The Proms / John Tavener
Writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson is Chief Classical Music and Opera Critic for The Independent. He wrote and presented the long-running BBC Radio 3 series Stage & Screen, in which he interviewed many of the most prominent writers and stars of musical theatre. He appears regularly on BBC Radio 3 and 4. On television, he has commentated a number of times at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. He has published books on Mahler and the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, and has been on Gramophone Magazine's review panel for many years. Edward presented the 2007 series of the Radio 4 music quiz Counterpoint. He has interviewed everyone from Leonard Bernstein to Liza Minelli; from Paul McCartney to Pavarotti: from Julie Andrews to Jessye Norman.
Friday 26 August 1994
In Monday's Prom, David Atherton presided over its live and taped elements. Children's voices ricocheted between loudspeakers high in the Albert Hall gallery like distant echoes of the first performance, strings and Hammond organ sugar-coated the churchy harmonies, and soprano Eileen Hulse soared to psychedelic F sharp above top C to be rewarded with a shower of pre-recorded kisses and heavy breathing. It was 'Je t'aime' all over again. Andy Warhol would have bottled it.
So much for the happening. The rest of this curious Anglo-Russian evening didn't. Atherton seemed uncharacteristically score-bound. In Stravinsky's Rite of Spring he was at great pains to point up the folkloric kinship with the likes of Mussorgsky and Lyadov, also featured. But the paganism was nowhere. No risk, no danger, no shock of the old, leave alone new. Tame. When a member of the audience can casually up and leave during the Danse Sacrale, then something is wrong. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales sounded circumspect, unmotivated.
Perhaps they were saving themselves for their incoming music director, Mark Wigglesworth. Certainly they were a very different orchestra the following night when they braved the Siege of Leningrad in Shostakovich's magnificent Seventh Symphony. There was purpose, there was vision here from the outset of that far-reaching string unison. Resonance and control. Wigglesworth's easy-to-read technique allows for amazing flexibility within the bar: woodwind phrases lengthened and strengthened in the opening tutti without pulling at the line.
He has the courage to trust in Shostakovich's astonishing breadth of gesture, to be implacable in the much-maligned first movement where development is repetition, and innocuous toe-tapping ditty (Stalin would have loved it) turns monstrous war-machine like something on the dark side of Ravel's Bolero. The dynamic range was frightening. Ear-stretching pianissimi concentrated the irony of the middle movements, the spectre of Mahler was all over the reprise of the scherzo, the bass clarinet a worm turning among warbling flutes. Beauty and the beast. If there has been a better performance of anything all season, I've not heard it.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre