An English Winter Journey… With Roderick Williams 

Roderick Williams is one of the U.K’s most experienced singers, and an artist I have come across frequently in recordings and at the BBC Proms. The opportunity to hear (and see, I stress) this wonderful character was not to be turned down, especially as the program was advertised to include a wide range of British songs and parts of Schubert’s Winterreise.

However, when Roderick bounced onto the stage of Middle Temple Hall with a beaming smile on the 5th of December, it was not immediately to sing. He had cleverly decided to introduce his program, and to point out that instead of including Schubert’s song cycle, he had instead based the entire program structurally on the composer’s work. The twenty four British songs, all with the theme of Winter, were matched by tempo, key or mood directly with Winterreise, and the great variety of songs in the programme by Vaughan Williams, Quilter, Gurney, Butterworth, and Parry to name but a few created much anticipation for the audience. 

This very personal introduction engaged listeners, so much so that when Roderick walked on again with accompanist Julius Drake, he was even better received. From the very first song by Vaughan Williams, it was clear this was a classy performer. The Baritone had faultless control over the audience, and was calm and collected throughout the evening. When Roderick wasn’t singing, he stayed in character and his slight movement around the small stage kept us interested. The programme joined the 1st to 12th songs together, and after the interval we heard the 13th to 24th. Roderick, a professional used to singing for long amounts of time in operas and vast ranges of choral works, had no trouble with singing for over an hour and a half with just one break.

Throughout the songs, Roderick used his personality and distinct musicality to tell the stories of each individual song. However, I got the impression that I was listening to a song cycle because he didn’t take himself out of character until the final note. His facial expressions could have told us everything, but the combination of this involvement in the music and his rich baritonal voice created a faultless performance. 

Roderick had complete control over his voice, and had the ability to be either powerful or delicate, pensive or in control. His wonderful choice of programme allowed him to show off these skills, and I believe he really was emotionally involved with the programming as he created great musical theatre throughout.

Due to the hall not being the vast size of, say the Albert Hall, Roderick was able to connect with every audience member, and I definitely felt that as he was looking around I was able to connect with him, and in turn his story. This was, of course, aided by his choice to perform the entire concert by memory, undoubtably helping to create an unforgettable performance.

The accompanist, Julius Drake, is in high demand and in coming seasons will be performing with Iestyn Davies, Simon Keenlyside, and Ian Bostridge. So, it was not at all surprising that his playing was extremely accurate and sensible. He shone out the lyrical melodies of the 20th century composers when necessary and hid behind the singer when his part was needed to be contained. And yet he added another level of brilliance to the sound of the duo.

To summarise, the evening was marvellous. Roderick’s tone, projection, and passion for his program was incredible, and along with a capable pianist created an unbeatable duo. I thoroughly enjoyed the music, and was fascinated by the choice of programme. For me, it was the baritone’s engagement with the audience that made the experience so inspirational.

BBC PROMS SEASON 2016 ~ PROM 42 – 5*’S

Honestly, what is it about late night BACH?!! You may be getting a little bit bored of 4*’s, so do not worry because Prom 42 did more than deliver a faultless performance!

You may want to get ready because this isn’t really going to be a review, it’s more of a love letter to the Sixteen, then JS Bach, and then to Arvo Part. I don’t know what it is about choral music, but when it’s performed well it’s unbeatable. And if anyone was going to do it, it had to be the sensational talent that is the 16. Bringing together 34 (yeah i know..) singers on the RAH stage, this unmissable experience to hear the best choir sing the best choral music was one of my favourite proms experiences. I will now explain why:

The Programme worked perfectly, splitting up the Bach motets with Arvo Part; although I could have easily listened to all 6 motets in a row it actually complemented the Bach strangely well. Just as Celemency Burton-Hill lightheartedly described as a sorbet in between the meals, it worked perfectly. And if you wanted to know what the meals were, they were massive Bachian roast dinners.

Both Part pieces were absolutely beautiful, but my favourite was the Nunc Dimittis, my favourite genre of choral music, which oozed clashes and without a doubt it helped that the 16 brought it to life and beyond.

The singers were also perfect, but the altos for me won the battle hands down closely followed by the exquisite sopranos who were the stars of the pure sound the group very easily created. The choir as a whole are just at the top of their game-lead fantastically by Harry Christophers their sound surpasses all other choirs, and I even prefer their sopranos to boy trebles.. yes, there I said it.

As well as this, in the Jesu, Meine Freude (ultimate banger) three soloists from the choir stepped forward which broke up the full choir parts really well. The basses as a whole were just ridiculously good, but this soloist was the model bass getting out the way when he wasn’t needed and then more than showing off in his tune-brilliant!

As well as the choir, some incredible cellists, a very technically secure double bassist and a passionate chamber organ player accompanied the Bach adding another dimension of not only sound but flare for the music itself.

