Monday 22 April 2013

New music at the Proms

Proms 2013 - 119th season of Henry Wood Promenade Concerts, BBC
Its that time of year again, when the Proms prospectus arrives and we wade through it picking out the delights and noting things that have been missed. As might be expected there is a fine collection of contemporary music. There are 17 world premieres, eight UK premieres, a European premiere and a clutch of London premieres. There are 17 BBC commissions and co-commissions. The composers range from Sean Shepherd (born 1979), Tansy Davies (born 1973) and Thomas Ades (born 1971) to Anthony Payne (born 1939) and Helmut Lachenmann (born 1935), John McCabe (born 1939), Sofia Gubaidulina (born 1931), Philip Glass (born 1931) and Harrison Birtwistle (born 1934). There are even premieres of works by Benjamin Britten and Prieulx Rainer. Performers range widely, including the National Youth Orchestras of Great Britain and the USA, the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra and Ex Cathedra, but of course the BBC orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, not to mention the BBC Singers, feature heavily. 

The Proms opens and closes with new work. Julian Anderson's Harmony, a BBC commission, is premiered at the first night of the Proms performed by BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sakari Oramo (12 July). It sets a text by Richard Jefferies about time and eternity. Anna Clyna is London born but has spent most of her adult life in the USA, where she is composer in residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Her short piece Masquerade opens the Last Night of the Proms, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop (7 Sep).

There are one or two special occasions. A new Thomas Ades piece is hardly common occurrence and his new work for the Proms is a is a substantial one (45 minutes), based on a 15th century picture of the Dance of Death. Thomas Ades's Totentanz is premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the composer (17 July) with Christianne Stotijn (mezzo-soprano) and Simon Keenlyside (baritone). Another notable premiere is Harrison Birtwistle's Moth Requiem which is premiered by the BBC Singers, Nash Ensemble, conductor Nicholas Kok at a Proms Chamber Music concert (12 Aug). Scored for women's voices, three harps and an alto flute, it sets poems about moths by Robin Blaser, the author of the libretto to Birtwistle's opera The Last Supper.

Another treat, not a world premiere, is the UK premiere of Helmut Lachenmann's Tanzsuite mit Deutschlandlied of 1979/80. Performances of a Lachenmann score is always something of an event as he places such demands on the players with his use of advance playing techniques. This time if falls to the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, conductor Jonathan Nott, with the Arditti Quartet (15 July) to give  the first performance of one of Lachenmann's pieces at the Proms. More extended techniques occur in Frederic Rzewski's Piano Concerto. This is written for piano and classical orchestra, but involves unusual piano sounds; the world starts with the soloist tapping on the strings. It is a BBC commission, premiered by the composer himself accompanied by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ilan Volkov (19 Aug).

Further treats. The premiere of John McCabe's Joybox, performed by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Juajo Mena (25 July). Diana Burrell's Blaze will be premiered at the Proms Chamber Music concert on 5 August, by tenThing, Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth's ten-piece brass ensemble. Edward Cowie's The Great Barrier Reef is a large scale piece, the first of four Earth Music pieces which portray habitat under threat. The work is a BBC commission, performed by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Gianandrea Noseda (5 Aug). 

David Matthews' A Vision of the Sea is premiered by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Juanjo Mena (16 July). The piece is inspired by Shelley's poetry, the pull of the tide and the sound of sunrise, recorded by scientists from Sheffield University.  German composer Charlotte Seither's Language of Leaving sets a text by the Italian poet Francesco de Lemene (1634 - 1704), it is a BBC commission and premiered by the BBC Singers and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Josep Pons (28 Aug). 

There are three new works all with composers who have connections to the Indian sub-continent. The sitar play Nishat Khan will be collaborating with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in The Gate of the Moon (Sitar Concerto No. 1), conducted by David Atherton. Naresh Sohal trained as a scientist in his native Punjab, but came to London to train as a composer. His BBC commission, The Cosmic Dance is premiered by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by their new musical director Peter Oundjian, who is making his Proms debut (2 Aug). Dehili-born Param Vir moved to Britain in 1984 and studies with Oliver Knussen. His Cave of the Luminous Mind is premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conductor Sakari Oramo. The work is dedicated to the memory of the late Jonathan Harvey, and inspired by ideas from Tibetan Buddhism. (21 Aug)

Mark-Anthony Turnage's Frieze is a co-commission from the BBC and the Royal Philharmonic Society to celebrate the society's 200th anniversary. The RPS, of course, famously commissioned Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Turnage's new piece is premiered by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, conducted by Vasily Petrenko in a programme which concludes with Beethoven's last symphony.

Peter Eotvos's DoReMi receives its UK premiere on 29 Aug, a concerto for Midori which is a BBC co-commission with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Leipzig Gewandhaus, it will be performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen (music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic until 2009 and currently principal conductor of the Philharmonia). Gerald Barry's No other people was written for the RTE National Symphony Orchestra, Dublin. It receives its Proms performance by BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ilan Volkov (19 Aug). Philip Glass's Symphony no. 10 gets its UK premiered on 31 July, performed at a late night Prom by the Aurora Orchestra, conductor Nicholas Collon. 

Valery Gergiev crops up in two concerts. Sofia Gubaidulina's The Rider on the White Horse is adapted from a passage in her St John Easter which Gergiev brought to the Proms in 2002. This new version was created specifically for Gergiev, and receives its UK premiere performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gergiev (13 Aug). Sean Shepherd was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic in 2009 when he was still a doctoral student at Cornell University. Magiya was written for the National Youth Orchestra of the USA and they give the work its European premiere conducted by Valery Gergiev. (21 July)

Colin Matthews' Turning Point was commissioned by the Concergebouw in Amsterdam and first performed in 2007. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conductor Thomas Sondergard give the work its UK premiere (29 July).

Matthias Pintscher's Chute d'etoiles is given its London premiere by the BBC Symphony Orchestra with the composer conducting. A concerto for two trumpets which responds to the Anselm Kiefer work Chute d'etoiles which was shown at the Grand Palais in Paris. The solo parts are played by Tine Thing Helseth (making her second appearance at this year's Proms) and Marco Balaauw. (18 Aug). Karlheinz Stockhausen's Mittwoch aus 'Licht' received its premiere last year by Birmingham City Opera, now Ex Cathedra, conductor Jeffrey Skidmore, bring the Welt-Parlament scene to the Proms, a dazzling a cappella, multilingual extravaganza. 

As an interesting extra, Tansy Davies and John Woolrich have written two extra variations on Sellinger's Round, to go with the variations written by Lennox Berkeley, Britten, Arthur Oldham, Searle, Tippett, Walton, performed by the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Paul Watkin at a Proms Saturday Matinee (24 Aug). Another interesting London premiere is George Lloyd's Requiem, written in 1998 in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales. It will be performed by the choristers of Temple Church, the BBC Singers and Greg Morris (organ), conducted by David Hill (3 Sep). Perhaps even more amazing, Prieulx Rainier's Movement for Strings from 1950/51 receives its world premiere, performed by Camerata Ireland, conducted by Barry Douglas at a Proms Saturday Matinee (10 Aug).

Another BBC commission which crosses the time zones is Anthony Payne's orchestration of RVW's Four last songs. These were four songs, to piano accompaniment, on his desk when he died. Finished, but probably not intended as a single cycle, Payne has orchestrated them and the new/old piece is premiered by Ruby Hughes and Jennifer Johnston with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Osmo Vanska (4 Sept).

Further information from the BBC Proms website.
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