Magazine article The Spectator

Under Scrutiny

Magazine article The Spectator

Under Scrutiny

Article excerpt

At the risk of being lynched I thought it might be of interest to list the number of tributes which the Proms alone have paid to Diana, Princess of Wales. On the night of her death, two dark-suited gentlemen, the controller of Radio Three and the chief executive of the Royal Albert Hall, informed us that it had been a difficult decision to continue with the concert that night. Their announcements were followed by a minute's silence, after which Elgar's 'Nimrod' was added to the programme.

On the night of the Princess's funeral there was another minute's silence (in addition to the general one earlier in the day) and the programme was changed in order to perform Faure's Requiem in the place of Poulenc's Gloria and Ravel's G major Piano Concerto. Questions were asked about the propriety of continuing with this concert also, but the presence of the Faure seemed to ensure that the public's sensibilities would not be too greatly offended. (No doubt the concert which Sir Georg Solti was to have conducted on Friday will go ahead without a second thought, but the Verdi Requiem will take on an added resonance as part of it was played at the Princess's funeral.)

Other musical events came under similar scrutiny. I myself conducted a concert in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the eve of the funeral, which was felt by some people to be a kind of sacrilege; and the organiser of the concert anxiously asked if we would perform an appropriate encore in case members of the audience should be distressed. The moral pressure on professional performers of every type to make some kind of public statement or gesture has been overwhelming since the tragedy occurred. If anybody's spirit has hung over the land in all this it has been more that of Oliver Cromwell than of a radiant young Princess.

It was in a rather different public mood that Britten's War Requiem was so memorably performed on 17 August. Britten's original intention to have his three soloists be natives of three of the principal protagonists in the world wars - Russian (soprano), English (tenor) and German (baritone) - was modified in this performance to involve a Czech, German and American respectively. They each gave affecting performances of the Wilfred Owen poems; the Requiem proper was powerfully delivered by the serried ranks of the City of Birmingham and BBC Symphony Choruses. It is said that Britten was deliberately concerned with communicating to a mass audience in this piece, which implies that he somehow popularised his language. …

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