The Proms concert on August 19, presented by the BBC Singers conducted by Sofi Jeannin, was a continuous complex sequence lasting about an hour and a half. In it, a number of renaissance choral works were paired with reflections on or reactions to those pieces by more recent composers, in three cases BBC commissions written for this concert. At the center of this was one of Stravinsky’s completion, by adding lost parts, of one of the Three Sacred Songs by Gesualdo, Illunina nos. There was also a work by Hildegard of Bingen, O viridissima virga which stood by itself. An instrumental ensemble consisting of Liam Byrne, playing viola da gambe, Stuart King, playing bass clarinet, Tom Rogerson playing synthesizers, and the strikingly charismatic Delia Stevens, percussionist bridged the space between the works, and sometimes also played during certain of them. This whole enterprise was bookended by Qui habitat in adiutorio altissimi, a large for work 24 voices, by Josquin de Prez at the beginning, and a mammoth reaction/reflection of it, Aetherworld: Josquin Mirrored by the featured artist, turntablist Shiva Feshareki, at the end.

Of the inner pairings, Ken Burton reflected Tallis’s Loquebantur variis linguis, whose text is about the apostles at Pentecost speaking in many tongues with texts from the psalms set with elements of gospel music. Bernard Hughes, in Birdchant, stayed close to the surface qualities of Janequin’s Le chant des oiseaux, and, in fact, made his work a continuation of it, but pushed everything further along, including adding more bird songs, in more realistic transcriptions, as well as mechanical imitations, and adding the instruments, making everything more manic and funny. The title of Roderick Williams’s Ave verum corpus Re-imagined tells the whole story: he made a different piece from Byrd’s Ave verum corpus using exactly the same material that Byrd used. Sweelinck’s Je sens en moy une flamme nouvell is embedded as a sort of memory/reference point in a larger piece setting a poem by Thomas Traherne in the very beautiful A New Flame by Nico Muhly.

Shiva Feshareki’s program note for Aetherword: Josquin Mirrored explains that “Aether was the fifth element in alchemical chemistry and early physics. It was the name given to material that was believed to fill the universe beyond the terrestrial sphere….This concept was used in several theories to explain various natural phenomena, such as the traveling of light and gravity.” Her work, taking the Josquin piece that begin the program as material and using technology including vinyl, turntables and CDJs, all processed through “vintage analogue tape echo and a cutting-edge immersive software designed by creative technologist Andy Sheen” makes what she describes as “an intricate duet between immersive electronic and natural acoustic sound, based on the fractal geometry of sound.” The work filled the hall, moving from place to place, and also interacting with a certain amount of live playing, including that of Kit Downes on the Albert Hall organ, in a sort of climactic show down between the organ and the technological forces.

The playing and singing throughout the whole concert was fabulous and the presentation was flawless–even considering an unnecessary sort of light show accompanying it—and the effect of it all enthralling. The recording of this concert can be heard at for 43 days.

The Prom concert on August 24th was presented by Chineke!, the UK’s only black and ethnically diverse orchestra. The last Prom concert I heard them do, in 2017, focused on living black composers. This concert, conducted by the Panamanian-American Kalena Bovell, featured historical black composers, presenting music by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Fela Sowande, and Florence Price. Fela Sowande, a Nigerian-British composer and organist, who lived a long life and had a long a successful career in London, was represented by his African Suite (1944) for string orchestra and harp. Based on West African material, including quotations from Ghanaian composer Ephraim Amu, it was in the vein of British string orchestra pieces such as the Holst St. Paul’s Suite, and was extremely appealing music. Florence Price’s Piano Concerto In One Movement (1934) featured pianist Jeneba Kanneh-Mason. Although played without a break, the piece really had three fairly clear and distinct sections, if not movements. In the first two the very grateful and impressively virtuosic writing for the piano was matched by very strikingly delicate and skillful scoring for the orchestra. In the third section, a juba, an African-American plantation dance with origins in the Kongo, although the music is snappy and engaging, the piano part tends to fade more into the texture and loses its prominence, which, however attractive it is as music, becomes less successful as a virtuoso vehicle, and causes the piece to end, despite its upbeat quality, with something closer to a whimper than the sort of bang one would like for a big concerto.

The concert also included two pieces by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. It’s hard to see any reason other than racism why Coleridge-Taylor should not have been a revered British musical icon before now. His music is as accomplished as anything that his countrymen of his age (and this includes Vaughan Williams and Holst) were writing during his lifetime. In fact Vaughan Williams and Holst had barely begun to produce any of the music of theirs which we know before Coleridge-Taylor died in 1912. The concert began with the Overture to The Song of Hiawatha (1899), one of the large choral works based on Longfellow’s poems that were the pieces their composer was best known for for many years, since they were for many years before the Second World War annually staged in the Albert Hall (although none of it has been performed in that hall for the last sixty years). As good as this piece was, it was somewhat overshadowed, at least for this listener, by Coleridge-Taylor’s Symphony No. 1 (1896-1901) which ended the program. It really is a very fine piece, but is an astonishingly accomplished and successful piece for a twenty-one year old composer, taking a place with pieces like the Mendelssohn, Octet, the Shostakovich First Symphony, and the Shapero Four Hand Sonata, as incredibly mature pieces–masterpieces, in fact– by very young composers. The last movement, which Stanford his teacher apparently kept telling him wasn’t quite right, is problematic and, despite, his reworking it several times, is still not quite right, but it was still immensely impressive and exciting and wonderful to hear. The performance, like those of the other pieces, couldn’t have been better. This concert can also be heard for a little over a month at