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Friday, August 18, 2006
My Time at the Proms--Pt 2

There were, it seemed to me, about twice as many people as usual for the Late Night Proms on August 10 to celebrate the 70th birthday of Steve Reich. The program included Clapping Music, Nagoya Marimbas, Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ, and Drumming. Richard Benjamfield and Colin Currie performed Clapping Music and Nagoya Marimbas; they were joined by Joby Burgess, Antoine Bedewi, Adrian Spillett, Dave Jackson, Owen Gunnell, Andrew Cottee, and Synergy Vocals (Micaela Haslam, Amy Haworth, and Heather Cairncross) for Music for..; then Sam Walton and Rowland Sutherland were added for Drumming. The audience was attentive--reverential, even--and wildly enthusiastic. Since the lateness of things was presenting transportation problems and the person I was with was, to say the least, not enjoying it at all, I left--reluctantly, since I'd never heard it live before--before Drumming. I found myself thinking, though, having heard three of the pieces, one of which (Clapping Music) seems to me to be a really fabulous, incredibly pure piece, and any of the three of which would seem completely and wonderfully strong to me by itself, of something Virgil Thomson wrote about Cage's music (not without some justice, I think--although I don't think it applies to any of my favorite Cage pieces, but anyway...): that once you figure out what a Cage piece is going to do, there's no particular reason to keep listening to it, because it's not going to do anything else. The performances I heard were of the level of spick and span, spit and polish, snap, crackle, and pop absolutely required by this music. There's no reason for me to suspect that the performance of Drumming was any less good.

One of the subsidiary parts of the Proms is a competition for students sponsored by the BBC and the Guardian. A concert of music by some of the winners, along with pieces by Ligeti (five of the ten pieces for wind quintet) and Birtwistle (Carmen arcadie mechanicae perpetuum)--neither of which seemed to have anything to do with the universer of the winners--was presented on Friday afternoon in Cadogan Hall, performed by members of Endymion, conducted by Peter Wiegold, who had also been one of the judges. Fiona Talkington presented the pieces and talked with Wiegold and the composers represented on the program (except for Ligeti and Birtwistle, of course). All of the pieces were fairly strong, the strongest, if seemed to me, being by Toby Young--17, a student at the junior division of the Royal College of Music--(Dirty Linoleum for Wind Quintet--something to do with his granny's floor), Michael Cutting--18, a first year student at the Royal Norther College of Music--(Shadows for a largish mixed ensemble), and most especially Mark Simpson--17, from Liverpool, who has also recently been a winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition as a clarinetist--who played his work, Lov(escape) for clarinet and piano. Each of the composers who was asked to name influences named Copland and Adams, something I found rather disturbing, not that there's anything wrong with either Copland or Adams, but, I thought, why not, from young British composers, Britten and Ades? All the performances, including the Ligeti and Birtwistle, were as good as anybody could want them to be.

I'm not sure if John Adams is a much bigger figure in the UK than in the US, or in the Uk and other places than in Boston, where I usually hang out, or just everywhere else except my little world, but he's certainly a mega-figure in the UK--witness the young composers on Friday afternoon. It's hard to find anything wrong with his music, it's all on such a high level of intelligence and skill. A lot of this was on display in the Prom on Friday night, an all Adams concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Adams himself. The program included My Father Knew Charles Ives, The Wound Dresser, and Harmonielehre. Adams certainly is the complete master of all of Ives's changes and he range them like mad. Although Impressed--how could one not be--I realized after a while that the music seemed very cool (in at least two senses of te word),smooth, and detached which Ives's music never is. The last movement, though, is a different matter. Not only does it not especially sound like Ives or that it's meaning to be sounding like Ives, it isn't detached. The idea, I guess, is meant to be like the end of Scenes from Childhood--The Poet Speaks. Probably the other two pieces are so well known that there's no need to describe them. Eric Owens, the soloist in The Wound Dresser was rapt and wonderful. Harmonielehre seems to me to be really strong and compelling at the beginning, and less so as it goes on. Soon into the third movement I was just wishing that he'd get on with it. (Sibelius does that kind of thing a lot better). The program notes quoted Adams as saying that he didn't like the 'aural ugliness' of Schoenberg's music. I wonder which pieces he was thinking of? Gurrelieder, Peleas and Melisande, any of the string quartets, the Serenade, the chamber symphonies, the five orchestra pieces?

