The Labour leader has been rightly scorned for music that merely ticked boxes. He could so easily have been a lot less boring…
Ralph Vaughan Williams
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Tuesday 16 September 2008
There was only one maestro in action at the Royal Albert Hall – Sir Roger Norrington – though Sue Perkins apparently made it as far as Hyde Park. But this year's Last Night of the Proms belonged to the big Welshman: Bryn Terfel. His operatic set pieces embraced love, lust and honour – fitting sentiments for a Last Night. There were nods to our rich folk heritage; a touching tribute to one of the featured composers, Vaughan Williams; and the return of Malcolm Sargent's arrangement of "Rule Britannia!" partly delivered in the mother tongue – Welsh, that is.
Monday 08 September 2008
I had never before heard one note by Grace Williams, part of a group of British women composers who studied with Ralph Vaughan Williams, and were influenced by Elgar. This influence was evident in her five-movement work for strings, Sea Sketches, with which Tadaaki Otaka and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales opened their Prom.
Thursday 28 August 2008
Fifty years to the day since the death of Ralph Vaughan Williams, it was only fitting that this Prom should be for him alone. And for those among us who still insist that a little of his "modal mysticism" goes a long way, the Ninth and last Symphony was there to remind us that the old man went out as he came in – confounding his critics. Indeed, the man once described as "a queer, mad fellow from Chelsea" did his best to live up to the insult.
Thursday 28 August 2008
On Monday, the Today programme tackled the question of Britishness, with reference to the London portion of the Olympics closing ceremony, in which the nation was represented by a double-decker, dancers waving umbrellas and "Greensleeves" set to a disco beat. Today's discussion didn't clear up the evident confusion – indeed, by handing the question over to a journalist from the Daily Telegraph and the cockney comedian Arthur Smith, I'd say they deepened it; but where do we go for symbols of national identity?
Thursday 31 July 2008
George Butterworth's wistful orchestral rhapsody A Shropshire Lad opened the Hallé orchestra's Anglo-German Prom – but not before we had been reminded of the words that inspired it. What a neat idea to have two young actors, Rupert Evans and Tom McKay, bookend it with a recitation of the A E Houseman poems that Butterworth also set as songs. Indeed "Loveliest of Trees" provided the melodic kernel for the rhapsody, and to hear its music steal in where words were finally exhausted intensified the subtext in more ways than one could say.
Monday 21 July 2008
Friday 18 July 2008
Friday 18 July 2008
Wednesday 02 July 2008
This year is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the works of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, 50 years after his death. Packed concert schedules allow us to reassess the "cow pat" composer (or, according to Classic FM's polls, Britons' favourite composer). The culmination of these celebrations is the Pioneering Pilgrim series by the Philharmonia under the conductor Richard Hickox, which includes all nine symphonies and The Pilgrim's Progress, the greatest, most complex and the least stageable of Vaughan Williams's operas.
Monday 30 June 2008
Vaughan Williams toiled for most of his creative life to turn Bunyan's allegory of the Christian life into a full-length work, so the tepid reception at Covent Garden in 1951 was, perhaps, his greatest disappointment. Nor has it been much seen since, though both Sir Adrian Boult and Richard Hickox championed it on disc, and this semi-staging by David Edwards, as part of the Philharmonia's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of RVW's death, came over very much as a labour of love.
Thursday 10 April 2008
The Tardis will make its debut at the Royal Albert Hall this summer when the BBC stages a Doctor Who prom in an attempt to attract new audiences. Roger Wright, the controller of BBC Radio 3 and the festival's new director, denied the event represented "dumbing down". He said it was "very much in the Proms mould".
Sunday 06 April 2008
Sharp lines and lucid textures etch a clean instrumental background to Mark Padmore's vocals in Vaughan Williams's Housman cycle, whose "blue remembered hills" provide the location for these confessions of a troubled heart.
Monday 25 February 2008
The Swiss composer Carl Rütti is the latest in a notable line of composers to have been commissioned by the Bach Choir, with support from the Swiss Cultural Fund, to write a large choral work. The remit was for a piece of about 20 minutes in length, but the finished work lasts just less than an hour, and employs the choir, two soloists and an orchestra of strings with a harp and an organ.
Thursday 24 January 2008
After two decades of annual Composer Weekends, the BBC is going to replace them with more frequent Composer Days. Whether that's a move to inclusiveness or an admission that some have looked exposed by the extended scrutiny, the old format went out on a high. Judith Weir's output has the range of genres and scales, and both extremes were celebrated with a cornucopia of ensemble and solo pieces all over the foyers, building up to a premiere in the main hall.
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