BBC Proms Diary 2018: Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem from the World Orchestra for Peace

It’s not that I wish I hadn’t pushed back on the festival, nor that I wrote the angry words blog post (and then sent a link to the Festival’s director).

I just wish I didn’t need to.

Calling it out isn’t a pleasing thing. It’s not an ego-boost. I worry people might think it is.

I don’t regret doing so either. Someone needs to. 

I’d just like to be taken seriously on my own merits as an advocate, not be judged on whether or not I can persuade someone else to commission me to write something for their platform. What a ridiculous and pointless dance that is. 

I don’t say these things for pity. I write them because this is meant to be a diary and it wouldn’t be a diary if I wasn’t honest. And being honest does, more often than not, mean revealing some uncomfortable truths about myself. I’m OK with that. At the very simplest level it goes some way to show how much this genre means to me and others like me. 

Listening to the Proms on catch-up (currently running at 24 hours after the event) makes for a more private affair. I’ve been looking forward to hearing Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem all day. “I want to write for half an hour,” I announced to the OH earlier on this evening, “Is that OK?” “Fine,” he replied.

I came to Sinfonia da Requiem in a slightly disjointed way. I read about it first in Humphrey Carpenter’s biography. I remember marvelling at the way Britten’s mis-directed composition (it was commissioned by the Japanese government in 1940 to mark the 2600th anniversary of the founding of the Japanese Empire) ended up antagonising the Japanese government at the time. I liked Britten for that achievement.

I must have listened to the work once or twice since 1997 (when I bought the book). But I remember distinctly listening to it in its entirety on a long walk along the coastline from Port Issac to Polzeath in 2014 – a mammoth walk because a member of the family had commented on me being overweight. So, I started on Prom 8 from 2013. I’d climbed the first hill out of Port Isaac just as the first climax kicked in. I remember feeling determined. Defiant. Fuck them.

I ended up walking for nearly three hours during which I’d ended up listening to three separate Prom concerts. I ended up in Polzeath and whilst I waited for a bus to take me back to Port Isaac, I watched then PM David Cameron hand his son a ice-cream on the beach. 

Britten always reminds me of home. His musical language paints the world in colours I recognise as real.

The early stuff of his is fascinating. It’s as though he’s writing in the style that everyone expects him to because that’s what’s everyone else is writing. I hear Sinfonia da Requiem as strangely lavish in its scoring – rich and romantic-sounding.

Sometimes I can listen to this and Grimes and ponder what he might have been had he continued writing primarily for symphonic forces instead of the chamber forces that makes his writing sparkle. I like the Requiem’s uncompromising brutality. It forces you to listen. It forces you to reflect on your own reaction to it.  

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