 

Overall, I think the best way to notice a 5* performance is if the conductor can hold the silence after the performance, which I have never seen better done than it was by Harry Christophers. The entire hall were in silence in complete adoration for the finesse they had just experienced. Sensational.

This one’s worth a listen all the way through: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07nmszy

 

BBC PROMS SEASON 2016 ~ PROM 41 – 4*’S

Last night really was tremendous; I went to two proms including my most anticipated prom of the 2016 season-the 16 singing Bach motets and Arvo Part, which I’ll talk about in my next blog. Prom 41 however included the incredible Mahler Das Lied von der Erde, and with the Hallé conducted by Sir Mark Elder I couldn’t resist going to the prom before Bach!

The concert started with Berlioz’s Overture ‘King Lear’ which I thought was a fantastic piece. There were some ultimate lush harmonies and it was written much earlier than I thought (1831) which defiantly increases my respect for Berlioz. There was some very punchy brass playing with an equally impressive bass trombonist doing his duty  to God and the Bone. It’s a shame that I noticed this really, but I thought I’d publicly admire the lady timpanist who managed the whole row of percussion alone-wish we’d see this more often!

Mark Elder was on top form throughout and used his clear but simplistic movements to keep the music together which he did with the utter perfection you would expect from a world-renowned musician such as him. There were some beautiful woodwind solos, but my only criticism could be that it would have been nice to have some more shaping in places, especially taking into account that Elder conducted the entire piece from memory.

Continuing the showcase of the Cello at this year’s proms, the Colin Matthews’ Berceuse for Dresden made it’s London premiere with the cellist Leonard Elschenbroich. Leonard did his very best with the music, covering some weird bits with lots of vibrato and huffing and puffing. If you’re wondering what it sounded like, it was the sort of piece that I could imagine sounding quite unpleasant on Sibelius and then the composer being pleasantly surprised at how the skilled musicians pulled it off! (sorry Luke cough cough…)

The piece didn’t drive me crazy but I loved some of the colours created and the offstage bells added another dimension to the piece. I particularly disliked Colin Matthews use of the strange ‘one dynamic, one string’ technique for the cellist which lasted most of the piece. What was even stranger was that the majority of the audience began a rapturous applause-Maybe I missed something?

After the interval was the Mahler Masterpiece, which created the most amazing 64 minutes of music, despite my legs really hurting.. The orchestra were near flawless with such intricate passages placed with perfection and the louder sections never overbearing. However, the stars of the show were the two solo singers who took it in turn to sing their songs.

The tenor soloist, Gregory Kunde was incredible and despite not looking like a tenor had sufficient vibrato to make up for it. He had less of that specialness about him that I look for in a singer, a great singer carries us in the story and never lets the expression leave their performance. However, where he may have lacked subtlessness he more than made up for in power and high notes, and I loved his performance.

The soprano soloist was from another dimension though, who from the first note was utterly spell-bounding and had complete control over everything she did. Alice Coote the mezzo was an expert in musical theater, being completely mesmerizing throughout whether it be quiet and completely still or dancing; she was always in character.

The energy Coote created was extraordinary. Quite rightly, the hall erupted and many people were in tears including the leader. Both Mark Elder and the soloists took a good few seconds to gather what they had just produced-amazing!

A well deserved 4*’s, and most of them awarded to Alice Coote.

BBC PROMS SEASON 2016 ~ PROM 28 – 4*’S

20 instrumentalists, 7 singers, 2 directors, and 2 soloists. That’s all it took to create an hour of jazz I will never forget.

I urge you to listen to the beginning of Prom 28 to get an idea of the atmosphere that graced the RAH last night. http://www.bbc.co.uk/events/emv8gw#b07m5hjx. It didn’t take very long to be transfixed on the beyond impressive tone and technical quality of Iain Ballamy, the tenor saxophonist soloist. I have always loved Big Band music, but haven’t really indulged myself in all different types of jazz, which last night opened my eyes to.

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The NYJOS, whose ages run from 15-25 made the evening effortless. Honestly, the band didn’t do anything unimpressive. It was truly inspiring and amazing that the same quality and style of music that we hear on CD’s can be played by a group so young. And nothing made this clearer when the Tenor saxophonist from NYJOS took over from Iain Ballamy and sounded just as, if not more impressive than the world-renowned soloist. Such talent.

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I didn’t really see any point in a conductor/director because the band worked faultlessly with and without anyone waving their arms around pointlessly at the front. It was a shame that the trombones let their tuning go once, but what can you expect? I mean, they are trombonists after all…

The one trombonist that never let me down was the EPIC bass trombonist, Adam Crighton. To say legend, a word which I might use too much, is a shameful understatement. All the adjectives I can think of; chunky, bold, funky, insane, fat are all just understatements for this man’s talent.

Talking of bass, the bass guitarist didn’t even break a sweat as he destroyed playing bass guitar and string bass for the entire gig. It was a good thing he was miked up because he deserved the MOTM all day long.

