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Guest blog post: Enjoy the Proms concerts from London online via BBC

My thanks to Mike, a terribly astute commentator on this blog, for submitting this guest post about the famed Proms. I'm so glad he reminded me about listening online, which I'm already doing (I clicked on 'Meistersinger' while plugging away at my desk at the Sun -- 40 minutes down, five hours to go.) -TIM

One of the happiest summer time traditions in London is the series of concerts sponsored by the British Broadcasting System (BBC) known as the Promenade Concerts or, more usually the “Proms”. And, thanks to BBC and the Internet, people around the world can share in this musical feast.

The Proms were started in 1895 by Robert Newman (manager of Queen's Hall, where the first Proms took place), George Cathcart (a philanthropist who funded the first Proms) and the composer/conductor/arranger Sir Henry Wood. It is Wood whose name is most closely associated with the venture, and for a time the Proms were known as the "Sir Henry Wood Promenade Concerts".

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The Proms concerts were held at Queen's Hall until 1941, when the building was destroyed by German bombs in an air raid where 1,436 lives were lost. The main Proms concerts are now held at the massive Royal Albert Hall, which seats over 5,000. However, for the Proms concerts the floor level seating is removed , and the "Prommers" walk about (promenade), stand or, for less popular concerts, sit or lie on the floor to enjoy a panoply of music from mid-July until early September.

The programs feature some of the world's greatest classical soloists and orchestras in programs that can range from Sondheim to Mahler, Mozart, Wagner and Brahms, to world premieres and works by composers such as Part, Cage and Messiaen.

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The Proms kicked off on Friday, July 16 with

Guest blog post: Enjoy the Proms concerts from London online via BBC

a performance of Mahler’s massive Symphony #8 (The Symphony of a Thousand) with over 600 performers under the baton of Jiri Belohlavek. Saturday the 17th brought a complete concert performance of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nuremburg by the Welsh National Opera featuring superstar bass-baritone Bryn Terfel as Sachs, and tenor Raymond Very (who local music lovers may remember from performances with Washington National Opera and Washington Summer Opera) as Walther.

Two semi-staged concerts of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra (half the opera was performed each night), featuring the company of the Royal Opera House and starring tenor Placido Domingo in the title role (the first baritone role Domingo has undertaken onstage since the very beginning of his career) where up next.

Then on July 19th, Vasily Petrenko led the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in a program that included Tchaikovsky's oft-neglected "Manfred" Symphony, while on the 20th Symon Bychkov led the West German Radio Symphony (Cologne) in a program featuring music by Wagner, Mendelssohn, and Richard Strauss, plus the UK premiere of American composer Gunther Schuller's "Where the World Ends".

But if a trip to London is not in your plans, have no fear. For seven days after each Proms concert, the BBC makes streaming audio available (free!) over the internet. The concerts are also webcast live.

The coming days feature the start of a cycle of the Beethoven Piano Concerts, featuring the English pianist Paul Lewis, whose recent recordings of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas have met with widespread critical acclaim, and performances of works by Scriabin (the rarely-heard piano concerto), Britten, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky. A 10 pm (London time) concert will feature pianist Maria Joao Pires playing a selection of the Chopin Nocturnes.

The concert of July 25th was due to be conducted by the late Sir Charles Mackerras, who passed away last week in London ; Vassily Siniasky will lead that concert where, one assumes, some sort of tribute to Sir Charles will be offered.

If there is any interest, I can preview some of the more exciting Proms concerts still to come.

Acknowledgements: Gramophone, July 2010; BBC Music Magazine, July 2010

-- MIKE 

MIKE

PHOTOS (by Chris Christodoulou) COURTESY OF ROYAL ALBERT HALL

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