The European Union Youth Orchestra and Vladimir Ashkenazy on Saturday night performed, along with other things, Schnittke's (K)ein Sommernachtsstraum (Not A Midsummer Night's Dream). It was commissioned by the Salzburg Festival in 1985, when the general theme of the festival was Shakespeare. What is supposed to make it not a midsummer night's dream is its 'surreal' and 'nightmarish'
quality. In fact in its starting from very clear and simple tonal material, which gets piled up with various versions of itself, at first with 'wrong notes', then in different keys, leading to various fairly exaggerated parodies of different kinds of pieces--finally a kind of Soviet military march--which then dissapears into the beginning music, it is in fact exactly what it is claimed that it isn't, a sort of fantastic dream sequence.

Sunday night's concert by Esa-Pekka Solonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra included the first performance in the UK of Steven Stucky's Second Concerto for Orchestra. The fact that this piece had won the Pulitzer Prize enhanced its interest. I liked it. I suppose one might cyncially say that its just the kind of piece that would win the Pulitzer Prize--a number of newspaper reviews were snide about its easy listening qualities. It's a big, about half-hour-long, piece, clear and concise in its progress and extremely well orchestrated, attractive and pretty much always engaging. I'm not sure what's wrong with that.

However, for this, and for all the rest of it, anybody can judge for him or her self, by listening to the any of it on line at the Proms website ( to the Listen Again section.


More later....


12/19/2004 - 12/25/2004 12/26/2004 - 01/01/2005 01/02/2005 - 01/08/2005 01/09/2005 - 01/15/2005 01/16/2005 - 01/22/2005 01/23/2005 - 01/29/2005 01/30/2005 - 02/05/2005 02/06/2005 - 02/12/2005 02/13/2005 - 02/19/2005 02/20/2005 - 02/26/2005 02/27/2005 - 03/05/2005 03/06/2005 - 03/12/2005 03/13/2005 - 03/19/2005 03/20/2005 - 03/26/2005 03/27/2005 - 04/02/2005 04/03/2005 - 04/09/2005 04/10/2005 - 04/16/2005 04/17/2005 - 04/23/2005 04/24/2005 - 04/30/2005 05/01/2005 - 05/07/2005 05/08/2005 - 05/14/2005 05/15/2005 - 05/21/2005 05/22/2005 - 05/28/2005 05/29/2005 - 06/04/2005 06/05/2005 - 06/11/2005 06/12/2005 - 06/18/2005 06/19/2005 - 06/25/2005 06/26/2005 - 07/02/2005 07/03/2005 - 07/09/2005 07/10/2005 - 07/16/2005 07/17/2005 - 07/23/2005 07/24/2005 - 07/30/2005 07/31/2005 - 08/06/2005 08/07/2005 - 08/13/2005 08/14/2005 - 08/20/2005 08/21/2005 - 08/27/2005 08/28/2005 - 09/03/2005 09/04/2005 - 09/10/2005 09/11/2005 - 09/17/2005 09/18/2005 - 09/24/2005 09/25/2005 - 10/01/2005 10/02/2005 - 10/08/2005 10/09/2005 - 10/15/2005 10/16/2005 - 10/22/2005 10/23/2005 - 10/29/2005 10/30/2005 - 11/05/2005 11/06/2005 - 11/12/2005 11/13/2005 - 11/19/2005 11/20/2005 - 11/26/2005 11/27/2005 - 12/03/2005 12/04/2005 - 12/10/2005 12/11/2005 - 12/17/2005 12/18/2005 - 12/24/2005 12/25/2005 - 12/31/2005 01/01/2006 - 01/07/2006 01/08/2006 - 01/14/2006 01/15/2006 - 01/21/2006 01/22/2006 - 01/28/2006 01/29/2006 - 02/04/2006 02/05/2006 - 02/11/2006 02/12/2006 - 02/18/2006 02/19/2006 - 02/25/2006 02/26/2006 - 03/04/2006 03/05/2006 - 03/11/2006 03/12/2006 - 03/18/2006 03/19/2006 - 03/25/2006 03/26/2006 - 04/01/2006 04/02/2006 - 04/08/2006 04/09/2006 - 04/15/2006 04/16/2006 - 04/22/2006 04/23/2006 - 04/29/2006 04/30/2006 - 05/06/2006 05/07/2006 - 05/13/2006 05/14/2006 - 05/20/2006 05/21/2006 - 05/27/2006 05/28/2006 - 06/03/2006 06/04/2006 - 06/10/2006 06/11/2006 - 06/17/2006 06/18/2006 - 06/24/2006 06/25/2006 - 07/01/2006 07/02/2006 - 07/08/2006 07/09/2006 - 07/15/2006 07/16/2006 - 07/22/2006 07/23/2006 - 07/29/2006 07/30/2006 - 08/05/2006 08/06/2006 - 08/12/2006 08/13/2006 - 08/19/2006 08/20/2006 - 08/26/2006 08/27/2006 - 09/02/2006 09/03/2006 - 09/09/2006 09/10/2006 - 09/16/2006

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