I can say without hesitation that every solo was perfect for the style of the piece, and no one overdid it or showed any sign of fatigue over the hour of music making. It did, in fact, feel so relaxed that I could have been just watching them rehearse.

The highlight of the evening however was the ending ‘you’ve got a friend’ sang by the incredible destroyer that is Liane Carroll. She strolled on with almost as much confidence as Pekka Kuusisto from prom 27, but then absolutely destroyed her cadenzas and riffs like no other musician could have.

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Some parts of the concert were defiantly from my proms favourite ever moments but there were parts where I didn’t feel secure in the tuning or completely involved in some of the improvisation, sorry to name names but the clarinet soloist.. sorry.. However, overall I felt that all the passion was there and I can pass a few slips so it’s another impressive 4*’s for the NYJOS!!!

Listen to 1:09 onwards like honestly, just do it.

BBC Proms Season 2016 ~ PROM 27 – 4.5*’s

Last night I went to two proms, and both were of very high standards. The highlights of both proms were the soloists, all who showed the drive and passion that we all share as musicians.

Prom 27, however, started with the first of Helen Grime’s Two Eardley Pictures, which didn’t really go anywhere for it’s eight minute duration. Although I wasn’t against it as a piece, and actually it grew on me as I thought more about it, I couldn’t help but relate it to a poor film score. The conductor, Thomas Dausgaard was on top form from the very beginning showing all manner of movements and facial expressions-mainly through his long hair! All I could imagine was a very dark scene out of Prometheus to be honest… that probably explains why the conductor left a good few seconds of silence after the piece.

However, as soon as Violinist Pekka Kuusisto walked on stage we all knew we were about to witness something quite different. His face was in complete awe of the RAH, as if he was a child walking out into the vast space for the first time. He looked out into the entire hall with gasps, smiles and waves. Any soloist with confidence changes the game completely, but he didn’t just look the part, oh no he defiantly played like he meant it! His facial expressions throughout the piece was fantastic, the highlight of the piece, as he glaces over to the conductor, winks at the leader and in one part literally stood back to let the orchestra play-what a showman! Where we really heard Kuusisto was in the cadenzas; with chromatic scales and perfectly placed high notes he was unbeatable. His passion did, however, result in the loss of about 8 bow hairs!

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The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D major was undoubtedly an insane piece full of luscious melodies and fantastic heart-rendering harmonies, but for me it didn’t quite get me going like the Stravinsky in the second half.

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Stravinsky’s Petrushka is one of my all time favourites-it stretches the imagination, constantly keeps the listener engaged and there are changes in literally every musical factor possible. At a time when the greats like Elgar and Mahler are composing massive works, it was Stravinsky who turned away from this pride and heroism and instead to de-humanizing forces like puppets, of which Petrushka is one. The constantly changing features of this ballet is probably the reason why I love it so much, and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra didn’t disappoint.

It was full to the brim with energy, and every last second was intense. The brass parts were EPIC, with the trombone and tubas shining through. At the beginning the cello’s intonation was a bit shaky, but the ridiculous trumpet solos were performed with utter finesse and not to be outdone the violin solos were faultless. Our conductor seemed to understand the music perfectly and looked almost as passionate as me standing in the Arena.

 

Overall one of the best concerts of the proms season so far, the musicians, the programme and the atmosphere created by the insane Stravinsky made this a night well wroth of 4.5*’s.

BBC Proms Season 2016 ~ PROM 4 – 4.5*’s

I’m going to Switzerland on Thursday, so Prom 4 was the last prom for me for a couple of weeks before I return on the 2nd of August after performing with the National Youth Wind Orchestra in 4 locations, staying in Teufen. I can’t wait, and it will be even better as I can take the adrenaline rush that last night’s prom gave me!

Valery Gergiev and his Munich Philharmonic Orchestra brought 2 classic orchestral works (Ravel’s Boléro and Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier Suite), a 1983 symphony by Russian composer, Galina Ustvolskaya, and the world-renowned Rachmaninov 3rd Piano Concerto in D minor.

The evening started with Ravel’s 16 minute ballet, which featured some fabulous piccolo trumpet playing, and an impressive trombone solo. Amazing was the patience of the cymbal and gong players who waited 14 minutes to smash the living daylights out of their instruments. I was originally very appealed to this prom because of Valery Gergiev, as a very famous interpreter, I was a little surprised to see him live for the first time. There was a lot of waving around, throwing beats down willy-nilly and defiantly not in the right place.. it makes me wonder how much help he is to an orchestra. I say this because the Munich Phil were not fazed at all and produced the most incredible togetherness considering this madman waving his hands about.

