Good, the Beeb has finally admitted that populist TV-themed Proms are a total, utter, useless failure. There are still some themed proms, but they’re much less exasperating. I am not wild about the idea of a Scott Walker prom myself, but it is a fine enough tribute to an influential and daring pop artist whose ties to this country are indeed great. And I do tentatively believe that Scott Walker fans are the kind of people who might be brought into the classical music fold. Unlike, say, Doctor Who fans. Still, calling it the ‘Godlike Genius of Scott Walker’ is peak stupidity. He’s a novel cultural artefact. That’s it.
Back in the dark ages [my teenage years] I was a Scott Walker fan. What boy isn’t excited by the sounds of a pig’s corpse being punched, or songs about the execution of Mussolini and his mistress? Now, the music seems repetitive and goes on for too long, filled with a lot of quirkiness while foregoing musical substance, but it can sure be novel and interesting. Here’s the music video for his song ‘Epizootics’:
Overall, this is a conservative proms. Cutting away the excess, focusing on the tried and tested, a moderate sprinkling of new music, generally good but not bold. Some highlights to look forward to (not at all a comprehensive list):
- Prom 14: Vaughan Williams 9 and Holst’s Planets. I don’t know VW’s ninth, but I’ll be excited to discover it, and the pairing with Holst’s awesome planets seems perfect.
- Prom 16: Not a big Liszt fan, but with a premiere (Julian Anderson, whose music I’m not familiar with) and, more importantly, the chance to hear pianist Steven Osborne, this might turn out to be very good.
- Prom 21: James MacMillan UK premier, and of his timely European Requiem. I somehow doubt, as it is James MacMillan, that it will be the remoaning lament one might suspect. Probably a heavily Catholic view of Europe, and I expect and hope it will be brilliant, judging by the small number of (enthusiastic) reviews that followed its premiere in Oregon last year.
- Prom 28: Thomas Ades conducting his Polaris and then Rite of Spring. Will be thrilling.
- Prom 39: Mark-Anthony Turnage premiere of his 50-minute Hibiki. Maybe this will be the piece that makes me go from liking Turnage’s music to loving it?
- Prom 26: Ruttle conducing Schoenberg’s massive Gurrelieder. Bet this’ll sell fast.
- Prom 50: premiere of Gerald Barry’s Canada. Goodness knows what it will be about. Plus a healthy dosage of Beethoven. (Though surprisingly not Barry’s own clever song Beethoven.)
- Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad Kind. This is off-site. Shame it opens with the dullest composer alive, John Luther Adams, but it’s worth it to see a live performance is this (in)famous piece.
Really, I look forward to all the premieres, and I’m sure my hopes will lead to great disappointment as the unwelcome clanging and modernist scraping clogs up my ears. But I’m nothing if not a hopeful pessimist. Also some classic stuff like Beethoven 7 and Mahler 2 that I especially want to see live.
There are things, however, that I love but feel are wrong for the Proms, or more specifically the dread Albert Hall. Bach cantatas, say, are but a shy whisper in a venue as big and flawed as the Albert Hall. Song cycles carry badly too, the singer usually submerged by the acoustics.
I was going to end with Barry’s Beethoven to compensate for its absence, but alas it’s not on YouTube. So Ades’ climactic Polaris will more than do: