Prom 37/Benjafield And Currie, Royal Albert Hall, London
Prom 38/BBC SO/John Adams, Royal Albert Hall, London
Thursday 17 August 2006
While the composer John Adams conducts an annual Prom with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, as its artist-in-association, the music of his erstwhile mentor Steve Reich has fared less well in the Proms. Drumming, a seminal composition now 35 years old, was here, shockingly, receiving its first Prom airing.
If one reason for this has been concern that such largely unamplified music for tuned percussion and female voices would not work in the Albert Hall, Drumming - like the other three works in this late-night programme given by percussionists led by Richard Benjafield and Colin Currie, with Synergy Vocals - worked surprisingly effectively.
Maybe Part 1, with the bongos, was occasionally unsettled; and overall, the performance betrayed signs that not all of the musicians have got inside the skin of this challenging music. Yet the eager atmosphere of this well-attended concert was the perfect complement, and, indeed, compliment, to this music's joyously cumulative sense of ritual theatre. And though the hall's echo spoilt Part 1 of Drumming, it added a delicious extra dimension to Clapping Music, and enhanced the range of psychoacoustic effects of Nagoya Marimbas and Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ.
The Adams programme, conducted by its composer, was elegantly conceived. My Father Knew Charles Ives offers outbursts of riotously Ivesian celebration, but seems strongest in the second movement's exquisite reflections of Forties jazz, revelled in by these players. Of the older works here, The Wound Dresser was sung by the bass Eric Owens with a rich tone and great intelligence, but Harmonielehre didn't have the energy and incisiveness of the best performances I've heard.
While I still consider that Adams's conducting style makes him look like a rank amateur, he must be doing something right to get the BBC SO playing with such verve and enthusiasm.
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