Proms Challenge

By Phillips, Peter | The Spectator, June 7, 1997 | Go to article overview

Proms Challenge


Phillips, Peter, The Spectator


First things first. The Proms prospectus recently published contains some revolutionary items. Not only are some of the concerts to be held outside the Albert Hall (which used, of course, to be a regular arrangement years ago) but eight of these events are to be at lunch-time. And two of those which are taking place in the Hall will have the artists performing in the arena, to reduce the distance between them and the audience in the kind of chamber music which it has been more or less impossible to stage in the series before now. The lunch-time concerts will be broadcast from the Lecture Theatre of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

If these changes are a logical extension of the familiar formula, the thinking behind what music is actually to be heard represents a new departure. Nicholas Kenyon's intention to plan a festival which would have `not a single theme but a mosaic-like pattern of small themes, linked and threaded through the season' has produced a lineup of pieces so varied that I doubt that anyone but the most intellectually wideeyed would want to hear all of them.

It was not ever thus, not even in William Glock's day, whose revolutionary activities had much more of a core to them. Kenyon's small themes essentially divide into two camps: those which mark anniversaries - Brahms, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Korngold, John Adams, Xenakis, Harrison, Cleo Laine and John Dankworth; and those which explore `the fascinating and varied influence of folk music (and traditional sounds) on the classical repertory' with particular reference to Bartok, Britten, Berio, Glinka, Rimsky-Korsakov, Beethoven, Haydn, Mahler, Grainger, McPhee, Chopin, Liszt, Shostakovich, Sibelius and the Rustavi Choir from Georgia singing traditional songs. In addition there are special features, like a newly discovered tone poem by Sibelius, the British premiere of Henze's new opera Venus and Adonis, some commissions mostly from older men (held by the cognoscenti to be a real disappointment), and the item which has most caught the public eye, the Kings Singers performing the Beatles. …

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