There is no grand theme to this year’s Proms, no special marking of a composer’s birth or death. Thank heavens for thatby Martin Kettle / May 25, 2010 / Leave a comment
The Royal Albert Hall: where better for Mahler’s eighth?
Look for a unifying theme in the 2010 BBC Proms season, which starts in July, and you will struggle to find one. Some concertgoers see this as a sign it may have lost its way since Roger Wright took over as director from Nick Kenyon. I disagree.
Naturally, the season has some unifying elements. Yet they do not dominate as they have in the past. Wright has doffed his cap to the Schumann and, more perfunctorily, the Chopin bicentenaries. Paul Lewis will play the Beethoven piano concertos at various points in the season—though Beethoven’s own piano version of the violin concerto is not included, surely a missed opportunity. And that’s about it as far as themes go.
To some, this makes the 89 concerts that make up the 2010 Proms a bit aimless. My view is that it is all to the good. If the absence of themes means the overthrow of the tyranny of anniversaries, then bring it on. Many concert planners fall back on notable dates to give an appearance of cohesion to their work. But the gains are often elusive, especially over a long season like the Proms, which runs every night for nearly two months.
If a concert planner wants to highlight a composer or an anniversary, then intensiveness is the answer. Take a cue from the BBC, with its “total immersion” concert weekends devoted to living composers, most recently Wolfgang Rihm and Hans Werner Henze. (Wright is also controller of BBC Radio 3.) Or follow the example of Daniel Barenboim, who played the Beethoven concertos over back-to-back evenings at the Southbank Centre in January. The Capuçon brothers did much the same with their Wigmore Hall Brahms series a few weeks later.
The great thing about Barenboim’s hugely admired Beethoven sonata series in London in 2008 was that he gave the 32 sonatas if not on consecutive evenings then within a concentrated period. That way, the whole became more than the sum of the individual performances. That was not true, whatever the rewards of the individual concerts, of the Takács Quartet’s cycle of Beethoven quartets in the current Southbank season, which started back in November and only finished in May.
This is also my one serious reservation about Wright’s approach this year at the Proms. I would certainly try to buy tickets to Lewis’s Beethoven cycle,…