qatsi: (proms)
Two last Proms, this week, completed the season's cycle of Rachmaninov's Piano Concertos (omitting the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini).

On Tuesday the Oslo Philharmonic were conducted by Vasily Petrenko. They began with Stravinsky's Firebird Suite - an abridged version of the ballet music which was effective, though perhaps one of those pieces which is better in full. Leif Ove Andsnes was the soloist for Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 4, the last and most overtly modernist of his concertos. It was a popular performance though I found it difficult to tell whether it was the music or Andsnes' playing that was very percussive in style. He gave us an encore of a Romanza by Sibelius - a composer whose piano pieces aren't highly rated, but this could almost have been Chopin.

The second half of the concert was Shostakovich's Symphony No. 12 ("The Year 1917"). The programme notes suggested this is in fact the "Lenin" symphony that the composer claimed for many years to be working on. The results would suggest either that he was lying, that he didn't put much effort into it, or that he completed it and sat on it, waiting for the right moment. At the time I found Petrenko's tempi a little on the fast side and the snare drum a little too insistent; but, listening to the CD I have of Barshai/WDR Cologne, I think Petrenko's tempo may have been the better after all. The middle movements weren't memorable and perhaps a bit of a disappointment, but the finale certainly produced a classic Shostakovich faux-triumph, as if he were saying to the authorities, "There, that's what you wanted, isn't it?". The concert finished with an orchestral encore of Vocalise, making it the second time I have heard a version of that this season.

On Thursday, the BBC Symphony Orchestra were conducted by Semyon Bychkov. The concert began with Taneyev's overture The Oresteia. Taneyev has always been an under-rated composer and this was an interesting piece, assembled from themes from his opera, though in the end being spun out into a separate work. For an overture it's quite long at around 20 minutes, rather like some of Tchaikovsky's pieces. Kirill Gerstein was the soloist for Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 1. This was a successful and contrasting performance to the fourth: much more lyrical, and Gerstein seemed to apply himself to the piano with more sensitivity.

In the second half, we had Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony. I'd seen this before, and although I thought it was all right, I probably wouldn't have chosen to go to see it again specifically. But, in the way that expectations sometimes have of being overturned, Bychkov really put the orchestra through its paces and produced a powerful and dramatic performance, certainly a good way to end my promming season.
qatsi: (proms)
I was uncertain how popular Prom 54 would be, and I was pleased to be twelfth in the queue, although I knew this wouldn't necessarily mean a spot on the rail. For once this summer the afternoon was pleasantly warm. The queue did fill out considerably later on.

We were due to move up at 5:15 and go in to the Royal Albert Hall at 5:30, with the concert starting at 6:30. There was a lack of progress and information, and nothing seemed to be happening. Finally, the queues were moved up to the doors, but the process stalled again. Security sensibly decided to run the first few people, including me, through the bag search, and I was then able to read the notice: the concert would be delayed by 15 minutes "due to the late arrival of the orchestra's instruments". Well, that's a new one! We assumed they must have been stuck at Heathrow (though, objectively, there's equal odds they could have been stuck at Milan).

Finally, at about 6pm, we started moving in. As we descended into the bowels of the Hall en route to the Arena, I could hear (but not quite recognise) dark, brooding, bass music. Were the orchestra still on the stage rehearsing at this late hour? It turned out they were, and as I ascended the stairs into the Arena, I finally recognised the music: We were entering the Hall to the march The Pines of the Appian Way from The Pines of Rome, the final scheduled piece of the concert. What a privilege to enter in this way, especially into this British simulacrum of the Colosseum! As a signal event, it reminded me of the "swans" flying over the Royal Albert Hall prior to the Fifth Symphony in the Sibelius cycle of 2015. As the orchestra rehearsed the music, we correspondingly rehearsed our applause, genuine but perhaps with a hint of irony. I found myself comfortably on the rail; some of the people in front must have headed for seats, or to the left-hand side of the Arena (conventionally the front row splits 50-50 between season ticket and day Prommers, but it's not always observed, and this season's changes due to building works have made it particularly unworkable).

Adhering to its revised schedule, the concert proper began with the Filarmonica della Scala Milan conducted by Riccardo Chailly and violinist Leonidas Kavakos in Brahms' Violin Concerto. It was a fair but not brilliant performance. At points the tempo was slowed right down, an interesting interpretation but one that did not add anything particular, in my opinion.

