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MusingMuso

Last Night Of The Proms

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My words, the BBC may position their microphones in such a way that the organ is reduced in effect, but the "Last night of the Proms" certainly didn't disappoint, apart from the obvious compression in the volume levels.

 

The old girl sounded in splendid voice with rock-steady wind, and the way she rang out over the top of the BBC Symphony Orchestra / Chorus and 5,000 people, with the pedal reeds trampling over everything like a bull elephant, was quite extraordinary!

 

My loudspeakers enjoyed their annual "outing" and the neighbours asked me, this morning, if I had enjoyed the concert!!

 

I think it calls for an additional "Hip-hip - Hurray!" to John Mander and everyone involved in the work at the RAH.

 

Wasn't the Rodriguez guitar-concerto simply magnificent?

 

Watching John Williams play the guitar is an essay in economy of effort and flawless technique, backed by super musicianship. It took me right back to one of the top six musical moments of my life, when I heard Segovia live in Spain.

 

It just doesn't come better than this!

 

MM

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I have to say I found the sound quality of the concert rather disappointing, but perhaps that's just a function of the reproduction via my Sky+ box. The balance, especialy of the choral forces (in particular, in The Rio Grande) was too distant to my ear.

 

Why do the BBC insist on covering the organ in that horrible mottled lighting effect? Quite disgusting.

 

The Rodrigo is an old warhorse which would have been better replaced IMHO by a British alternative to mark the occasion.. perhaps the Sir Malcolm Arnold or Lennox Berkeley concertos? Would have been nice to have included either/both of these splendid composers this year...

 

Still, roll on next season. Will I ever get my dream of Ian Tracey performing Guilmant's 2nd Symphony on the restored organ?.. I fear not!

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Since my TV is not linked to my Hi Fi I had to make do with listening through standard TV speakers but I was struck by the fact that the organ made its presence felt in the Elgar and Parry in a way that I never recollect it doing before.

 

 

I would expect John Williams to give a memorable account of whatever he chose to play but I would have thought the Rodrigo was a sensible choice for a "last night" concert to be viewed by many who would not regard themselves as really interested in "serious" music. The more so if one is at all interested in persuading them that it might be worthwhile to investigate further. People learning to read do not begin with Dickens and Tolstoy, but have to work up to that level. Surely the equivalent process in music involves starting off with the instantly accessible, memorable, and possibly even recognisable ? And something relatively unfamiliar, and not infrequently challenging, is always included. However, the effect of,for example, replacing Elgar and Parry with Webern and Stockhausen would not be to secure greater familiarity with the works of those composers but merely the removal of the TV slot.

 

Brian Childs

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People learning to read do not begin with Dickens and Tolstoy, but have to work up to that level. Surely the equivalent process  in music involves starting off with the instantly accessible, memorable, and possibly even recognisable ?

An interesting point, but this is the same Proms Administrator who commissioned and put Birtwhistle's "Panic" in the Last Night a few years back much to the consternation of about 99.5% of the viewing public....

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An interesting point, but this is the same Proms Administrator who commissioned and put Birtwhistle's "Panic" in the Last Night a few years back much to the consternation of about 99.5% of the viewing public....

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But surely once bitten etc, which would be a good reason for not being quite so adventurous again! I found the "living composer" piece this time rather intriguing though that may have been heavily influenced by the visual , rather than the purely musical content. And it was quite short. Now had the piece gone on for the length of Beethoven's Ninth or even the "Wedge" I might have felt differently !

 

Brian Childs

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An interesting point, but this is the same Proms Administrator who commissioned and put Birtwhistle's "Panic" in the Last Night a few years back much to the consternation of about 99.5% of the viewing public....

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But surely once bitten etc, which would be a good reason for not being quite so adventurous again! I found the "living composer" piece this time rather intriguing though that may have been heavily influenced by the visual , rather than the purely musical content. And it was quite short. Now had the piece gone on for the length of Beethoven's Ninth or even the "Wedge" I might have felt differently !

 

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I've never heard "Panic" by Harrison Birtwhistle, but judging on past form, I do not feel deprived. The contemporary work heard at the last night was so memorable, I cannot recall the composer or the title!

 

Not only did I not appreciate it, I didn't even like the noise it made.

 

Insofar as the organ is concerned, to my mind, the most obvious "prom" item would be the stunning "Olivet in Paris" by Dupre, with its solo organ sections and magnificent choral-writing.