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The piano concerto introduced Behzod Abduraimov, the winner of the 2009 London International Piano Competition, who from the moment he walked on to the moment he walked off after his encore was completely involved in his performance. It was such an inspiration to watch a young musician, only 26, take in every moment of performing at this insane venue. Sometimes the balance between the piano and orchestra was a little iffy and obviously neither could follow the conductor as Gergiev hadn’t given up his antics yet, but I’m not sure this was Behzod’s fault.

However, it was in the cadenzas that we heard Abduraimov’s superb technical skill and passion as he stretched the Model D Steinway to it’s absolute limit-smashing down some immense chords and showing every single emotion possible for a human on his face within the 42 minute concerto. It was a privilege to listen to him play, and the leader of the orchestra clearly didn’t think he was too bad either; I think he was a bit jealous of the young lad’s talent.

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His encore was one I had heard before, unlike the full piano concerto, which blew me away completely as this star played such challenging technical and passionate melodies. Abduraimov was huffing and puffing for most of the time he was on the stage, but he certainly blew the house down as the whole audience erupted the second his hands were lifted off the keys. Bravo!

After the interval we heard the powerful Ustvolskaya Symphony which confused me a little because we weren’t introduced to the narrator who I thought was the composer, but on a quick look at Wikipedia I realized this wasn’t true-Galina is a woman… oh, my bad. I would love to know how much the narrator (who was supposedly speaking spiritually in Russian) got paid for shouting shpashinash a few times and looking angry because I’d love to volunteer next time it’s performed!

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Shpashinash!!!

The highlight of the evening, and the reason (along with the piano concerto), why this evening scored so high was the magnificent Der Rosenkavalier Suite!! I haven’t actually got many notes taken for this piece, because I may have been so involved that I forgot I was supposed to be criticizing the players..!

All I can say was that it was amazing. Pretty much everything was amazing, the orchestra was on top form, the bass trombone had some mega bass notes and even Gergiev managed some up and down movements in the right time (I know, right?!). I didn’t completely agree with all of his tempi, in particular I would have moved it on in places, but to be honest the work is just so good it doesn’t really matter what tempo you take it, it’s gonna sound amazing!

The two encores showcased the orchestra amazingly and I think I enjoyed it more than some of the concert programme! The Berlioz Hungarian March from Damnation of Faust was a perfect choice to keep the audience clapping and it certainly worked. The showcase of the trombones was immense. Then, Bach Air on a G String was absolutely faultless. It was one of my all time favourite proms moments because it was just so emotional and you could hear a pin drop as everyone was engaged with the very pretty playing.

 

Overall, it was an insane evening: the programme, the orchestra, and the pianist. Everyone worked perfectly together, the product was a concert I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

Shpashinash!

BBC Proms Season 2016 ~ PROM 3 – 4*’s

Last night the infamous choir of King’s College, Cambridge took to the BBC Proms stage in an evening of ‘choral classics’. All 6 basses, 4 tenors, 4 countertenors and a whopping 17 trebles sang in Haydn’s Mass in Time of War and two famous Fauré works.

But the evening started in the hands of a very sparkly Lucy Crowe who sang very professionally in Mozart’s ‘Exsultate, jubilate’. I suspect this was indeed chosen as a crowd pleaser, although it seemed that Lucy knew the piece pretty well. Her second cadenza stood out for me as what she was capable of, showcasing her immense control over the quiet, high register. Her vibrato for the most part was a little too much (the same can be said for her trills), but in this cadenza she pulled it back and created the most pure, indulgent sound. Fabulous.

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Soprano Lucy Crowe

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are one of my favourite orchestras because of their attention to detail and feeling they put into every performance without fail-last night was not an exception. Pretty much all the players were engaged with each other, constantly looking round and smiling. Although they seemed to completely ignore choral conductor ‘royalty’ Stephen Cleobury… it’s up to you to decide why!

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With the Haydn, I had expected it to be the start of the engine; if you like the first firework set off, but in a way it was slightly disappointing. So often in choral music we look for volume, and in a way it means that sometimes quantity is put over quality. Of course it should never be this way, but the reality is that the King’s College choir are not used to singing full pelt, and we could tell.

I am so lucky to sing in such great choirs. In both the two choirs I’m in the trebles are switched on (most of the time..), have depth in their voices, can lead others and work as a team, and read music. Although the trebles of King’s are obvious fantastic musicians, shown as they sat through the first piece nodding their heads, it was clear from the very first Kyrie that they were lacking some energy, some fizz, some volume. This was especially clear in the higher register where most trebles would relish, these trebles sounded weak and very strained. I found the tenors of the choir a bit disappointing, although it was clear they had very mature voices and preferred to stay contained, something I rarely seek. Perhaps they could have done with a former Trinity Musician of the Year?.. I know, I’m sorry… The 6 basses, as you could imagine were ferocious, although still within the limits of their choir’s dynamic ranges, which slightly disappointed me.

That brings me to the only other section left, the MIGHTY altos! Although contained (still..) this sensational section managed to sing with conviction and with pureness throughout all the pieces, but above all in the Fauré Requiem.

