The Prom on Monday, August 15, presented by the BBC Symphony, conducted by Sakari Oramo, opened with the first UK performance of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Time Flies, a joint Commission from the BBC, the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, and the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra which is based in Hamburg. Each of the three movements represents one of the cities involved, London, Hamburg, and Tokyo, respectively. The piece is for a very large orchestra, used with a certain amount of skill and verve. The London movement is fast, and, so we’re told, jaunty in an English kind of way; the second is slower and more solemn and serious and a little overly long, as, one supposes, fits Hamburg. The last movement is jazzy and swinging, as is supposed to accurately represent Tokyo (?), All three of the movements operate on the basis of asserting material, fragmenting it and then subjecting it to canonic treatment–-at great length– especially in the last movement Across the whole piece one struggles to find any hint of substance. Tracing two other threads for this Prom season, that of concertos for unusual solo instruments, and the celebration of the 150 anniversary of the birth of Vaughan Williams, the second work on the program was the Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto, with Constatin Hartwig soloist. The concerto is a late work, and it has all those hallmarks; a lovely folksy slow movement and a snappy last movement that has been described (by Michael Kennedy, I think) as being Bottom and the fairies. Constatin Hartwig’s playing was, to put it mildly, admirable; he added as an encore a very very fancy arrangement by Lars Holmgaard of Blackbird by Paul McCartney. The concert concluded with a very moving performance of the First Symphony of Elgar.

The Prom on August 16, presented by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Vasily Petrenko, opened with Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, in the version that, a long time ago used to be the only version, for full orchestra, lasting just under half an hour, the sort of suite, not the whole ballet. The concert ended with the Fifth Symphony of Prokofiev. In between those two pieces was the Trombone Concerto by George Walker, with soloist Peter Moore. The concerto is in three movements and last about seventeen minutes. The first movement pits a lively propulsive rhythmic music against a more singing material, leading to a climax that highlights the singing quality of the trombone, before sliding back into the initial faster rhythmic music. The second movement, relatively short, is completely singing and heartfelt. The final movement’s initial and dominant quality is cheerful and march-like, and it continually interrupted by a more aggressive, jerkier, slightly syncopated music, with the first music winning out. The concerto is not only a very impressive show piece for the trombone, but it is continually engaging as a piece of music. Moore, whose performance was a knock out, played as an encore Clef Study No. 18, by David Uber.

Ethel Smyth is known more as a sort of blip on Virginia Woolf’s biography ( “An old woman of 71 has fallen in love with me…It is like being caught up by a giant crab.”) than as one of the most important British suffragettes or as a composer. She was, in fact, not only a quite accomplished composer, but a fairly important one. The Prom on August 20, presented by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Chorus, conducted by Sakari Oramo, featured Smyth’s Mass in D major, following the Debussy Nocturnes. Tovey compared the Smyth Mass favorably to Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, and it is of a similar scope and length. That Smyth intended it not as music that could actually be used liturgically, but rather as a grand oratorio on the text of the mass is proved by the fact that she felt that in its liturgical order the mass doesn’t have a splashy enough ending and, therefore, decided to move the Gloria to the end of the piece. In any case, although it maybe does go on a little too long, the Mass is fairly impressive. The orchestration is consistently luminous, and there are one or two really striking and wonderful moments, most especially in the Gloria when the four soloists are suddenly singing the Domine Fili unigenite unaccompanied. The Kyrie, which was a slowly unfolding closely argued span leading to a substantial climax, is also impressive. The performance was as fully committed and as good as one could ever hope to hear.

On August 21 at Café Oto, Tania Caroline Chen performed Morton Feldman’s Triadic Memories. Feldman described the piece and its workings: “In Triadic Memories… there is a section of different types of chords where each chord is slowly repeated. One chord might be repeated three times, another seven or eight – depending on how long I felt it should go on. Quite soon into a new chord I would forget the reiterated chord before it. I then reconstructed the entire section: rearranging its earlier progression and changing the number or times a particular chord was repeated. This way of working was a conscious attempt at “formalizing” a disorientation of memory…” Chen’s performance was completely engrossing and compelling, soon after it started causing one to stop noticing and forget over its 90 or so minutes’ length the obvious deficiencies of the piano it was being played on. It was a memorable experience.