Prom 71: Boston Symphony Joy

Birthday Prom

For all the soapbox prounouncements I’ve made about the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms (Prom 72, this evening, live from the Royal Albert Hall at www.bbc.co.uk/radio3 or on tv and proper radio), any Proms fan will concur that the “proper” last night – the one which bears some resemblance to what goes on for the rest of the season – is in fact the penultimate night.

This year’s penultimate Proms gig was given by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of James Levine who not only seemed to bear a striking similarity to yesteryear photographs of Henry Wood himself, but also maintained an energetic committment to his conducting presumably feeling sufficiently reassured that he did have a comfy conductors stool to fall back on at any time during the performance should he feel the need.

The Three “Illusions” by Elliot Carter failed to strike any chord. Moments of interesting textures were eclipsed by the ocasional strange moment where it felt as though the band were finding it difficult to play as one.

All of this pailed into insignificance when the audience settled themselves into the “meat” of the evening – Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. It was this work – originally commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1943 which delivered some lush textures, tight rythmic playing and moments of genuine and intended musical comedy.

The band succeeded in keeping up momentum during the second half too during a stunning performance of Brahms’ Symphony No.1, prompting a lengthy applause and numerous returns to the platform by the conductor. Hands were raw by the end of the evening not least because of the two encores delivered to the appreciative audience.

But the real joy for me was something intensely personal and to find out about that, you’ll need to read the next posting.

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