The soloists were average except for our Man of the Match (MOTM) for Prom 3: RODERICK WILLIAMS who had fantastic stage presence and finesse in every part of his voice. As a baritone it was clear that he relished the upper register, but his bass notes were equally as admirable. He returns again in the Requiem..

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Look at that POWER!

In the all Fauré second half, the Pavane was enjoyable but a bit of an average choice of music for an average seven minutes. It wasn’t a choral version as printed in the programme. Tut tut tut.

If I have ever complained about the choir under-singing (which I think I have?), it was a happy mistake as it worked absolute wonders in the Cantique de Jean Racine. With every single singer having complete control over their voices, Mr Cleobury could bring the choir right down to almost nothing, and the effects were incredible! Such sensitive singing, with the altos again winning the prize for the top quality singing. I loved the muted strings which gave it a really fabulous atmosphere.

The highlight of the evening was always going to be the Requiem. As such a fantastic piece, it’s difficult to not love it, and now King’s choir had found their style, they could really sit back and let their professionalism and experience carry them through what was, to be honest, 36 minutes of delightful singing.

I found the Agnus Dei tenor soli  a little disappointing, but they made it up with the help of mighty altos in the Offertorium. The beginning chords in the orchestra weren’t together and were a bit feeble, which is the last thing this piece should be. The amazingly written key change with the held ‘Lux’ in the trebles is usually a very hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck moment, but with the lack of support from the trebles it didn’t quite work which was a shame.

The treble solo in ‘Pie Jesu’ in front of the Albert Hall must have been the most intense moment of the young boy’s life but in all honesty he performed well. It was a shame he saved all his excitement until after he sang, because his performance would have been transformed with some passion. This is something he could have learned from the tank that is Roderick, who striked again in two solos that were just glorious.

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To conclude, I know it may sound like there was a lot wrong with last night but at the end of the day that’s only because the rest of the evening was incredible and that’s not much fun to write about! The choir, like I say, was clearly used to more luscious intimate singing with their fantastic acoustics at home. Away, however, they bought that special feeling of really sensitive singing, which made for a very, very interesting concert.

Although the first half may have been slightly disappointing for the King’s choir and the soloists perhaps a bit disengaged, the second half felt exclusive and lush. A well deserved four stars.

BBC Proms Season 2016 ~ PROM 1 – 3.5*’s

Last night the 122nd season of the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts began!

I had a tremendous evening and have woken up today ready to start my Proms Reviews again. I’ve moved from twitter onto my blog, but don’t want to have full length reviews so I shall try my best to keep it short. Hope you enjoy!

The first night of the proms featured one of the best ever British works and two works from very different Russian composers. However, something neither the Proms nor the audience could have expected was to have the entire 5000 capacity of the RAH standing for the Marseillaise, and the applause at the end of the remembrance sent a shiver down my spine.

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The French flag beamed across the organ of the RAH

The programme began with Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy-Overture ‘Romeo and Juliet’ celebrating 400 years since the death of Shakespeare. After performing the piece to a fairly similar standard (…) at Glyndbourne earlier this year I can say I was impressed with how Sakari Oramo controlled the mighty BBC Symphony Orchestra. Both woodwind ‘chorales’ were beautifully phrased and the strings took great pride in the tricky semi-quaver passages. Unfortunately I found the bass trombone and tuba far too restrained, and for some reason the cymbal played demanded a sit down after very sword-fight-I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a flask of tea with him too… I take my hat off to the dangerously engaged principal horn player who managed to make a significant contribution to the boring quavers that graced his page. Bravo!

Overall the Tchaikovsky was a very sweet performance as both Sakari and the entire orchestra worked for sonority and beautiful flow through all the phrases. The result?-a performance that was beautiful and worthy of a CD recording. However, I wanted to hear more risks, that’s why we come to hear live music after all.

I have always said that the Cello is the relative of the Trombone from the String section, and last night didn’t at all make me change my mind. The sound created in Sol Gabetta’s playing was EXTRAORDINARY. she made the instrument sing in both triumphant and pleading subjects of the Elgar. The BBC Young Musician winner Sheku Kanneh-Mason points out how brilliantly the Elgar is written for the cello, and by Jove we could tell! Sol’s technical skill truly was faultless, and there wasn’t a single moment when she wasn’t loving it.

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Sol was constantly connecting with the leader of the orchestra (ex-Trinity boy Stephen Bryant), the conductor and the cellos, and with obvious passion oosing out of her, her performance was incredibly admirable.

Mr Evans certainly would’ve loved it as Sol played both the entire concerto and an encore by memory. Talking of the encore, it’s well worth a look on iPlayer as I found the piece very scary before the cellist began singing. Yes, singing… It was eerily beautiful but add in some quiet ‘ah’-ing and I was suddenly very worried that I was about to get knifed… just saying…

After the interval, Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky took to the stage. It was incredible. With the extra trombone and 2 trumpets, the brass became {Defense Level=100}. I’ve got to be honest I didn’t find the beginning very interesting but that all changed when Olga Borodina the mezzo-soprano walked slowly onto the stage taking in the surroundings and fully embracing the character. She sung with utter conviction and the power that we all expected from a Russian mezzo.