 

Until composers re-join the rest of the planet, I fear that I wouldn't wish to expose an unsuspecting public to the joys of contemporary organ music; though I feel sure that there are wonderful things being written somewhere.

 

MM

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[insofar as the organ is concerned, to my mind, the most obvious "prom" item would be the stunning "Olivet in Paris" by Dupre, with its solo organ sections and magnificent choral-writing.

How about the Berlioz Te Deum?

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How about the Berlioz Te Deum?

 

 

It was done 3 seasons ago under Colin Davis - a wonderful performance - vast orchestra, choirs stacked up to the roof, 3 cymbal players etc - all suitably 'Babylonian' as Berlioz desired.

 

The organ, then on its last legs, just about rose to the challenge with barely enough wind to supply the Tubas - and not much else - in the opening antiphonal blasts.

 

The organ had no real solo outing in the season just ended, apart from Arvo Pärt's Trivium played by Christopher Bowers-Broadbent in a late-night choral concert by the Estonian Cahmber Choir.

 

In past seasons there used to be 1 or 2 organ recitals at 6.30 pm with the orchestral concert starting at 8.00. Surely there is a case for reinstating them, or even having a substantial solo organ item in the main concert, particularly if it is somehow related to the other music in the programme.

 

Perhaps we should all write to Nicholas Kenyon about this - my experience as a Prommer is that audiences appreciate the organ's contribution in all manner of works - it's all part of the RAH experience. Perhaps we should put in a a plea for Olivet in Paris at the same time?

 

JS

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Guest Barry Oakley
The organ had no real solo outing in the season just ended, apart from Arvo Pärt's Trivium played by Christopher Bowers-Broadbent in a late-night choral concert by the Estonian Cahmber Choir.

 

In past seasons there used to be 1 or 2 organ recitals at 6.30 pm with the orchestral concert starting at 8.00.  Surely there is a case for reinstating them, or even having a substantial solo organ item in the main concert, particularly if it is somehow related to the other music in the programme.

 

Perhaps we should all write to Nicholas Kenyon about this - my experience as a Prommer is that audiences appreciate the organ's contribution in all manner of works - it's all part of the RAH experience.  Perhaps we should put in a a plea for Olivet in Paris at the same time?

 

JS

I have already written on this site about the absence of serious organ music broadcasts by the BBC. And as I've said before, you have to be an insomniac to catch what is broadcast as it is usually relayed during the small hours after midnight. So I totally agree that everyone should write to Nicholas Kenyon at the BBC about such a grave omission and that broadcasts during normal listening hours are reinstated by the BBC. I also wonder what pressure the RCO, Royal College, Royal Academy and the likes are putting on the BBC. I suspect none.

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It was done 3 seasons ago under Colin Davis - a wonderful performance - vast orchestra, choirs stacked up to the roof, 3 cymbal players etc - all suitably 'Babylonian' as Berlioz desired.

 

 

 

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I couldn't remember why I disliked Berlioz so much. Thanks to Mr Sayer for reminding me.

 

MM

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It was done 3 seasons ago under Colin Davis - a wonderful performance - vast orchestra, choirs stacked up to the roof, 3 cymbal players etc - all suitably 'Babylonian' as Berlioz desired.

 

 

 

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I just had a disturbing vision of "choirs stacked up to the roof."

 

'Babylonian' or 'Jerichonian' I wonder?

 

I had this image of the choirs, a blast of the big Tuba and a mini holocaust live on TV as they all tumbled down.

 

Gerard Hoffnung would have had a field day!

 

MM

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I thought it was one of the best Last nights for some time. The highlights for me were Andreas Scholl and John Williams - they somehow managed to pull off intimate performances really wonderfully - I had the thought "I'm hearing Andreas Scholl singing with John Williams accompnaying him - wow". And on last night of the proms.

 

The organ sounded fine - seems to be holding up but I thought the recorded sound wasn't upto its usual standard, especially in the Constance Lambert.

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The organ sounded fine - seems to be holding up but I thought the recorded sound wasn't upto its usual standard, especially in the Constance Lambert.

 

Er, ConstanT Lambert, I think; you're probably confusing him with Constance Shacklock who used to sing "This was the chart-[engage chest voice]-ER" at the Last Night in days of yore.

