Proms 8, 9 & 11 | Royal Albert Hall, London/Radio 3

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The Independent Culture

Seeing is believing. In the face of John Tusa's broadside in the New Statesman against "miserably small-minded" BBC bosses, one is tempted to ask how often - or even if - director-general Greg Dyke and his director of television Mark Thompson have ever been to an "ordinary" Prom?

Seeing is believing. In the face of John Tusa's broadside in the New Statesman against "miserably small-minded" BBC bosses, one is tempted to ask how often - or even if - director-general Greg Dyke and his director of television Mark Thompson have ever been to an "ordinary" Prom?

Thompson is trailing the idea that "serious programming" be hived off to "genre-based" channels. As Tusa writes: "For the BBC to dismiss the entire European tradition of thought, creativity and imagination as part of a dead museum culture that exists only in a small marketing niche, is a landmark." What motivates this madness? "Techno determinism" - if technology can make something available, everyone should want it; and "numbers determinism"- if a programme fails to deliver, move it to an inaccessible time and, as numbers decline further, apply the merciful - and now conveniently justified - axe.

A funny way of operating the public service remit. The irony is, through the Proms, the BBC is responsible for providing the greatest single festival of music in the world which thousands, indeed millions through broadcasts, know only too well. If Dyke and Thompson had been in the Albert Hall last Thursday for an "ordinary" Prom - a concerto and a symphony - their dismissive outlook might have warranted a rethink. Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony is no "ordinary" symphony. On the eve of its premiere in 1936, Shostakovich cancelled the performance. He would never have done so were it not for the heavy-handed hints dropped by "the bosses". Not only the composer was threatened; all the performers would live to regret the day if it went ahead. And so the piece waited 25 years.

In this massive (more than 120 players), hour-long work, the message is almost verbal, the pain palpable. This is Stalin's Terror writ large. The BBC Philharmonic, under Vassily Sinaisky, delivered this score to an audience shocked into rapt concentration. No other work of Shostakovich teeters so close to the edge of madness. Huge crashes of sound give way to banality and dumbness. Such a work towered over three days of Proms.

On Friday, Maxwell Davies' new Seventh Symphony with the same orchestra, seemed murky of message, darkly influenced, as ever, by Orkney bleakness despite an acknowledged debt to Haydn.

Saturday brought Sakari Oramo with the CBSO conducting the UK premiere of Fresco by his gifted compatriot, Magnus Lindberg. Written for a large orchestra shimmering with exotic percussion, this dense, complex work sat uneasily with the English socialist realism (of an imperial kind) of Elgar ( Sea Pictures) and Holst ( The Planets). The novelty was Colin Matthews's "Pluto", a brilliant addition, reprising the menace of "Mars" to give The Planets an effective new conclusion.

Over three days, the coolness of the planets was not reflected in a sweltering hall, but huge audiences of all types and sizes should persuade any boss that these crowds are no more "elite" than football fans. And a great deal more responsible.

Radio 3 rebroadcasts Prom 8 today, Prom 9 tomorrow, Prom 11 on Wed, all at 2pm

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