‘One hundred years away… the trenches at night’ run the words Gabriel Prokofiev has written on the score of his Violin Concerto ‘1914’. And the programme for this work is indeed specific, including savagery, shell-shock, and sardonic imperial marches: the rationale is pure Shostakovich, though more literal.
Jonathan Dove is a composer refreshingly devoid of vanity: his style is tonal, and he aims above all to be useful, with a prolific output of community and youth operas for regions which classical music doesn’t normally reach.
Every year the Proms bring out forgotten works by mid-twentieth-century British composers, and one is often forced to ask why. The official justification is always the same – ‘we felt it deserved a hearing’ – but with some music the expensive road-test of a Prom is pointless, because everyone who can read a score – or judge by an archive recording - knows in advance that it will fail.
In Gnosis, John Tavener has left a posthumous mystical love-letter which, though small in scale, carves out a large space in the mind. Mezzo Sarah Connolly and alto flautist Michael cox were the soloists, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Jiri Belohlavek laying down a carpet of strings and percussion beneath them; the vocal-instrumental balance was perfect throughout.
The beginning of the 2014 BBC Proms season was also the end of an era, as Roger Wright officially ended his time in charge. Rather than go out with fanfares however, Wright’s final night was all muted glow and quiet nostalgia.
The temptation to make a loud statement in this, the first new production of Verdi’s La traviata at Glyndebourne in over 25 years, must have been enormous. But director Tom Cairns resists it with such intelligence and quiet skill that in refusing to make the definitive Traviata-for-our-times he may well have done just that.
One summer night in 1990 a young British violinist named Tasmin Little stepped for the first time on to the platform of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. That concert – plus her first CD, released around the same time – was the moment that set her stellar career in motion. Now she is back for her 20th Prom, having meanwhile accrued an OBE, a string of classical chart-topping recordings and an enviable global reputation as one of today's best-loved and most sought-after soloists.
How do you solve a problem like Medea? Euripides's play, in which a mother murders her own children as revenge after her husband marries another woman, can be seen as a pinnacle of Greek tragedy: it doesn't get any more howlingly painful than maternal infanticide. And we are still drawn to the Greeks for this epic scale, the power of the poetry, that heightened sense of the mythic. And yet drama also needs to speak to our own times, our own condition.
Until the other week, my enjoyment of opera was largely confined to my occasional unsuccessful attempt to hit the lower notes of “Nessun Dorma” while enjoying a bath. Like many Brits, I discovered the song via Pavarotti and the TV coverage of the 1990 World Cup Finals in Italy. I couldn’t tell you which opera it came from, but I could probably tell you which adverts have used it.
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