 

Regarding organ recitals in the Prom season, I heard a phone-in about the Proms on R3 and Nick Kenyon specifically ruled out their reintroduction. I think half a concert devoted to solo organ music and at least one major symphonic or choral work with a prominent organ part should be considered a minimum.

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I think the Beeb would probably struggle to justify commissioning new organ concerts. I think a rerun, with additions, of Gilly Weir's TV series at 8.30 on BBC2 and 10.00 on BBC4 ought to do the trick. There is, after all, no better and more level-headed communicator in our midst.

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I have already written on this site about the absence of serious organ music broadcasts by the BBC. And as I've said before, you have to be an insomniac to catch what is broadcast as it is usually relayed during the small hours after midnight. So I totally agree that everyone should write to Nicholas Kenyon at the BBC about such a grave omission and that broadcasts during normal listening hours are reinstated by the BBC. I also wonder what pressure the RCO, Royal College, Royal Academy and the likes are putting on the BBC. I suspect none.

 

I think it is true that there has been some kind of bias against the organ at the BBC for some years now, which explains the late night, or early hours broadcasts. There is the hang-up that many people always associate the organ with being a church instrument and don't think of it in concert terms.

 

However, I think another part of the problem may be in uninspired programming that exists in organ recitals. How many recitals do you see that have the predictable Bach, something French romantic, something English etc? It is almost inevitable. The result is boredom by listeners, except those who love the instrument, and no inspiration to composers to write for the instrument. And the danger is that it will eventually bore young players and we will see a preciptous drop in the number of people wanting to learn the organ.

 

Insofar as the Proms are concerned, the Royal Albert Hall organ is not owned by the BBC. If it was the BBC's money that had paid for its restoration, you can bet that it would feature more prominently in its programming, as it would have to justify the expense to the licence payer.

 

Why just a solo organ programme at the Proms? Why not programmes of solo organ pieces, combined with music written for organ and other instruments? We don't have to resort to transcripts. There is wonderful original music being written for such combinations as organ and trumpet, organ and cor anglais, organ and violin and organ and cello. How many of you have heard Naji Hakim's wonderful sonata for trumpet and organ, written about 10 years ago for Håken Hardenberger and Simon Preston? I believe they are perfoming it at a recital in Symphony Hall, Birmingham sometime next year. Did you know that Stephen Paulus wrote a spectacular new concerto for organ, orchestra and chorus that was part of the opening of Mander's organ at Peachtree Road Methodist Church in Atlanta. Did you know that Thierry Escaich recently wrote a superb concerto for organ and orchestra? Both works would go down well with Proms audiences.

 

And there is also growing repertoire for organ, chorus and brass. If you limit it to just organ, you run the risk of only pleasing the enthusiasts, which make up an unmeasurably small proportion of the broadcast and physical audience in the hall on a regular basis.

 

Don't sideline the organ. Bring it into the mainstream.

 

I think Nicholas Kenyon has been in the job of running the Proms too long, and the whole format has become uninspired. It desperately needs fresh blood. I think it would be a refreshing change to see a Proms season without Mahler symphones. Don't get me wrong, I like the pieces, but does the Proms have to have them every year? The BBC also needs to get its head out of its backside and stop commissioning obscure pieces from its best buddies in the world of composition that only ever get performed once and commission works that people want to hear and perform again. The Stephen Paulus piece I referred to above is also a useful contribution to the choral repertoire. The last movement can be performed with just organ and chorus.

 

If somebody at the Beeb would show some faith in composers willing to write for the organ - and there are plenty out there who are prepared to embrace tonality, as well as the serial composers, and yet still inspire and challenge listeners and players - new works could be commissioned for the Proms that stand a chance of making it into the mainstream repertoire. But I don't believe Nicholas Kenyon is the person to do that. That said, I don't know who is.

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I don't see that the organ has any right to a solo role at the proms. It's essentially a series of orchestral concerts. There aren't any solo piano works (or entire recitals) for example. But it could feature more in concert with other instruments, though.

 

The sporadic scheduling of organ music (mainly in the middle of te night) on Radio 3 is another matter. I can't believe that audiences for organ music would be lower than for that program of new music that goes out late on Saturday nights.

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Don't sideline the organ. Bring it into the mainstream.

 

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Absolutely spot-on Anthony!

 

I seldom read a posting with which I utterly agree, but this was one of them.

 

This is what fascinates me about Czech music, because those who compose for organ ARE mainstream or at least multi-genre, and that must be a good thing.

 

MM

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