sun 26/05/2024

Prom 19, Ten Pieces review – creative format engages young audiences | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 19, Ten Pieces review – creative format engages young audiences

Prom 19, Ten Pieces review – creative format engages young audiences

Fifth incarnation of the deservedly popular Proms children’s concerts

Paapa Essiedu, Josie Lawrence and Naomi WilkinsonAll images BBC/Pete Dadds

Children’s concerts are a tricky business, but the BBC has hit on a good formula with its Ten Pieces project, now in its fifth year.

Ten works are chosen for their diversity and accessibility, and these become the basis for education projects throughout the year, culminating in the Proms concerts. This allows the concerts to be more entertainment than education, which is all for the best, and the events remain deservedly popular, performed twice in one day, each time to near capacity audiences.

In the first year, 2014, the concert ended with the appearance of a spectacular firebird puppet (pictured bottom), paraded above the arena to Stravinsky’s music. It made a return this year as the finale, with all of the preceding narrative about coaxing it back. To this end, Naomi Wilkinson played the Spell Caster, Josie Lawrence the eccentric ornithologist and Paapa Essiedu, Joseph Bologne (all pictured above), an 18th-century composer of African descent, whose First Symphony featured on the programme. The whole concept was paper thin, allowing the focus to remain on the music. Previous Proms children’s concerts have included acting or audacious video displays to accompany the music, which invariably distracted. More modest video animations were included this year, but they never upstaged the music, which held the concentration of the young audience.

The programme was a good mix of popular classics and new works, mostly connected with community projects. The BBC Symphony Orchestra  were on lively form for Rafael Payare, whose sleek, dynamic conducting brought welcome vigour to these familiar works.

The classics included Finlandia, Hoe-down from Copland’s Rodeo (the trumpet section wearing cowboy hats), the Waltz of the Flowers, and the opening of Carmina Burana. This featured the Ten Pieces Children’s Choir, brought together from youth choirs founded as part of the project. They were bolstered by the BBC Singers, but even so, sounded impressively weighty and precise, easily mistakable for an adult chorus.

Phoenix Dance Theatre's Youth Academy

Other works were linked to education projects, some of them very creative. London Music Masters, an inner city music education charity, fielded an impressive young violin ensemble to perform their own addition to the Enigma Variations. A new piece from Mason Bates, The Á Bao A Qu, was written to accompany a performance by the Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Youth Academy (pictured above). The music was decidedly Russian-period Stravinsky, and the choreography reminiscent of The Rite of Spring, elegantly presented by the young dancers. Another collaboration was with English PEN, an organisation campaigning for human rights and freedom of expression. They had organised a poem to be read by children from refugee backgrounds about the idea of home. This was tied in to a performance of the second movement of the New World Symphony, with an itinerant Alison Teale playing the cor anglais from around the arena. Although well recited, this whole segment felt slow, letting the otherwise steady pace of the concert sag. That said, the young audience sat in rapt silence throughout, so perhaps it was just me.

On a similar subject, Kerry Andrew’s No Place Like took children’s ideas of home as the basis for an unaccompanied choral work, again performed with impressive assurance by the Ten Pieces Children’s Choir. This was another aspect of the programme that had appeared in previous events, but well justified repetition.Firebird with Naomi Wilkinson

The Firebird, too, deserves to become an icon for this project, and its appearance at the end made for a memorable finale (pictured above). As in previous years, the overall impression was of a diverse format where most things worked and the few less engaging numbers didn’t seriously detract. The casual atmosphere fostered at the Albert Hall was also welcome, and not for the first time I left wishing that classical concerts for grown-ups were as informal and entertaining as this.

More classical music reviews on theartsdesk



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