day discourse. And now that it has been there is, regardless of any campaign mounted by a newspaper, only one course of action which is to bin the song entirely. To keep it in would only provoke even more ire.

Time to change the Last Night of the Proms completely

But there’s another perspective to bear in mind here. The endless sniping that is made about the BBC Proms by those who have never attended, watched or listened to them, is based on a perception formed by the most visible concert in the entire season, the Last Night. Those who dismiss classical music do so because they assume that all classical music experiences are like that seen on TV during the Last Night.

The Last Night isn’t representative of the Proms season. Arguably it does more damage projecting an incongruant image of the classical music industry by continuing in the format that it is.

The Proms season, this year more than any other, is a shop window for the industry. It is the starting point for orchestras, ensembles and artists appearances activities scheduled for the forthcoming season (though this year those seasons are understandably going to look very different from previous years).

It is therefore time for the Last Night to be treated less like a concert made for television, and regarded more like a concert at which television cameras are present. Create a concert programme that is more aligned to the Proms season as a whole.

When we achieve that kind of transformation then some of the assumptions held about the classical music world in the UK can be overcome for good.

Amid confusion and misinformation: Dvorak from Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

Earlier this week I cycled over to nearby Syndenham to collect the Ray Bans I left at my friend Vicky’s following a haircut.

During my revisit I exchanged with a pal who was staying with Vicky whose words about how concert venues like theatre would adjust in response to social distancing had caused me some consternation. I explained about the challenge classical music and opera venues face as articluated by Guardian journo and Thoroughly Good Podcastee Charlotte Higgins.

What my exchange with Adrian last weekend reminded me of was that there are aspects of our respective worlds and systems we don’t instinctively understand. What commands the focus of his attention isn’t the same as what commands mine.

Later in the week I posed a question on Facebook about whether having COVID19 antibodies I could or could not be contagious. Most respondents commented on whether or not antibodies meant one was immune from the ill-effects of the virus. No-one was able to articulate or respond to the specific question I was asking; many seemed confused on what the dividend having antibodies actually was. To be clear: I don’t have any COVID19 antibodies.

We are living through a period of confusion and misinformation. Few of us are singing from the same hymn sheet. Not only that, there are insufficient copies of the hymn sheet.

Admidst this I’m reminded of the pull of the writing, especially during what for me is the perfect diary-inducing period: the Proms.

Not everyone is in agreement. Contacts in my circle see plundering the Proms broadcast archive as evidence of a lack of innovative thinking. That’s a shame because I’ve reveled in unexpected musical excursions. Such broadcasts have been re-affirming. A sort of anchor.

Mariss Jansons conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra Dvorak 8 (2004) was a particular highpoint this week. Muscular, thorough, detailed. Warm sonorous strings. Taut brass. Evocative storytelling.

Rigorous detail too. Listen to the second subject in the second movement, in particular to cascading bit in the upper strings – locked on to the beat but pushing the edges of musical hesitation. I listen to that detail repeated in the woodwind equivalent when the same material comes back before the end of the movement and wonder how on earth a conductor communicates the vision and ensures a consistent realisation of it.

Similarly the rip-roaring final movement complete with horn cues sounding like elephants running riot in amongst the band. And the cheer from the crowd after the final chord too. Such performances from both performers and the audience bring a tear to the eye.

Such moments – this one from 16 years ago – give me a second chance at hearing something special for the first time. I don’t remember attending the concert nor listening to it on the radio. I listen to it now and think how utterly amazing it is. I’ve listened to it six times in the past three days. That kind of listening experience doesn’t present itself that often.

And listening to it back for a seventh time as I write it feels like we’re clinging on to classical, celebrating the thing we hold dear, holding on tight in a storm. They are broadcast moments – so far – that remind me of the only thing which appears to make sense to me right now: someone’s musical intent articulated by a team of musicians who themselves create a spectacle that moves not only me but a whole crowd of other people I don’t know.