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The singers (a combination of the BBC National Chorus of Wales and the BBC Symphony chorus) was very powerful, but lacked conviction with the language. The MOTM goes to a young welsh tenor who was constantly trying to out-tenor his neighbor (if you know, you know). I’m not sure I want to meet him because he had so much anger he would scrunch up his face at every word, whilst what looked like screaming at every word… bonkers…

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The mighty forces!

Overall, I had a great evening although I felt like the programme choice was slightly safe. Perhaps it was to appeal to the audience or maybe just to ease us into what is, to be sure, a great proms season. I rated last night 3.5*’s.

I’m already looking forward to my next proms encounter!

 

BBC Proms Season 2016-My Thoughts/Tips

This is the 122nd year of the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, which means more than 90 concerts over eight weeks, including four Last Night celebrations around the UK. Over the last two years in particular I have taken a great interest in this festival. Last year I went to 12 proms (highlights including Belshazzar’s Feast, late night Bach, and Tchaikovsky 4 with Barenboim), and this year I’m looking to beat my high score.

But what is there to see? What am I really excited about seeing? What’s new? I’ve got my official guide ready, and I’m going to talk you through some of the highlights and must-sees!

The only major change this year is that there are many Saturday afternoon concerts, that in a way are completely revolutionary. Previously there have been concerts at Cadogan Hall, which I’ve never really bothered with. However, this year they are at a range of venues across London. You can see Rossini in ht Old Royal Naval college Chapel in Greenwich (6 August), contemporary works, including the first performance of a commission from David Sawer, at the Roundhouse in Camden (20 August) and one I’m particularly interested in-a programme of Steve Reich in a multi-storey car park in Peckham (3rd September)!!

As there are no massive composer anniversaries this year, there are no featured composers and the season’s themes are very wide-ranging. To make up for this, the proms have decided on a Gospel Prom on the 19th of July with the London Adventist Chorale and London Community Gospel choir after the success of the first ever Gospel Prom in 2013, when the programme was decided by Roger Wright (Radio 3 controller and director of the Proms). They have also included a strictly prom on the 21st of July, with Katie Derham as the presenter/dancer, a David Bowie Prom on the 29th July, a Jamie Cullum Prom on the 11st of August, and a Quincy Jones Prom. These are in addition to, of course, my favourite events of the season-the Cbeebies and Ten Pieces Proms (the latter with the legendary DJ Mr Switch playing the infamous Turntables).

We are treated this year, to coincide with the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, a Latin America theme. I am eagerly anticipating my first live view of the Simón Bolivar Orchestra with Gustavo Dudamel (4th September), and it will be great to see works by Villa-Lobos, Paul Desenne and Ginastera. Marin Alsop also conducts the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra on the 24th of august. You may have spotted the Peruvian tenor, Juan Diego Flórez, starring in the Last Night of the Proms on the 10th of September, this year conducted by the BBCSO’s chief conductor Sakari Oramo, who started the proms season off with a bang last year.

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Gustavo Dudamel Prom 67

He returns this year too, to perform what is quite an outstanding programme again on the 15th July-first night of the 2016 BBC Proms. He, along with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus will perform Tchaikovsky Fantasy Overture (properly), the Elgar Cello Concerto in E minor, and a Prokofiev Cantata. However, this is quickly forgotten as the Prom I’m looking forward to the most quickly arises. Bryn Terfel struts his stuff with the Royal Opera House production of Boris Godunov in Russian, conducted by the one and only, Sir Antonio Pappano-I cannot wait!!

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Bryn Terfel as Boris Godunov Prom 2

The first full week includes the King’s college, Cambridge choir, Ravel’s Boléro and Der Rosenkavalier Suite (AHH!!!) with Valery Gergiev, and the Gospel and Strictly proms, even before we hit the weekend of the 23rd of July. This weekend we are treated to Wagner Die Walkure final scene, and Beethoven 9 with the warewolf (Vladimir Jurowski), among others.

The second week (beginning 25th July) sees the Glyndebourne Opera semi-stage the Barber of Seville by Rossini (in Italian). This is definitely one not to miss-Glyndebourne for £6! You also don’t want to miss Brahms Symphony No.1 with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra and Sir Roger Norrington conducting. Friday the 29th of July sees Mahler 3 with the LSO and Bernard Haitink-AMAZING, and then Berlioz Romeo and Juliet with the legendary Monteverdi choir and Sir John Eliot Gardiner. This is topped by my new favourite concerto-Strauss’ twisting, singing Oboe Concerto with Francois Leleux and the Aurora Orchestra.

