Yet another coup for Proms director Edward Blakeman: composed in 1928, but only now getting its first Proms airing, Henry Cowell’s Piano Concerto proved a revelation. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this American composer, who widely-imitated invention of note-clusters was only one of many ways in which he broke new ground and gathered distinguished disciples: John Cage, who was one of the latter, called him ‘the open sesame for new music in America’.
Six of Mozart’s piano concertos are being performed at the Proms this year, and despite their seeming simplicity they really do sort out the men (and women) from the boys.
Yuja Wang always makes a theatrical entrance, and this time in a spangled Marilyn Monroe ball-dress, but the moment she launched into the maelstrom of octave runs which begin Bartok’s Piano Concerto No 2 she was in her element.
Mozart’s piano concertos have such a limpid simplicity that one is constantly surprised at the number of ways in which they can be got right - or very wrong. And with eight pianists playing eight of them in this year’s Proms, we’ve visited both ends of that spectrum.
When the Chineke! Orchestra steps on to the Queen Elizabeth Hall platform on 13 September, the audience should notice something unusual. One of those uncomfortable truths about classical music is that most symphony orchestras in Europe still consist mostly of white and white-Asian people. Chineke, the brainchild of the double-bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku, is Europe's first professional orchestra made up entirely of black and minority ethnic musicians.
A darkened hall, a box of hammers, and a pair of hands – this was enough to draw a capacity crowd to Sir Andras Schiff’s late-night recital of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Composed to cure a rich patron’s insomnia, this extraordinary work makes supreme demands on technique, imagination, and memory, and great pianists are drawn to it like climbers to Everest.
"I once thought that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose – not one has been able to do it, and why should I expect to?"
In the second of their three Sibelius Proms, Ilan Volkov and the BBC Scottish Symphony began with Janne, a piece in homage to the Finnish composer by the British composer Michael Finnissy. Finnissy himself describes it as “an imaginary portrait of Sibelius or, more exactly, a portrait of his music and its sources”, and the bassoon melody backed by violas with which it opened was indeed evocative both of the composer and his sound-world.
Inside the darkened auditorium of the Troxy in Stepney, east London, it sounds as though an orchestra is in full swing. But the tremendous noise, which seems to be emanating from the very walls of the Art Deco cinema, is being made by one man playing a remarkable and historic instrument.
Preparations are underway for a comic opera about a Spanish artist who tried, hugely unsuccessfully, to restore a faded 1930 oil painting of Jesus Christ.
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