The late night Prom on August 9, was billed as Mindful Mix Prom. It was presented by Ola Gjello, along with Ruby Aspinall, the Carducci String Quartet, and VOCES8. It was a little difficult initially for one to know exactly what one was in store for. The advanced material invited one to “relax into a late night musical meditation” which would explore “the universal, timeless themes of night, stillness and prayer through the lens of composers old and new,” with a playlist that “drifts from Renaissance to Radiohead.” In a Proms program for an earlier concert, Tom Service’s “The Proms Listening Service” had promised “carefully curated music designed to put us in a hypnotic nocturnal reverie.” Among the composers listed in this Prom’s program, aside from Gjello, were Caroline Shaw, Philip Glass, Roxanna Panufnik (with a work commissioned by the BBC for this concert), Ken Burton, Jake Runestad, Eric Whitacre, and Samuel Barber–also William Byrd. The program advised that the listed order was subject to change and that there would be improvisations by Gjello interspersed among the other works. Since the approximately hour and fifteen minutes duration of Prom was filled with continuous music and the program said that the order listed was not necessarily the order in which works would be performed, it was difficult to tell exactly what one was hearing at any one point of the performance. There were hints, of course: For instance Caroline Shaw’s piece and the swallows was presented with “a new violin solo by Christopher Moore.” So when there was a violinist standing in the midst of the singers, one could have probably safely assume that one was hearing the Shaw (the program did not list the names of the members of the Carducci Quartet, so one might have assumed that Chistopher Moore was the person playing–in fact it was Matthew Denton, the quartet’s first violinist–that information the product of later research). The harpist, Ruby Aspinall, played only in one piece near the end; that might have been the Panufnik’s Floral Tribute, setting a poem by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage in tribute to Queen Elizabeth II (just guessing, since maybe the fact that it was the commissioned piece would justify bringing in one player for only that piece). It was clear that the end of the program was the Barber, the choral version of Adagio for Strings as an Agnus Dei, which was played by the Carduccis and sung by VOCES8. There was also, over the whole length of the performance, a rather elaborate light show, which this listener did not find soothing, since it made the program hard to read and made it even more difficult to figure out where one might have been in the program. The answer provided by the evidence of the concert to the question “what is mindful mix” though was, apparently, “easy listening.”
Despite complaints, it was clear immediately and through the duration that the playing and singing was really first class and really beautiful and one could be very mindful of and thankful for that.
The Prom on August 8 was presented by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the London Symphony Chorus upper voices, conducted by Jaime Martin. The major work on the first half of the concert was the Violin Concerto by Grace Williams, with soloist Geneva Lewis, which was receiving its first Proms performance. The work is in three movements and last about half an hour. It is filled with rhapsodic music which features very clear and compelling long lines. Its orchestration is clear and rich and varied, and the writing for the soloist is very effective. Its tempo and texture over the three movements, though, is very unvaried, so that, in the end, there’s very little differentiation at all, and this listener, anyway, was unable to remember any point in the piece more than any other point, or follow any sort of argument, despite the beauty and effectiveness of any one of the moments. It was preceded in the concert by an Overture, written in 1919 by Dora Pejačević, a composer I’d never heard of before, who is being featured on this year’s Proms, in observance of the centennial of her death. A member of the Hungarian and Croatian aristocracy, Pejačević, according to the program “resolutely rejected an easy path for herself” and pursed a career as a composer (she is said to be the first Croatian composer to write a piano concerto). The overture is lively and appealing and makes one eager to hear more or her music. The language and orchestration are not too far away from that of Holst’s The Planets, written two years earlier, which was the second half of the concert. The audience, which packed out the house, was clearly there for the Holst, and they applauded and cheered loudly and lustily and long after every movement. There was some good reason for this, as the performance was tremendous, as were the performance of the other two pieces.
These Proms and all the others can be heard at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/series/m001nh6k