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Sir John Eliot Gardiner Prom 20

If I’m honest the week beginning the 1st of August isn’t incredible, although Schumann’s Violin concerto on Monday, Dvorak Cello concerto on Wednesday and Stravinksy’s Petrushka on Friday certainly intrigue me! However, the weekend hits you like a golf club to a dead rat-Saturday you can hear the NYOGB and Edward Gardner play arguably the best programme ever-Also Sprach Zarathustra Strauss and the Planets (Holst) WOW!! The National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, not to be outdone, play Stravinsky Firebird in the afternoon, and then are quite frankly destroyed by their own mates!! The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra play Stravinsky Rite of Spring under Thomas Dausgaard (their chief conductor)

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Edward Gardner and the NYOGB Prom 29

Just to skip a few, cause this is going on a bit, you must hear Mahler 5 with the BBc Symphony Orchestra and Sakari Oramo on the 14th of august, parts of Bach’s Motets with the amazing Sixteen and Harry Christophers, then the amazing Wagner Overtures with Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. There’s also Tchaikovsky 5 on the 21st of August and Prokofiev 3 on 23rd of August, with Grieg Piano concerto on the Wednesday. Shostakovich Cello Concerto features on the 25th of August, with more Tchaikovsky on the Saturday. Sunday is amazing with Strauss’ Alpine Symphony. There is then ultimate Bruckner and Simon Rattle before I go back to school…!

Hope you got all of that!

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The Sixteen with Harry Christophers Prom 42

It’s all over on the 10th of September so do be sure to find a few concerts you’ll love out of the 75 proms. Tickets range from £6 to £90 so I’m sure there’s a spot for everyone! Obviously the Arena is the best, which I’ll talk about a bit now…

As you can tell, I’m getting quite passionate already and it hasn’t even started! I hope to see you at some of the proms, and if you need any help on the day or deciding which one to go to-give me a shout! If it’s Mozart you care for, or you’re up for some more choral music, or even if you’re ready to try a huge orchestral symphony or even full opera, I’ll find something for you!!

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The Proms Season 2016

There are still some tickets available for buying online at http://www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/proms/proms-2016/ but I would always recommend watching in the Arena. You may have to stand up, but the atmosphere is electric and the sound quality is the best by far in the whole of the hall. If you’re watching an opera, you may want to go the Gallery to sit down-up to you! Have a look at the guides below to on the day promming.

Link to day promming: http://www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/proms/proms-2016/day-promming/

My bullet-point guide to promming:

  • Arrive around 2.5 hours before starting time (if it’s less popular you don’t need to go quite this early).
  • Queue up for Arena day ticket or Gallery day ticket. Always go Arena except for Operas.
  • £6 in cash (increase from £5 in previous years!).
  • It’s now proposed that the first few tickets are sold online, I’m not sure I’m going to bother with this, and I’m also not sure why they’ve done it…
  • 800 tickets for the arena sold, including those season ticket holders who go in first.
  • Get a raffle ticket when you arrive from a RAH person in red-not a ticket just a place in the queue. This means you can leave for 30 minutes unless you go to a proms extra talk (you don’t have to abide by the rules).
  • Queue up until 45 minutes before the start when they let you in.
  • You get a real ticket at the door unless you’re the first 100.
  • Arena queues on the left of the stairs going to the hall, don’t worry if you go round the corner-you’ll still get in!
  • Ask the people in red if you have any questions-they know all.

 

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Proms in the Park

Five movements to help you regain a thirst for orchestral symphonies

(that is if you’ve lost it…) (if not just to help you gain a further thirst)

Evening! I’ve been very busy at school doing mocks and preparing for a concert at Glyndbourne this Sunday which should go very well! (bar brass group but we’ll see about that later!) This shows how much I want to write about these masterpieces because well.. you’ll find out just keep reading.

On my journey home today I was listening to a Bruckner symphony (to be revealed later) when I thought about other symphonies I absolutely couldn’t live without and listening to them really changes my perception of life in general. I want to share my hit list of top 5 bangers (from the late romantic/20th century eras) which have certainly affected me and I hope will affect you.

5. Der Rosenkavalier Suite (not a symphony) by Richard Strauss

This recording isn’t half bad (Daniele Gatti certainly doesn’t hold back):

The original opera was written in 1910 and the suite portrays all the utterly butterly loveliness of the opera, which, by the way is one of the best going. The blaring horns at the beginning remind you of why the brass section is the best ever. If there’s one thing Strauss is famous for, it’s writing the most heart-throbbing melodies and then throw in confusion all over the shop just to keep you engaged. The melody at 2:30 is sensational and the passion shown at 4:20 (from Act II when the silver rose is presented) is just unbeatable. The confusion of 9:10 to 10:00 sums up the Baron but then is followed by one of the most sparkling waltzes of all time-ever emphasizing Strauss’ genius. The harmony of the preceding minutes is just incredible, but by far my favourite part is the waltz from 21:19 to the end-terrific writing for percussion!

