“Welcome to the Royal Albert Hall. Welcome to the biggest, best attended, most varied, most exuberant classical music festival the world.”
Oh Petroc Trelawney, it is good to be back! I must admit that I do feel a little silly calling my Proms reviews ‘Reviews’, on account of the fact that I’m not actually there at the Royal Albert Hall in London, but am in fact 10,000 miles away sitting at my desk, down here in Victoria, Australia. I have never actually attended a Prom, but I have been to the RAH, and have stood up in the Gallery, so I have some idea as to how fantastic it would be. My ‘reviews’ are of the recordings of the night’s musical festivities as broadcast on BBC Radio 3, and available around the world on the BBC iPlayer for the next seven days.
Sally Matthews soprano
Roderick Williams baritone
Stephen Hough piano
BBC Proms Youth Choir
BBC Symphony Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sakari Oramo conductor
First Night of the Proms always one of the biggest nights of the festival, kicking the whole thing off. This year’s First Night did not disappoint. The 119th season of the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts began with the world premiere of Julian Anderson’s Harmony. Concerts always begin with either a fanfare, or a more meditative piece, and this was the latter. Personally, for the first piece of the Proms season, I would go with a fanfare every time, but, of course, I’m not the one who makes these programs. I thought Harmony was ok, but it just wouldn’t have been my choice to kick off the whole season.
Up next was Benjamin Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from ‘Peter Grimes’. Now this is what I’m talking about! Britten is one of the featured composes in this year’s Proms, as this year is the centenary of his birth. If you’re listening to this piece via iPlayer, it really kicks in around the 25-minute mark. I do recognise this piece, as it is reasonably popular in the classical repertoire, and understandably so. And to any composers out there: THIS is how you finish a piece. Fair to say, this was my favourite piece of the concert (my First Night Favourite last year was Elgar’s Cockaigne (London) Overture). The ‘Sunday Morning’ Interlude can be watched here on YouTube, thanks to Radio 3.
The rather long first act then continued with Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. I’m not the biggest fan of piano concertos, or of this piece, despite it being one of the most popular in the classical repertoire, but this was still very good. Soloist Stephen Hough (to my un-trained ears) was spot-on. Part of this piece can also be seen here on YouTube.
The final piece of the first act was Polish composer Witold Lutosławski’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini, to tie in with the Paganini theme. This piece made me smile, and the energy in it was amazing. I liked this. Short (time-wise, 8 minutes), fast (playing speed-wise) and fun.
During interval of all of the Proms concerts, the radio audience receives a talk on any number of music-related topics, and for First Night, it was on the all-important but often overlooked Chorus Masters and their choirs. With this performance having the 300-strong Proms Youth Choir and the BBC Symphony Chorus, the work of the Chorus Masters in First Night’s Prom are key figures, though not seen on stage. It also discussed the relationship between Chorus Masters, the chorus themselves and conductors. I really enjoy listening to these discussions and hearing the different stories and find that I learn a lot.
The second half of the performance was just the one piece: Ralph Vaughn Williams’s A Sea Symphony, carrying on with the intermittent sea-theme of this Prom. This symphony is a perfect piece to use on First Night; it just screams ‘opening night’, both musically and with its 500 performers in the orchestra and choir. It’s a very big work and rather epic.
So, that’s First Night of the Proms done and dusted, and the 2013 season is officially underway. I am very happy.
Remember to visit bbc.co.uk/Proms