Magazine article The Spectator

More of Everything

Magazine article The Spectator

More of Everything

Article excerpt

Nicholas Kenyon's swansong at the Proms this summer is surely the most elaborately complicated, one might say contrapuntally conceived, series of concerts ever staged. Just reading the blurb makes one's head spin -- so many themes, so many anniversaries, so many reasons for paying attention that there comes a point when one might, most ungratefully, just wish that a concert was there because the performers wanted to perform the music they had chosen. But I suppose that if you are to live within the hype of a series this extended (90 concerts and countless fringe activities), you have to have some binding.

There really is more of everything, not least in striving to attract new audiences.

This is the really new aspect to the Proms, the one that wasn't so fully there before Kenyon. Perhaps we always had the Blue Peter Prom for children, one forgets; but now there is a Proms Family Orchestra, where 'family members, whether mums, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or grandparents' sit alongside each other making music; and a Brass Day; and an expanded Young Composers Competition; and a new 'dramatic musical piece' which will star 40 children in the main roles. The emphasis on children's participation is sustained: the idea of the family orchestra came from an experiment last year in Reading under the title Out+About. We are told 7,500 under16s went on from playing in this orchestra to attending a main-line Proms concert in the Albert Hall -- outstanding if true.

With these initiatives plus the Proms in the Park (with two new venues this year), what is still called the Proms has developed dramatically new spots: to such an extent that I have heard it asked whether there is much connection between these things and the founding principle of having the option of standing through a concert of classical music if you can't afford the price of a seat. But the BBC-led outreach has not been allowed to dumb down the Albert Hall events, which remain as exciting a series as ever. This is where the leitmotiv-like planning takes over, where Nick Kenyon's brain can be sensed whirring away, as he tries to fashion 90 programmes of music into a coherent unity.

There seems to be a law that the greater the number of concerts, the greater the need for this fashioning: six concerts might be allowed to stand on their own, but not 90.

In fact this process has become so intricate that any concert in this year's Proms which does seem to be standing on its own makes me anxious. It is like listening to a stretch of a Wagner opera and not finding a leitmotiv.

Can this be right; or is one just being stupid?

Why are the Bergen Philharmonic playing Grieg and Walton on 16 August? Since Shakespeare and Music is one of this year's themes, perhaps Walton's First Symphony has a Shakespearean reference I have been missing all these years. After all, in the concert later that evening with the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, all three pieces are tagged to the 'Proms First' theme, meaning that all three received their world premieres at the Proms in a previous year.

Of the themes, this one of the Proms First is the most pervasive and frankly the least interesting. What does the average concertgoer care that Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances received their UK premiere at the Proms in 1954, or even that Maconchy's Music for Strings received its world premiere there in 1983? …

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