The 2012 season of the BBC Proms ended with a flourish on Saturday night with the annual extravaganza of The Last Night of the Proms. Featuring a programme of music that touched upon the themes of the summer – the Olympic games via John Williams‘ Olympic Theme and Fanfare – and this year’s anniversary composers, the Royal Albert Hall was filled with beautiful sounds and flag waving glee.
With this year’s season now finished. The Musicroom blog looks back at the highlights of the past two and a half months.
Kaija Saariaho – Prom 5: Strauss, Saariaho & Sibelius – Tuesday July 17
Prom 5 saw the UK premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s new work Laterna magica, inspired by the autobiography of Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman. One of the key elements of the piece were the text extracts whispered by players over an instrumental murmur – a feature that only added to its atmospheric qualities within the Royal Albert Hall.
The Aurora Orchestra returned to the BBC Proms for another fun, family orientated outing, this time with the help of the dynamic duo, Wallace and Gromit. With music by John Adams, Debussy, Shostakovich, and Wallace’s very own Proms commission, My Concerto in Ee, Lad, the Prom was a riotous success. Alongside all new specially filmed animations, A Matter of Loaf and Death was also screened for the time with a live orchestral soundtrack.
Nico Muhly – Prom 29: National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain – Saturday August 4
Beginning with Varèse’s witty musical parody Tuning Up the NYO’s prom 29 featured the London premiere of Nico Muhly’s BBC commission, Gait alongside performances of Messiaen’s dramatic Turangalîla Symphony and Anna Meredith’s theatrical full-body composition HandsFree, commissioned for the summer’s Cultural Olympiad by the PRS for Music Foundation’s New Music 20×12 initiative.
Thea Musgrave – Prom 31: National Youth Orchestra of Scotland & BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra – Sunday August 5
The world premiere of Loch Ness – A Postcard from Scotland, a BBC commission from Scottish-American composer Thea Musgrave, was one of the highlights of Prom 31. In a programme that climaxed with Respighi’s Pines of Rome, the RAH was treated to the London premiere of a new Olympic Fanfare by James McMillan and an appearance by Nicola Benedetti for Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy.
Brian Elias – Proms Saturday Matinee 3: Britten Sinfonia – Saturday August 11
Over at Cadogan Hall, Brian Elias’ intricate and ancient Greece themed Sophoclean scena received its world premiere alongside the first UK performance of Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s Gigue Machine. Michael Finnissy’s Piano Concerto No. 2 opened proceedings with its demanding and intense piano music.
Simon Bainbridge – Proms Saturday Matinee 4: Birmingham Contemporary Music Group – Saturday August 18
Inspired by Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych, Simon Bainbridge’s labyrinthine new work, featuring mezzo-soprano and counter-tenor, was another season highlight taking place away from the RAH at Cadogan Hall. Bainbridge’s The Garden of Earthly Delights was preceded on the night by linked Ophelia pieces by Oliver Knussen, who celebrates his 60th birthday this year, and Alexander Goehr.
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies – Prom 54: Davies, Delius & Shostakovich – Thursday August 23
In a celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the Master of The Queen’s Music presented the London premiere of his Symphony No. 9 – a one-movement orchestral work that also featured an extended brass sextet. The evening also featured Tasmin Little taking the lead on Delius’ Violin Concerto and a performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 in E Minor, often argued as his finest work
Helen Grime – Prom 56: Goehr, Knussen, Grime & Debussy – Saturday August 25
In what was something of a birthday prom, Helen Grime played tribute to Oliver Knussen at 60 with the world premiere of her BBC Commission Night Songs following an 80th-birthday performance of Alexander Goehr’s Metamorphosis/Dance and Knussen’s Symphony No. 3. Debussy’s incidental music for a mystery play, The Martyrdom of St Sebastian, also made its first appearance at the Proms in its complete form.
Eric Whitacre – Prom 62: Eric Whitacre – Wednesday August 29
Taking to the stage of the RAH to the screams of his adoring fans, Eric Whitacre made his BBC Proms debut. The acclaimed and highly popular choral composer brought together the talents of the Whitacre Singers, the BBC singers, soprano Hila Plitmann and Imogen Heap for a programme of his own works, traditional spirituals and the world premier of his BBC Olympic Comission, Faster, Higher, Stronger.
Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker took to the stage for the first of two consecutive nights at the Royal Albert Hall for an intriguing programme that featured a clever blending of Ligeti’s Atmosphèresi into Wagner’s Lohengrin – Prelude (Act I) followed by Sibelius’ formidable Symphony No. 4 in A minor. After the interval, the proms audience were treated to two exhilarating performances of Debussy’s Jeux and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe – Suite No. 2.
The Berliner Philharmoniker’s second prom offered audiences an evening of technical excellence on a grand scale. Pianist Yefim Bronfman joined Sir Simon Rattle and the orchestra on stage for Brahm’s impressively challenging Second Piano Concerto while the performance of Lutosławski’s Third Symphony after the interval was an outstanding display of skill, emotion and experimental courage.
John Adams – Prom 72: Nixon in China – Wednesday September 5
With its references to Broadway, rock, Minimalism, political satire and Igor Stravinsky, along with Alice Goodeman’s exceptional libretto, John Adam’s Nixon in China is one of the stand-out pieces of the 20th century. Its appearance at the BBC Proms 2012, by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, was a triumph that gave this iconic work the spectacle it deserved at the Royal Albert Hall.
What were your highlights of the BBC Proms 2012?