Unlike last summer, when the Proms was somewhat restricted, at least in terms of the size of the audience, and with a number of programs being somewhat shorter and without intermission, this year everything seems to be in full swing again. Certainly the house was packed on August 10 for the concert by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Chorus, conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth. This concert sandwiched the new work, Pearl by Matthew Kaner, a BBC commission and first performance, between Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration and Holst’s The Planets. For the stretch of the few days around this concert, this seemed to reflect a programming strategy of hiding, maybe, new pieces among big audience pleasers, not necessarily, at least immediately, related.

Pearl sets extracts of a translation into modern English by British Poet Laureate Simon Armitage of a medieval poem by the anonymous “Gewain Poet,’ which tells the story of a grief-stricken jeweler who revisits the place of the death of a girl, who may be his daughter, who he calls his ‘Pearl.’ The jeweler falls asleep, and in his dream he walks through a magical landscape where he encounters his ‘Pearl’ standing across a river. After discussing his grief and her present setting, ‘where misery and melancholy never come near,’ he attempts to join her, but he awakes, reconciled to her death. Kaner’s work is striking for its faultless word setting (faultlessly and beautifully rendered by the faultless Roderick Williams), and by many instances of imaginative and brilliant orchestral and choral writing. Its effect was somewhat lessened for this listener by its harmonic immobility.

Rather than sandwiching in the Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Archora, a BBC Commission which was receiving its first performance on the Prom on August 11, presented by the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Eva Ollikainen, between two wildly popular works, the Elgar ‘Cello Concerto and the Sibelius Second Symphony, this concert began with the new piece. Archora, Thorvaldsdottir wrote in her note, ‘centers around the notion of primordial energy and the idea of an omnipresent parallel realm–a world both familiar and strange, static and transforming, nowhere and everywhere at the same time.’ It does, in fact, have that quality, being at the same time inchoate and constantly engaging, both elusive and compelling. Its instrumental writing was beautiful and impressive and its narrative trajectory, timeless in a good sense, deeply compelling. It was followed by a very beautiful and memorable performance of the Elgar, by ‘cellist Kian Soltani.

On August 13, the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra made its Proms debut under its Chief Conductor Marin Alsop. Their program included, along with The Miraculous Mandarin by Bartok, the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto, with Benjamin Grosvenor, and the Dvorak Seventh Symphony, the first UK performance of Heliosis by Hannah Eisendle. Heliosis is medical term for sunstroke, and Eisendle’s note of the piece seemed to promise some kind of post-apocalyptic sound world (‘…the music depicts a dirty, sultry, sticky-soot kind of summer…rhythmic material explodes, conveying inflamed senses and the wavering between clear wakefulness and exhausted surrender. We hear a glint of dust in the fiery wind—a billow of heat over asphalt runways.’), where “the string represent the sonic topography of the desert landscape,’ and “they often play on and behind the bridge–the rasping sound representing the intensity of the sun.’ There was, in fact, a certain continuous rhythmic complexity and intensity always present, but the material (the notes, for lack of a better word) evoked The Miraculous Mandarin, or The Rite of Spring, or The Dance in the Gym from West Side Story. This listener kept wishing for something closer to what the description seemed to promise.

On August 12, Dave Smith presented a recital of his music at Schott’s Recital Room. The program consisted of the three parts of his Piano Concert No. 9: On the Virtue of Flowers, On the Virtues of Forests, and On the Virtues of Wild Birds, each one about a half hour in length. The music, which was constantly engaging, didn’t necessarily conform to the quickest and easiest expectations. These forest were in a neighborhood not too far from Gershwin, and the wild birds in question were not in the neighborhood of Messiaen’s–no bird songs were damaged in the making of this piece. Each of the three segments was always interesting and always satisfying. The end of On the Virtues of Wild Birds was particularly striking and memorable.