The second half programme was the reason I'd picked this concert: two of Respighi's Roman tone poems. I saw the full trilogy in 2014, just before I had a holiday in Rome, and it was good to take this opportunity to revisit The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome. Fountains has always seemed to me to be the weakest of the trilogy, so I was pleasantly surprised as I found the orchestra really did bring it to life. Pines, on the other hand, has always seemed to me to be the strongest, so would the orchestra fulfil its potential? They certainly did. You always wonder whether a "native" orchestra "feels" the music of its compatriot composers better; on the evidence of this performance, I'd incline favourably to the theory. Fresh, energetic, reflective - they were all of these. The birdsong fitted seamlessly with the orchestral playing, and the recapitulation of the Appian Way was just as spectacular as the rehearsal, in this perfect venue for such brash music. I could see the orchestra had the music for the overture to La forza del destino on their stands - presumably prepared as an encore - but the delay to the start of the concert had thwarted it; it seems the curse continues.
qatsi: (proms)
I was surprised to find myself second in the queue for Prom 42 on Wednesday for the first of a pair of concerts featuring Saint-Saëns among others. In fact, although I had expected to recognise some of the pieces without knowing them by name, it was a concert, themed around French evocations of the near and far east, of music almost all new to me. Les Siècles and François-Xavier Roth began with Saint-Saëns' overture from La princesse jaune: an opera a few years earlier than The Mikado but sharing the fascination of the time for all things Japanese, though in this case the opera is more about the fascination itself, rather than being a story of Japan. Next, ballet music from Delibes' Lakmé, which I had expected to recognise at some point, but in fact it seems the suite doesn't touch upon any of the really well-known themes.

Les Siècles is a period-instrument orchestra, and for this concert they were playing on late nineteenth-century instruments. It was, therefore, appropriate that the piano wheeled on to the stage was not the usual Royal Albert Hall Steinway, but instead a late nineteenth-century Bechstein. Cédric Tiberghien was the soloist for Saint-Saëns' Piano Concerto No. 5 (Egyptian), another work I'd expected to be more familiar than it turned out. This seemed a bit of an oddity, with multiple styles; the name refers to the sections in the slow movement, but the last movement looks forward to ragtime. I hesitate to use the word "timeless", but I mean it rather literally, because overall the piece pulls in so many different directions it seems ancient and modern all at once. There was no doubting Tiberghien's skill, though; and he rounded off the first half with an encore of Debussy's prelude La Puerta del Vino.

Unusually, the piano remained on stage, as the second half began with another piano-orchestral piece, Franck's Les Djinns, which had a more conventional sound although a less conventional form. The remainder of the concert was orchestral only: more theatre music with excerpts from Lalo's Namouna, before finishing with the one piece I actually did recognise: Saint-Saëns' Bacchanal from Samson and Delilah. If you're the castanets player in the orchestra, this is your big chance. Of course it went down a storm. Conductor François-Xavier Roth insisted on a short speech, about the exploration of other cultures and the folly of building walls, and the concert concluded with one of the more unusual encores I have seen: an arrangement of Daft Punk's Get Lucky, or so the BBC Proms Twitter feed tells me.

I antipated a longer queue on Thursday, and I was right, although I still found myself in the second row for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's concert with Charles Dutoit. This time the theme was French and Spanish, beginning with Falla's El amor brujo. Mezzo-soprano Stéphanie d'Oustrac certainly gave an earthy cantaora voice to the songs; among the orchestral numbers was the well-known Ritual Fire Dance. Joshua Bell was the violinist for Lalo's Symphony espagnole, a concerto in all but name; another new piece for me, and well-received in the hall. Unusually, orchestra and soloist joined forces for an encore at the end of the first half: the Meditation from Thaïs by Massenet. It obviously destroys any illusion of spontaneity, but combining the available musicians in this way is a nice touch.

The second half of the concert began with a presentation of the Royal Philharmonic Society (unrelated to the orchestra) Medal to Dutoit, before moving on to Saint-Saëns' Symphony No 3 (Organ), with organist Cameron Carpenter. Unlike the Lalo, this really is more symphonic, although the organ is important when it's heard. I enjoyed the performance, although somehow the timekeeping had gone awry and the concert finished fifteen minutes late, enough for me to miss my anticipated train home (I had no plans to stay for the late night Prom).