4. Shostakovich Symphony No.5 in D minor Op.47-4th Movement Allegro non troppo

Best recording: LSO with Mstislav Rostropovich

Shostakovich spent much of his life under the oppressive regime of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, and this symphony isn’t hiding the strains on his life. Neither are his Harry Potter glasses to be honest…

In all seriousness, this movement is absolutely incredible. You may have noticed by now that I like the trombones and at 3:30 Shos gives us a little teaser of what’s to come, because this piece is full of the fact that Russia wasn’t having a great time, and needless to say Shostakovich wasn’t going to sit there and let it pass him by.

At 4:35-5:10 you get the gist of what’s going on here. 7:25 is very eerie and really intrigues me because we go from Schoenberg to 7:40 with the Harp very quickly-I’m not sure even Shostakovich knows whats going on here. Anyway enough waffle, let’s get to the point. 11:00 to the end is some of the simplest yet most brilliant strain being let loose. I’ll tell you what; the Violinists arms must be tired by the end of this. If you want, listen to the 1st movement from 7:30-9:00 for a bit, he’s pretty angry here too… maybe his bacon sandwich went cold.

3. Don Juan (1888) by Richard Strauss (once again not a symphony (he’s too good))

Strauss returns again! This receives a hearty welcome, but that’s only because they all know what’s coming… Despite the brilliant impression of a robot, Karajan just gets this music and I don’t think it could be portrayed by a better person.

For the last few minutes I’ve been trying to find good spots in this piece to share with you but to be quite frank this is just all incredible. The textures created by this man are off the scale superb and the theme is an absolute cracker.

In my humble opinion the ending should without a doubt be at 17:20, but I guess no one can be quite as good as me… only joking! no not really… anyway there are much better endings to come so read on…

As you can tell I’m loosing a bit of enthusiasm so just listen to No.2 and you’ll like it.

2. Shostakovich Symphony No.10 2nd Movement

I don’t need to do much explaining here, but this movement is absolutely bloody sensational. In fact, I’ve just found the perfect person to explain it for me (from 27:53):

 

I would like to hear someone complain about this performance. I would then precede to obliterate them.

I can feel your anticipation for No.1, and I promise it won’t disappoint.

1. Bruckner Symphony No.8 in C minor: IV Finale – Feirlich, nicht schnell

Recording: Berlin Phil with Barenboim (it had to be didn’t it?!!)

I don’t want to talk to much about this, because the music not only speaks for itself but actually shouts for itself. It was written just a year before Don Juan (No.3) and Bruckner (according to some) is one of the most underrated composers, whether he’s underrated we can leave for another day when I’m not so knackered but what goes without saying is that this piece is AMAZING from beat 1 to the MEGA ending 22 minutes in.

The first time I came across this piece was here (which you should listen to first):

Listening to this, from about 2 bars in you know it’s going to be a banger, but this is just not the same as the real thing, which I invite you to listen to know. My speakers just make a squeaky noise so I advise you don’t listen to it at full volume (if you can help yourself!)

It may be useful for you to know what to listen to, because in 22 minutes of perfection it’s difficult to find the best (like it’s difficult to find a favourite ruby on your tiara (something I get a lot..)), so here goes my choices:

  • 0:00-1:00 The original theme (seen in the trombone excerpt video) which gives you an idea how much better this movement gets (I know, I wouldn’t believe me either)
  • 2:40-3:10 This is just indescribable. A mixture of horns and what I believe to be Wagner Tuba’s (although I haven’t got neither the time nor effort to check that now). This is just WOWOWWOOWOW
  • 9:30-10:50 (with a peak at 10:30) The second time this movement gets better and better. Bruckner knows his stuff, and he teases us beyond belief. It’s nearly as bad as a 2 minute V7-I classical era ending…
  • 10:53-11:25 Just when you think it’s all over, the brashness turns into the most beautiful melody based on a banger… I mean how do you do that, well he managed it…
  • 13:10-13:50 I mean really? It just gets higher and higher, you just get wower and wower.
  • 13:58-14:21 TROMBONES!!!!!!
  • 20:10-END. The timpani heartbeat sets us off, and then we gradually build up. As if Bruckner’s theme wasn’t good enough, the horns go off on their own with a sensational counter-melody. At 20:50 just the best thing happens ever. He’s brings us down gently, only to power back in at 21:25. The rest is unexplainable-TRUMPETS, TIMPANI, TROMBONES. That is all.
  • Best ending ever.

The sheer power of this movement is overwhelming, and if you get an opportunity to see it live then do. And also bring me.

If I need to do much more explaining then I have failed.

 

I just want to apologise because I’m really absolutely wacked and still have a lot of work left to do so this was sort of rushed. I hope you get the idea.

Over and out.