Many stamina-testing, technically demanding musical marathons could really work at the Royal Albert Hall. Here are five contenders – what would you choose?
Tuesday’s mammoth Proms concert saw all five of Prokofiev’s performed in a single night. The London Symphony Orchestra’s three-soloist, five-work, single-evening marathon has made me wonder about the other stamina-testing and virtuosity-pushing live box-sets we could dream up and put on at the Royal Albert Hall. The obvious ones are Beethoven’s nine symphonies in a single day, and Wagner’s Ring Cycle in 24 hours, but those have both been done (although never at the Proms in such a short space of time) and are mere foothills compared to the mountain ranges of potential musical cycles out there. Classical music completists of the world, unite!
How this very English view of the apocalypse communicates to the player through music, sound and song
Silence is rare in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture – which is strange because everybody is dead.
This elegiac adventure game, set in a rural area of Shropshire, imagines the end of humanity coming, not as a nuclear bang, but as a soft, almost seductive whimper. The player finds themselves in an abandoned village shortly after a devastating event of some kind, and by exploring the buildings, pathways and woodlands, must try to piece together what has happened.
John Adams’s Grand Pianola Music succeeds in its referencing of Beethoven’s cascading arpeggios, but the Absolute Jest is limited by the shards of scherzos
It was moving out west in the early 1970s, swapping what he saw as the buttoned-up musical culture of Boston and New York for the much more open-minded artistic atmosphere of California, that liberated John Adams as a composer. It meant exchanging academic serialism for the freewheeling approach of John Cage and his followers, and set him on the musical path that he has followed ever since. The orchestra of what became Adams’ home town played a hugely important part in the early stages of that journey; between 1978 and 1985 Adams was respectively the San Francisco Symphony’s (SFS) new-music adviser and then its composer in residence, and his earliest orchestral works were all introduced and first recorded by them.
So there’s a nice symmetry in pairing one of those pieces with Adams’s most recent commission from the SFS. The orchestra gave the first performance of Grand Pianola Music in 1982, and of Absolute Jest 30 years later. What also links the two works is Beethoven. But where Grand Pianola Music’s references to the Emperor Concerto and its cascading arpeggios and celebrations of B flat and E flat major are only a starting point, the use of Beethoven’s music in Absolute Jest – the scherzos of the Op 131 and 135 quartets, Grosse Fuge, Ninth Symphony and Waldstein Sonata – seems both the raison d’etre and the limiting factor of the whole work.
Hereford CathedralThe Philharmonia’s Turangalîla under Jac van Steen, with Steven Osborne’s piano, had extraordinary impact: a tumult of sounds bouncing off stone pillars
Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie is not so obviously imbued with the Christianity of his later compositions, yet the composer saw the human love he celebrated within it as a reflection of divine love.
Related: Rufus Wainwright: Why I love composer Olivier Messiaen
Royal Albert Hall, LondonDaniil Trifonov, Sergei Babayan and Alexei Volodin’s treatments of all five works were fine individual achievements that made a less than ideal evening
Following immediately on from Leif Ove Andsnes’s remarkable Beethoven cycle, the Proms turned its attention to Prokofiev’s piano concertos, albeit according them very different treatment. Shared between three pianists, and with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev, all five were performed in chronological order in a single concert, which proved less than ideal, despite fine individual achievements.
The concertos are variable in quality. Except for the Fourth – for the left hand only, and commissioned in 1931 by the pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm as the result of a wartime injury – Prokofiev wrote them for himself as flamboyant showpieces. The atrociously difficult Second is arguably the greatest, the Third the most popular. The chronological approach meant that the introverted Fourth and flashy, aphoristic Fifth seemed anticlimactic. Many in the audience, drawn by the prospect of Daniil Trifonov playing the First and Third, left after the latter.
He has played for eight presidents and jammed on Sesame Street. But Yo-Yo Ma is now facing his biggest challenge yet – a Bach marathon at the Proms
Something weird happens in Bach’s fifth suite for unaccompanied cello. The soloist, who has been bowing away for the past hour and 25 minutes on the previous four suites, tackling some of the most soulful and demanding music in the western classical canon, is suddenly confronted with a new challenge. And it’s still a good 40 minutes before he or she can get a well-deserved cup of tea.
“Bach decides he’s going to enrich the sound of the instrument by tuning it down, taking the A string down to a G,” explains cellist Yo-Yo Ma. “He’s saying, ‘If I do that, I can get more overtone, I can make the chords richer, make it more polyphonic.’ He’s trying to make a single-line instrument give the illusion of several voices.”
Royal Albert Hall, LondonLuca Francesconi’s very effective violin concerto was played with tremendous commitment by Leila Josefowicz and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Susanna Mälkki
Substantial new works are few and far between in this year’s Proms, but Luca Francesconi’s violin concerto, Duende – The Dark Notes, was an exception: it’s both conceived on a large scale and hugely rewarding. In fact it was carried over from the 2014 season. Leila Josefowicz, for whom the work was written, was scheduled to introduce it at the Albert Hall last year, but then became pregnant and had to postpone; Stockholm got the world premiere last February. This then was the first British performance, with Susanna Mälkki conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
It was well worth the wait. As the title suggests, Francesconi’s concerto takes the idea of the Duende, the dark, demonic spirit of flamenco, as its starting point, but the music never seems simplistically pictorial or programmatic. Instead, with the violin as protagonist, the five movements (the last two merged seamlessly together) evoke a threatening world of extremes, of heightened emotions and dramatically contrasted colours and registers. The orchestra weaves febrile webs around solo writing whose cracked arpeggios and steep scales manage to be more or less traditionally virtuosic within musical contexts that are anything but conventional, especially in the ferocious cadenza at the heart of the final movement.
Andsnes and the MCO’s fresh and sensitive performances of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos have been an early Proms highlight. But is there such a thing as ‘authentic’ Beethoven?
In the glittering wake of Leif Ove Andsnes’s cycle of Beethoven concertos at the Proms – the completion of his four-year Beethoven Journey with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra that produced unfettered yet ultra-considered music-making – I’m grateful to David Owen Norris for alerting me to the following Beethoven quote.
Related: Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Andsnes – music-making of exceptional quality
This week Michele Lomas will give her last lesson for Wiltshire Music Service. After six years teaching brass instruments to children in the area, she is being made redundant. She plans to continue on a freelance basis, but will no longer belong to a pension scheme, nor be eligible for sickness and maternity pay. She will have to fund her own travel, public liability insurance and training. “It’s not so much about the income, as I know I will be able to get teaching work – it’s losing my pension and sick pay I’m most worried about,” she says. “Conditions for teachers have been getting worse for some time, but this is the final nail in the coffin.”
It has been a turbulent few years for music education. After the 2011 Henley review, which recommended the creation of “hubs” (partnerships made up of schools, arts organisations, charities and other education providers), music services had to bid for the right to run them. While most won their bids, a reduction in government funding for music (from £82.5m in 2010-11 to £60m for 2014-15), along with cuts to local authority budgets, has meant they have had to provide more for less. For many councils this has led to restructuring and redundancies. Some, such as Milton Keynes and Cornwall, have closed their services down.
The Australian singer-songwriter accepted the JC Williamson award, thanking and paying tribute to the people who have supported his 35-year career
Singer-songwriter Paul Kelly has been honoured for a lifetime of music-making and community activism at the 2015 Helpmann awards, in a glitzy ceremony at Sydney’s Capitol theatre that hit some surprisingly political notes.
Related: Helpmann awards 2015: red carpet arrivals – in pictures
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