Friday's concert was again popular: a performance of Mahler's Symphony No 2 (Resurrection). The BBC Symphony Orchestra were conducted by Sakari Oramo, and joined by soprano Elizabeth Watts and mezzo-soprano Elisabeth Kulman, and the Bach Choir and BBC Symphony Chorus. Oramo announced that the performance would be dedicated to the memory of Jiří Bělohlávek, the former chief conductor of the orchestra who died earlier this year. Oramo was animated and demonstrative throughout. Technically, there were one or two wobbles in the early stages, but they didn't mar the drama of the first movement. I did feel, however, that the pace of the remainder of the symphony, and the final movement in particular, was on the slow side, and consequently it often lacked energy. Maybe some of that was me: I was promming for the third consecutive night, and it appears I also felt the last movement was on the slow side in 2006; however, the concert finished 10-15 minutes later than expected, so I don't think it was just me. But even so, if Mahler 9 will always be modern music, then I think Mahler 2 will always be dramatic and exciting music.

Proms 101

Aug. 14th, 2017 08:40 pm
qatsi: (proms)
I knew the Proms yesterday would be popular, with an all-Rachmaninov evening concert followed by a late-night Prom of his All-Night Vigil. Even so, I was a bit surprised that, arriving around mid-day, my raffle ticket was 101.

To make best use of the intervening time, I headed off to Dulwich Picture Gallery for their Sargent exhibition. The exhibitions at Dulwich aren't blockbuster-scale, but they can get quite crowded; fortunately, although popular, there was plenty of space to move around. Indeed, I wondered whether there were more people in the restaurant and cafe, and in the park grounds, than in the gallery itself. Most of the pieces in this watercolour exhibition are from Sargent's trips to Europe: Venice in particular, but also other locations in Italy, France and Spain; there are a few pieces from the Near and Middle East, and the US as well. I found the landscapes and cityscapes more appealing than the final room on portraiture. Among my favourites were: the Spanish Fountain; The Church of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice; Constantinople; the desecrated Gates of a Chateau, Ransart; the sultry Siena; and the ethereal San Vigilio.

I was back in good time for the concert. After an unusual hiatus to allow season ticket holders to enter at an increased rate, I still found myself about a third of the way towards the front. Occasions like this make me realise how fortunate I am when I'm further forward. But even such adversity can have advantages: stewards asked us to make way, as the concert began with a procession through the centre of the Arena by the Latvian Radio Choir with their first liturgical chant; beginning in the infinite distance beyond the entrance to the stalls, they passed through the interior of the Arena before disappearing below the stage. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conductor Thomas Dausgaard and pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk were already on stage, and launched straight into Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3, reputedly one of the most difficult in the repertoire. Gavrylyuk had the piano under control, though in profile his facial expressions veered between rabbit-in-headlights and Dr Evil. I hadn't really expected him to give an encore after that, but he produced a piano version of Vocalise.

The second half began with more chant by the choir, this time up in the gallery. Again the orchestra followed immediately with Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2. It's a piece I enjoy listening to, but I find it difficult to stand listening to; combined with a misjudgement of meal-times through the day, I found myself sitting out a few passages. There are longer symphonies, and longer symphonic movements; but I think the difficulty with this one is the lack of footholds, it's difficult sometimes to know where you are. In the circumstances I don't feel able to judge the performance, but the audience reaction confirmed it was well received. The advantage of an earlier finish - I had never intended to stay for the late-night concert - was that I was able to walk across Kensington Gardens and get an earlier train back from Paddington.
qatsi: (proms)
I made it to the rail for the first time this season, and had an excellent view of the concert. For Prom 33, the BBC Philharmonic were conducted by John Storgårds in a mixed programme, with a Nordic first half and a Germanic second half.

They began with some excerpts from Peer Gynt: At the Wedding (Prelude to Act 1), The Abduction of the Bride / Ingrid's Lament (Prelude to Act 2), Morning Mood (Prelude to Act 4), Solveig's Song and Dance of the Mountain King's Daughter. It was a bit disappointing that In the Hall of the Mountain King was missing from the set, but nonetheless it was an enjoyable performance, and soprano Lise Davidsen gave a strong voice to Solveig's Song.

Davidsen returned for the next item, Sibelius' tone-poem Luonnotar, inspired by the creation myth of the Kalevala. This strange, haunting and relatively obscure work was the piece that had prompted me to select this concert, and it was good to see it in the flesh. The first half was rounded off with more Sibelius, this time the more well-known Karelia Suite. Storgårds seemed to be dancing on the podium during part of the Intermezzo, perhaps an unusually extravagant expression for a Finn, but clearly enjoying the music of his compatriot.