BBC Proms 2020 season unveiled – live performances late summer plus a treasure trove of archive delights

I have line of sight of the BBC Proms season for 2020. And you know what, as far as I’m concerned, I’m going to be quite happy: archive broadcasts on radio, and BBC iPlayer, plus a cut-down selection of live performances towards the end of the season.

The BBC Proms press release doesn’t reveal too much in writing. No great surprises because .. jeeze .. look what everyone’s grappling with right now. But some stops have been pulled out and in a strange kind of way that makes the summer seem less of a barren landscape than sometimes it does when I try and think beyond today, and tentatively into next week.

For the avoidance of doubt on the part of anyone at the BBC Proms: I’m saying thank you here. I appreciate your efforts.

Live concerts, pending Government direction (don’t hold your breath – that direction hasn’t been great to date), will start up for the end part of the season, including what is billed as a ‘poignant’ Last Night of the Proms to conclude proceedings. Marvellous.

Up until then, the Proms truly is a broadcast festival starting on Friday 17 July, and running until Saturday 12 September. The ‘First Night’ will include a commission by Iain Farrington for a BBC Grand Virtual Orchestra to mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

And given the news from the Southbank earlier this week, the Proms may well serve another more pressing need: to reiterate to the naysayers or those who don’t especially care about live music that it remains a critical force in our cultural life and the country’s economy.

It won’t be quite what we’re used to, but it will remind those who need it spelled out, that this cultural experience is not something we can afford to throw away.

Which, now I come to read the press release, is actually what David Pickard, Proms Director thinks too. Great minds think alike.

“These are challenging times for our nation and the rest of the world, but they show that we need music and the creative industries more than ever. This year it is not going to be the Proms as we know them, but the Proms as we need them. We will provide a stimulating and enriching musical summer for both loyal Proms audiences and people discovering the riches we have to offer for the first time.”

BBC Proms 2020 runs from Friday 17 July until Saturday 12 September.

BBC Proms 2019 / 7: Proms Encore, Peterloo, Huw Watkins and Mozart’s Requiem

A review of the week. Not everyone’s week, obviously. But mine, listening to the Proms live and on catch-up

Proms Encore Episode 2

The second episode of Proms Encore saw a slight improvement. The interview with organist Oliver Latry had some spirit about it, including a heart-warming sequence where Rev Richard Coles played the subject from Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor on the Royal Albert Hall. There’s genuine rapport between the two in the film which makes it rather endearing.

Later in the programme Pekka Kussisto and Stuart Skelton join in the ‘fun’ with Isata and Sheku Kanneh-Mason in the Gazebo/Bandstand. Kussisto’s contributions are when the energy changes. Up until that point the OB Gazeo/Bandstand links with the Kanneh-Masons came across as little more than a Decca promo brimming with overly-rehearsed key messages pre-determined by the record label. Neither musician has that much to say about anything and it shows. The distance between host and guests doesn’t help promote a sense of intimacy meaning some of the exchanges feel rather stilted.

Peterloo Overture and Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini

The opening subject is enough to induce tears in me. That’s partly to do with Arnold’s melodic mastery imbued with an ochre colour of melancholy. Programmatic (it illustrates the carnage at the Peterloo Massacre) and highly descriptive, the various scenes depicted in this tightly scored concert opener have a Shostakovich air throughout – in particular, the moments after the battle and before the euphoric conclusion. The BBC Philharmonic’s warm strings here, in the middle of their register, were something to behold on the broadcast. The other reason its an emotional listen is the way it evokes memories of Suffolk Youth Orchestra – a crowd- as much as an orchestra-pleaser. A formative work for me as a percussionist (yes, I even played percussion at one point when the principal clarinetist returned post-A-Level to resume his duties) back in the summer of 1989.

