wed 12/08/2020

Classical music/Opera direct to home 21 - from large-scale memories to chamber-music streaming | reviews, news & interviews

Classical music/Opera direct to home 21 - from large-scale memories to chamber-music streaming

Classical music/Opera direct to home 21 - from large-scale memories to chamber-music streaming

Giant Proms, Wagner, a violinist in a chapel - there's still much to enrich evenings indoors

Remembering the greatest: Abbado conducting Mahler's Third Symphony at the BBC PromsChris Christodoulou

It seems a shame that large-scale organisations can’t be more flexible when government guidelines shift. True, the arts couldn’t jump at two days’ notice when outdoor events were licensed by our ever-vacillating government. The BBC Proms could have adjusted, but it seems the programme is now carved in stone – mostly archive material until the end of August.

No need, either, for the drive-in set up English National Opera is promising at Alexandra Palace in September. I can’t say that the idea of Puccini’s La bohème, the most perfectly proportioned opera in the repertoire, being filleted to 90 minutes fills me with excitement, however good the cast; but then the obligation for The Arts Desk to cover it is ruled out by a “no comps for press” rule. Admin shooting itself in the foot yet again?


BBC Proms 2020 – online, archival and (eventually) live Mahler 3 at the PromsWith justification, it’s been styled "the biggest music festival in the world," and what matters now is that it has the biggest archive of the best performances to draw upon until the time is right to go live. While we’re trafficking in superlatives, I’m happy to put it on record that the greatest concerts I’ve ever heard all fell within the last 10 years of Claudio Abbado’s peerless musical life – his Mahler with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, hand-picked "friends of Claudio" who really did make the best band in the world – "not so much an orchestra, more a love-in," as Daniel Harding described them to me.

One of their rare excursions outside the usual short charmed time together in Switzerland was to the Proms, so their Mahler Three makes a spectacular climax to a bumper BBC Radio 3 "First Night" today (the full scene pictured above by Chris Christodoulou). The novelty is a Beethoven mash-up by the ingenious Iain Farrington featuring the BBC Grand Virtual Orchestra (and Choir) of over 350 BBC musicians from the BBC Orchestras and Choirs. The (re-)composer describes it as “taking Beethoven's music and putting it in a musical washing machine to see which colours run”. Prom 50 photoSunday’s visual ‘First Night’ on BBC Four is one of the perfect Proms, the electridying Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s second with her City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. It culminates in an unorthodox but always compelling Beethoven Five, also embracing Gerald Barry’s typical mix of humour and unease in Canada, its spirit fully embraced by tenor Allan Clayton (pictured above by Chris Christodoulou between composer and conductor). Other gems from the archive include Leonard Bernstein’s Mahler 5 with the Vienna Philharmonic (I remember joining the queue for the Arena from midday, and the results were well worth it).

Live streaming begins on 28 August, though it seems unlikely there will be an audience in the Royal Albert Hall. As with the archives, the gamut is duly run: from Mitsuko Uchida and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Simon Rattle to Anoushka Shankar and Gold Panda. The broad programme is here; check BBC Radio 3 and BBC Four websites for further details.


Pärnu Music Festival – live and online Estonian  Festival OrchestraHard to believe it, but from tomorrow evening onwards, I’ll be sitting socially distanced in the concert hall of Estonia's "summer capital" by the sea listening to a real orchestra, one of the world’s best for the short time it gathers together every year (full programme here). The Estonian Festival Orchestra (pictured above by Kaupo Kikkas) won’t have all of its key players – Czech Philharmonic harpist Jana Boušková and Russian National Orchestra trumpeter Vladislav Lavrik, among others don’t have permission to head to Pärnu - but the Brits were given the go-ahead last week, so that also means top clarinettist Matthew Hunt, a real star of the set-up, and Alec Frank-Gemmill, now principal horn of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra but fortunately in the UK and not Sweden at the necessary time (Swedish infection rates are still high, though not deaths).

You can watch the results of Paavo Järvi’s magnificent, if this year much altered, programming here for a modest seven euros per concert. Believe me, it’s worth it. The chamber concert (Monday evening) is always a highlight, with ensembles of generals culminating in a performance of the Mendelssohn Octet. Great Estonian symphonist Lepo Sumera also features, and the EFO’s second programme includes maverick Olli Mustonen in Beethoven’s own adaptation of his Violin Concerto for piano and orchestra (the first-movement cadenza with timpani is a stunner). I’ll report back next weekend.


Ryedale Festival online Isata Kenneh-MasonTomorrow festival programmer and excellent pianist Christopher Glynn writes for The Arts Desk about another special adaptation, this time, alas, only online. Watch top artists in magnificent North Yorkshire settings from Sunday. First up is pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason (pictured above by Robin Clewley) in All Saints’ Church Helmsley. Then there’s live-wire violinist Rachel Podger from the Pre-Raphaelite chapel of Castle Howard. Check the full list of performances here.


Bayreuth Festival online Kosky's Bayreuth MeistersingerYou may well imagine that Wagner operas, with their vastness of scale and requirements, will take a long time to return to the world’s stages. The Salzburg Festival suggests it might be an exception: it’s taking on Wagner successor Richard Strauss’s Elektra, 108-piece orchestra and all. Meanwhile, Bayreuth is showcasing many of its best and/or most controversial past productions in league with Deutsche Grammophon, starting with Barrie Kosky’s much-praised Meistersinger (pictured above by Enrico Nawrath) tonight. There will also be a special chance to see the generally loathed Castorf Ring. The modest watching price, to help the Bayreuth Recovery Fund, is well worth it.

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