Concertos typically fall into the first half of a concert programme, but the balance of timings meant that Alban Gerhardt started the second half with Schumann's Cello Concerto. Both pieces in the second half were new to me, and this seemed to be quite an intense performance during the first movement, becoming calmer and warm-hearted by the end of the third movement. It was well received, but there was no time for an encore. The final piece of the concert was Hindemith's Mathis der Maler symphony, another composer about which I was curious though not necessarily enthusiastic. It turned out to be at the good end of my expectations: had I been told it was by Stravinsky, Respighi, Mahler or (at a pinch) Shostakovich, I could have believed it.

Had things gone a little quicker, or if I had been thinking more clearly, I would have had a more comfortable journey home; I clearly missed the 2215 but could just have jumpted on the 2218 which had just disappeared from the departure board at Paddington, had I remembered the National Rail app told me it was departing from Platform 12. As it was, I avoided the half-empty train whose doors were just about to close and I squeezed onto the smaller, busier 2221 for Bedwyn instead, though fortunately it emptied substantially at Slough.
qatsi: (proms)
After obtaining raffle tickets for Prom 29, yesterday we adjourned to the Natural History Museum, swapping one queue for another. At least the queue on the Queen's Gate side of the NHM moved quite quickly. It's several years since I have been there, and some things have changed - notably the blue whale skeleton that has replaced "Dippy" - while others have stayed the same. Charles Darwin seemed unmoved. On the whole I felt there could have been more signs saying "Museum" and fewer saying "Shop", "Cafe" or "Restaurant".

We found ourselves in the second row of the Arena for Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina. Mussorgsky worked on this opera in the last few years of his life, and it was left incomplete; various hands have, over the years, assembled versions or fragments of it, including Rimsky-Korsakov, Ravel and Stravinsky together, and Stokowski. On this occasion, it was Shostakovich's orchestration; an interesting choice for him to work on, given that the whole plot is one of political and religious intrigue, and that the first scene features the dictation of a denunciation to a scribe; but he did produce this version during the Khrushchev thaw, so maybe its themes were in vogue, or at least officially acceptable, at the time.

Despite the surtitles - an innovation at the Proms - it wasn't easy to follow the plot. To be fair, this is intrinsic to the story; knowing more about Russian history doubtless helps. Given Mussorgsky's original work was written during Tsarist times, I assume the Tsar is Good, and therefore the Boyars are Bad. But it's not always clear-cut, everyone claims to be reforming against the other lot, and the Priest Dosifey keeps springing up out of nowhere, always with an opinion.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra and Semyon Bychkov did a good job; to be honest, I only recognised a few fragments, in particular Dawn on the Moscow River from Act 4; but the tragic ending was striking and spectacular. Among a hard-working cast and chorus, I'd single out mezzo-soprano Elena Maximova (Marfa) and bass Ante Jerkunica (Ivan Khovansky) for their particularly strong voices. It was a long concert, and a late journey back, but we were relatively fortunate with the Sunday evening trains.
qatsi: (bach)
Book Review: Hallelujah Junction - Composing an American Life, by John Adams
I picked this up a while ago in a work book sale, but it sat on the shelves waiting for the right moment. I decided, with Adams' music featuring in the First Night of the Proms, that it was now time.

It makes for an interesting read. Adams traces his roots back to the dance hall Winnipesaukee Gardens, in Weirs Beach, New Hampshire, where his maternal grandparents had a troubled relationship; his parents ended up in modest circumstances and his childhood was comfortable but basic. From an early age he was interested in music and played the clarinet, showing enough talent to take lessons and eventually play orchestral parts. He also liked the idea of conducting in particular. Conventional classical music training in the eastern US in the mid twentieth-century was focused very much on twelve-tone serialism, which did not much appeal to Adams, who was steeped in jazz and interested in rock and roll as much as classical music. Despite offers of further tuition, he eventually decided to spread his wings (or at least, a rickety Volkswagen camper-van) and head west.