Good to hear the detail in the opening variation of the Rachmaninov variations – not heard that before. Similarly later on, some exquisitely dry articulation in the upper strings. Delicious. When I originally listened to this (on the JBL speakers post-bath sat in a dressing gown on the stairs) I was certain I heard a fair few errors. Listening back a second time on earphones, I hear one or two tiny slips in the piano – maybe a few crushed notes – but that’s all. Closer listening also suggests pianist Florestan was pulling out some of the ‘in-between-notes’ of the chords in the syncopated variation. If so, a nice detail. Some fresh details in a work I imagine must be phenomenally difficult to do something original with if you’re a pianist. The famous variation felt like sinking into a freshly-plumped feather pillow and falling gently asleep.

Shostakovich 11

This was a gripping performance. Breathtaking. Pushed me right to the edge of my comfort zone in terms of emotions. There were moments when the emotion created by the playing was so intense as to be almost unbearable. The effect was similar to Kissin and Kavakos in Verbier – ‘remarkable gents, but please, no further than that otherwise I’m going to have to do something embarrassing like rip off all of my clothes and run around like some kind of mad thing’. Terrifying, compelling, and captivating. Such a shame that when I came to watch it on TV, post-performance Tom Service and Jess Gillam felt the need to extol the virtues of the scale of the spectacle rather than temper their delivery and recognise the impact the work as a whole has on the engaged listener. Unbridled joyous excitement after the conclusion of Shostakovich 11 rides rough-shod over the emotional impact of the work. Were you actually listening to the damn performance? Next time, let’s just have the credits roll with nothing but applause in the background.

Mahler on TV

Two odd things have happened since the last posts regarding Proms Encore (if you haven’t read it, know that the Decca-infused episode two didn’t endear the ‘new series’ to me in any way) and write-up re: the Britten/Mahler TV coverage. The first was that TV producer from Livewire TV (the company behind this year’s Proms TV coverage) ‘liked’ my Proms Encore Bandstand/Gazebo post. Awkward. (Had he read the post and then endorsed it? Or has he misunderstood how Twitter ‘likes’ work? Either way, maybe there’s a potential money-spinner there.) The second was a message from a pal asking me whether I’d watched the Mahler sit-down interview with Ed ‘Silver Fox’ Gardner. “No,” I texted back. “I only went as far as the Britten Piano Concerto because I’m a massive Britten fan and have an equally massive crush on pianist Leif Oves Ands-wotnot.” What’s the point in Mahler when those key requirements have been met?

I watched Kathryn Knight and The Derham’s Mahler TV interval insert on the train back from a filming gig in Surrey on Friday. Glamma.

Turns out the Mahler sequence with Ed Gardner was quite good. Not massively keen on seeing knowledgeable pundit Kathryn Knight accompanying The Derham. Knight speaks with passion and authority. Feels a bit odd when she doesn’t ask Gardner a question in the three person set up. Subsequent rehearsal sequence however where The Derham and Knight discuss Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde is very good. Fantastic timing, skillfully edited.

BBC National Orchestra do Mozart’s Requiem

Listened throughout. Still can’t shake the disturbing opening. Less plaintive cry of belief in the almighty, more signature tune from a lesser-known ITV imitation of Steptoe and Son. Ensemble issues in the opening Kyrie. Tenor’s vibrato was difficult to listen to – sheep-like. It all felt rather rushed and unloved. Quite disappointed. Seemed a like a cavalier approach, plus a love of staccato singing. Odd.

Huw Watkins’ The Moon

Can’t overstate how satisfying Watkins’ new work is to listen to. His textures are bold, melodic ideas pleasingly old-school, and treatments fresh but captivating. He is a lover of chords. Big chords. I love that.

This was the Prom I’d intended (and announced) I’d go to, but couldn’t get to owing to public transport issues. Gutted. Telephoned the BBC Proms PR drone about my impending non-attendance on the basis that he might be able to sell the ticket. Not being able to attend a concert you actively sought out is how I imagine football fans feel when they have a ticket to the FA Cup Final they can’t get to. Like being denied Christmas. Kind of.

John Wilson. Still adorable.

Listened back twice to his Warner Brothers gig. Loved it. His product is reliable. Prompted me to revisit this interview from 2011.