Prom 13. Messiaen: Des canyons aux étoiles

Olivier Messiaen: Des canyons aux étoiles
BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo
Nicolas Hodges, Martin Owen, David Hockings, Alex Neal
Royal Albert Hall, 28 July 2019

Olivier Messiaen wrote Des canyons aux étoiles (From the Canyons to the Stars) between 1971/4 as a commission celebrating the bicentenary of the US Declaration of Independence. He was strongly influenced by a visit to Utah, finding inspiration in the birds and the extraordinary landscapes. Each of the three parts of the 12-movement work concludes with a powerful movement dedicated to the dramatic geological sites of Utah, Bryce Canyon and the nearby Cedar Breaks and Zion Park. Messiaen had sound-colour synaesthesia and the “red, orange, violet” of the sandstone hoodoos of Bryce Canyon led to his focussing the extended 7th movement Bryce Canyon et les rochers rouge-orange” (Bryce Canyon and the red-orange rocks) in his own key of third-mode E major, a mode that he saw as a bright red-orange colour. He contrasts this image with the blue of the Steller’s Jay, one of many birds that feature throughout the piece from places as far afield as Australia, Hawaii. and the Sahara. The monumental final few bars of this movement are the aural climax of the entire piece.

Brice CanyonBryce Canyon © ABW Continue reading

BBC Proms: Janáček – Glagolitic Mass

Prom 1. Janáček: Glagolitic Mass
BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, BBC Singers
Karina Canellakis
Royal Albert Hall, 19 July 2019

The 125th season of the BBC Proms celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of their founder-conductor, Sir Henry Wood, whose bust looks down on the orchestras and Prommers throughout the season. One of the threads through the Proms are the ‘Novelties’, Wood’s own description of various UK and world premieres that he conducted. Another theme is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. This opening concert (from the BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus and the BBC Singers, directed by Karina Canellakis) acknowledged both with a world premiere and one of Wood’s novelties together with a focus on Czech composers. As well as featuring a female composer, this was also the first time that a female conductor had opened the Proms, one of the seven women conductors this season. It was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, and on BBC2 and BBC4, and is available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards. Continue reading

BBC Prom 33: Thea Musgrave & Brahms

Thea Musgrave: Phoenix Rising
Brahms: A German Requiem
BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Richard Farnes
Royal Albert Hall, 7 August 2018

I was surprised to find that, despite being composed 21 years ago, this was the first time that Thea Musgrave’s Phoenix Rising (a BBC commission) had been performed at the Proms. It made for a fascinating pairing with Brahm’s German Requiem in this performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus conducted by Richard Farnes, making his Proms debut. Phoenix Rising represents the conflict between the forces of evil and good, darkness and light. The title came during composition and is taken from a sign outside a coffee shop in Virginia. At its core, it is a double concerto for horn and timpani, set within a dramatic kaleidoscope of symphonic colour and texture. The horn player, Martin Owen, is supposed to be offstage, but at the Royal Albert Hall there is always the risk that he would never be seen again, and was therefore positioned high up on the far left of the stage, behind timpanist Antoine Bedewi, and in front of one of the four percussionists spread out across the rear stage.

Thea Musgrave.jpgThea Musgrave. © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
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Bantock: Omar Khayyám

Granville Bantock: Omar Khayyám
BBC Symphony Orchestra & BBC Singers, Norman Del Mar (1979)
Lyrita:
Itter Broadcast Collection REAM2128. 4 CDs: 73’06, 61’41, 68’05, 54’25.

Bantock: Omar Khayyám (172’ 33),
Fifine at the Fair (30’15),
Sappho (42’58),
The Pierrot of the Minute (11’27)

Disc 1: Part One – Quatrains 1-47
Disc 2: Part One – Quatrains 48-54, Part Two – Quatrains 55-81
Disc 3: Part Three – Quatrains 82-101; Fifine at the Fair
Disc 4: Sappho; The Pierrot of the Minute – Johanna Peters/BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Sir Granville Bantock is a curious figure in English musical history. Born in 1868 to wealthy but non-artistic parents, his career was directed towards the Indian Civil Service until ill-health forced a brief diversion into chemical engineering before starting full time music study aged about 20. He toured several of his light musicals, and had a brief attempt at journalism. His subsequent musical career was similar to so many musicians who fail to make the big time, achieving a degree of fame in provincial settings, but rarely breaking into the internationally important London scene. After a spell as conductor in Wallasey and Liverpool he settled in Birmingham, eventually becoming Professor of Music the University, for which he was knighted aged 61. He was a champion of many composers, including Sibelius, Prokofiev, and Delius, and also admired the music of R. Strauss and Wagner.

Despite his musical influences, his 800+ works seem to have carefully avoided the more adventurous musical paths of his contemporaries and heroes, Continue reading