Through the seventies Adams made a career mostly as a conductor and concert organiser; a few of his own works, such as Shaker Loops and Harmonium started to make his reputation. He goes on to describe the collaboration with Peter Sellars and Alice Goodman that led to Nixon in China, which became one of his most successful works, and The Death of Klinghoffer, which has always been one of his most controversial. Later chapters in the book go into some depth, creatively and bureaucratically, as well as musically, on several works; Adams also ponders the creative process in general. He has an easy writing style, and acknowledges problematic works as well as success. The foreword to this edition notes the 2012 performance at the Proms of Nixon in China as one of his career highlights; I'm glad he thinks that, because, having been there myself, I agree.
qatsi: (proms)
Prom 8 - Film Music of John Williams - was always going to be popular; I believe it was one of the first concerts of the season to be a sell-out for seats. As I joined the queue I only saw a couple of people I recognised in front of me - there were another twenty or so who were "tourists". This can be good or bad; on this occasion they were fine, although one person in front did manage to blag their way in without a raffle ticket to join their two friends who did have tickets. Somehow I ended up in front of them; that's karma, I suppose.

The BBC Concert Orchestra, very much at home in this kind of music, were conducted by Keith Lockhart. Williams has contributed scores for more than 100 films, so it would not be possible to please everyone, but I think the concert captured a good cross-section of his most famous works; perhaps Schindler's List was the only obvious omission. The concert began with Raiders of the Lost Ark, and other well-known pieces in the first half were from Jaws, Superman, Harry Potter and ET. But there were other less well-known pieces, for me at least: Goodbye Mr Chips, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Terminal, War Horse, and The BFG. These showed another side to Williams away from the bombast; Jamal Aliyev's cello in Memoirs of a Geisha was very evocative, clarinettist Annelien Van Wauwe and accordion player Mark Bousie hinted at klezmer and east European inspiration for The Terminal, and War Horse captured the English pastoralia and seemed to quote from The Lark Ascending.

The second half began in a more serious mood, with music from JFK, Munich and Amistad - the last of these featuring young voices from Haringey Vox and Music Centre London. Then, another mood shift to The Witches of Eastwick and, with Jess Gillam playing a beautifully steampunk saxophone and Alasdair Malloy on vibraphone, Catch Me If You Can. Finally, we moved on to music from Star Wars. I would really have liked the Imperial March and Cantina Band, as in the 2013 Sci-Fi Film Music Prom; but as I observed above, you can't please everybody, and it made sense to include music from the latest film in the saga, so the programmed numbers were March of the Resistance and Rey's Theme from The Force Awakens, before finishing with A New Hope - Main Title.

Encores generally fall into two categories: extravagant, showy, virtuosic or comic on the one hand, and quiet, reflective on the other. Unfortunately The Imperial March falls into neither category. But I could tell there was going to be more, and spotted the drummer sneaking in to the orchestra. The quickest way to silence the crowd at the Royal Albert Hall is for the soloist to take up position at the instrument, or for the conductor to raise the baton to the orchestra once more, and so Keith Lockhart did. Some jazzy scales began - just enough for you to wonder, "what's this?", before I remembered that the orchestral version of The Cantina Band has just enough intro to throw you off before the big tune begins. So there you have it, for the first category of encore; and a little more from Harry Potter finished off the concert in a more reflective mood.
qatsi: (proms)
Oh dear, oh dear. It's all changed this year: the queueing system has changed, an attempt to disperse people which leads to a much less social atmosphere, and there's additional security theatre (a modicum of which has a potential effect, but much of it striking me as somewhat pointless). At least some of this must have been thrust upon the Royal Albert Hall at short notice, because it has driven a coach and horses through the Proms Extra events: essentially, Promenaders who are in the front half (say) of the queue will lose their places by going to the pre-Prom talks, and I gather attendance has slumped correspondingly. I'm sure this scheduling debacle wouldn't have been designed. The other deplorable innovation is that yet another phase of building work means that the Arena Day and Season Ticket holders are being admitted through the same door in parallel, which has apparently produced some "tired and emotional" moments. There's a long-standing convention that Season Ticket holders stand in the left half of the front row, and Day prommers stand in the right half - when admitted carefully in two separate queues from opposite sides of the hall this works quite well, but with the vagaries of bag searches and ticket scanning, there is only one stream entering the arena, with correspondingly random results.

Anyhow, after the initial disorientation, I was in any case four or five rows back for Prom 5, which was the first in a pair of concerts by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Thomas Søndergård. I'd picked this concert because it was full of favourite works of mine. Sibelius' Symphony No. 7 does seem a slightly odd piece with which to begin a concert, but it's a single movement work of about 20 minutes duration. It worked quite well, and I preferred Søndergård's ending in particular to the rendition by Osmo Vänskä in the Proms' Sibelius cycle a couple of years ago - holding the final chord a little longer, but not too much. As Jonathan Meades says, good is not always the same as authentic.

