BBC Proms Dazzles on Opening Night

Classic Arts Features   BBC Proms Dazzles on Opening Night
An elegant and distinctly celebratory opening concert launched the 2012 version of London's BBC Proms Concerts at Royal Albert Hall on July 13. Frank Cadenhead reports.


Hailed as "the world's biggest music festival," it continues there with multiple events every day until September The opening, an all-English evening, features works by Mark-Anthony Turnage, Edward Elgar, Frederick Delius and Michael Tippett. Four acclaimed UK conductors appear on the podium conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

A brief new work (3 minutes) by Turnage, "Canon Fever" set the tone and was conducted by the gifted young Edward Gardner, music director of the English National Opera. Elgar's familiar overture "Cockaigne (in London Town)" followed, with spirited conducting by Sir Roger Norrington. The centerpiece of the concert was the reflective and life-affirming "Sea Drift" of Frederick Delius. It was conducted with deep understanding by Sir Mark Elder with famed Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel bringing rich meaning to the text. The BBC Symphony and Chorus were partners in this elegiac music making.

After the intermission, it was "official commissions" reflecting the continued devotion of the British to their monarch, whose recent Diamond Jubilee marks her 60th anniversary on the throne. Michael Tippett's engaging "Suite for the Birthday of Prince Charles" was composed to honor the prince's birth and was lead by Martyn Brabbins. This was followed by Gardner returning with a large-scale Elgar work, the "Coronation Ode" (written to celebrate the coronation of the current queen's father ) with the BBC Chorus and soloists of the caliber of soprano Susan Gritton, Sarah Connolly, mezzo, Robert Murray, tenor and Gerald Finley, bass-baritone. This work incorporates the melody to "Land of Hope and Glory" reminding all present that this song is the traditional grand finale at the "Last Night of the Proms" on September 9.

Other events include Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra for a five-concert Beethoven symphony cycle, here blended with works by Pierre Boulez. The Ninth Symphony is fittingly played on July 27, the opening day of London's 2012 Olympic Games. Andrew Manze, associate guest conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, is conducting all nine of the Vaughan-Williams symphonies over the next few seasons, and in this Proms year he conducts Nos 4, 5 and 6 all on the same program. There is nothing traditionally English about the Proms of August 17 which will feature the music of America's anarchic master composer, John Cage. Yes, there will be "prepared pianos" and "amplified cactus."

Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony are always popular nights and the August 22 program will feature Prokofiev's "Cinderella" ballet suite. Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic will appear on the 30th with Sibelius' Forth Symphony followed by works of Debussy and Ravel's "Daphnis and Chloe Suite." September 4 marks the first appearance of the St. Louis Symphony with music director David Robertson at the Proms in a program mxing Beethoven, Schoenberg and Gershwin. On September 6, if you can get a ticket, you can also hear Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 played by pianist Murray Perahia with Bernard Haitink's inspired conducting of the Vienna Philharmonic. Haitink completes the concert with the monumental Bruckner Ninth Symphony.

Of course there is lighter fare intersperced throughout the series. The second night at the Proms, for example, is a concert performance of Lerner and Loewe's "My Fair Lady." Baroque is also represented, even in the spacious confines of the Royal Albert Hall. On July 19, for example, you can enjoy Handel's oratorio "Judas Maccabaeus" performed by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. The dazzlingly long list of the events and further information is on

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