vendredi 16 juillet 2010

I did not come to praise the Proms ...

It was my intention to watch the opening night of the Proms, Mahler 8 but the cable of my TV may have been (yet again) eaten by my children rabbits. My loss is the blog gain. (More on the Proms here).

The Proms is an initiative for which I am at best ambivalent. It offers at an attractive price a wide range of music. Programs are genuinely varied. If the end of the season brings visiting orchestras which can be often playing works on the safe side, adventurous programs are plentiful.

I first went there in 1978 for a Brendel - Abbado LSO program (Webern op 1, Beethoven 3rd Piano Concerto and Tchaik 5th) and mostly remember the thrill of seeing these artists.

I returned in 1980 for the first BBC SO concert after the musician strike with a program led by Sir John Pritchard with Jessye Norman as soloist. I have few remaining impressions of the performance of Mahler 4, which may have been a one-off case for Jessye Norman but have found memories of Messian's glorious Poème pour Mi. I was not aware of it at the time but this was my best Proms moment.

In 1985, I was studying at Imperial College and the LSO under Colin Davis (not yet Sir Colin) played the same Mahler 8 with Bernum-like huge chorus forces outnumbering the audience. I was then back at the Proms in 1999 for a disappointing Ravel Beethoven Program with an unusual loud VPO under Sir Simon Rattle (I was in the chorus seats and felt that the balances and dynamics were so Un-Viennese). Earlier in the season, I had left the hall during Rameau's les Boréades with the same conductor because I just could not hear the instruments.

My last Proms was a very weak concert with Dudamel and his Gothenburg Orchestra which led me to ask in concertonet if the Albert Hall was not simply the worst of all possible concert halls and if one should not simply move the Proms elsewhere or close them ?

Looking back, I am afraid that I cannot think of one good evening. The stadium-size of the Hall makes music listening a very random event. Can the musicians really hear when they play ? Again, the VPO did not sounded like themselves. Dudamel led a technically poor Symphonie Fantastique but he did a more competent one (if not very Fantastique ...) in the Salle Pleyel with a combination of the French Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique and his Simon Bolivar forces. 

There is a genuine festive atmosphere and it is a democratic place but quality is just impossible to achieve in such a gigantic venue.

BBC engineers do a good job of capturing a lot of music and produce a good sound but how much is their work and nothing else ? Maybe, I came to praise them, maybe the Proms is a radio - now TV - event and not a musical one ?

(enclosed here a picture of Julius Ceasar staged by Peter Stein at Salzburg's magical Felsenreitschule where every word, every whisper was audible.)

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