For the next piece, Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2, the orchestra was joined by pianist Bezhod Abduraimov. I found it an assured but not arrogant performance. Being a few rows back I decided on this occasion to stand on the left side, which sometimes gives you a better view of the pianists's hands; however it turned out I was in line with a couple of rather tall people and I didn't see that much detail. Søndergård gave the work indulgent tempi at a few points; but it is a late Romantic work and to be honest, I think Stephen Hough just took the piece far too fast all those years ago. On this accasion I found there was a positive chemistry between soloist and conductor, right through to the final bars. Remarkably there was no applause between movements, and Abduraimov indulged us further with a Tchaikovsky Nocturne as an encore.

After the interval, another orchestral workhorse: Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10. I remember reading once that Shostakovich paces the final movement of this work just right - that there's a long, but not too long, introduction. In fact I think this sentiment applies across the work; the themes shuffle around in the long first movement at just the right pace. In fact I found myself starting to fade during this long concert, but made it through to the end unscathed.

It was a late finish, and I finally arrived home at about ten to midnight. As I entered the estate, there were two Southern Electric vans parked ominously under an arc-light; even worse, two more, with a digger and a pneumatic drill closer to the house. There were no power problems in my home, but the other side of the street seemed to be off, including street lights. Although the work seemed to be going on for some time, I found my earplugs were fortunately tuned to block out the industrial noise.

Having understood the changes to the system, I planned for the following day more carefully, and this resulted in a place in the second row. The same orchestra and conductor, but a less familiar programme. In fact, I didn't know either piece in the first half - Shostakovich's symphonic poem October (a Proms first performance) and then his Violin Concerto No. 1, with Nicola Benedetti as soloist. This, of course, made it a popular concert; the work is certainly virtuosic and she played it strenuously. I recognised fragments; Shostakovich frequently quoted or reused material, and there were certainly themes and passages that feature in other works such as the Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and strings. Benedetti gave us an encore of a version of Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns, arranged by Petr Limonov. In the second half, we had Sibelius' Symphony No. 2, a more familiar and favourite work. The orchestra seemed to me to be a little patchy; in particular there was one chord from the brass in the scherzo that just seemed like noise. But, by the end, Søndergård had everything under control and the final "big tune" was a great success.

After an earlier finish, I was lucky with connections and made it back to Reading by about 22:20. As I walked from the station to the car park, I was rather surprised to discover the IDR had been submerged under the bridge by the station, with one or two cars helplessly marooned in the water. Clearly there had been a downpour at some point in the evening. The car park I was in was unaffected, but the road by Burghfield Bridge was awash (shallowly) from one side to the other. I'm looking forward to less eventful journeys home for the rest of the season.
qatsi: (bach)
Book Review: The Noise of Time, by Julian Barnes
I picked this up straight away when I saw it in a recent work book sale, as I knew it was on my to-read list. The book takes three episodes in Shostakovich's life, probing the inner turmoil and unanswerable questions that must have been forming in his mind. The first episode is probably the most well known: following Stalin's critical review in Pravda, Muddle instead of Music, of Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, the composer fears that he is about to be deported to Siberia; to spare his wife and child disturbance in the middle of the night, he takes to staying on the landing by the lifts in his apartment block, reflecting on his life up to this point. Spoilers )

I haven't read any Julian Barnes before, so I can't comment on whether it is similar to his other works. While I don't think it's necessary, some prior knowledge of Shostakovich certainly helps. This is quite a short and easy (but not comfortable) read, but nonetheless profound.
qatsi: (proms)
The 2017 season of the BBC Proms has been announced. There's a pattern here, in which I initially think there's not all that much of interest, and then I find I have a long stream of browser tabs open.

So here are some highlights for me:


It's noticeable that quite a few of these are repeats for me; I regard that as an indication that the repertoire isn't as broad as I'd like more than that I am just set in my ways.

And here are some others that are worth pointing out, though probably not my cup of tea, or just for snippets to catch on the radio or iPlayer: probably giving Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique a miss again, due to its proximity to other concerts, and the dreaded words "BBC co-commission"; also by Berlioz, The Damnation of Faust; Monteverdi's Vespers; Handel's Israel in Egypt; showtune time - two performances of Oklahoma!; Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Simon Rattle; Bach's St John Passion; Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito; Proms in Hull, Southwark Cathedral, Peckham Car Park, and Wilton's Music Hall; and Stravinsky's take on the Song of the Volga Boatmen.

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