BBC Proms 2016 / 11: Walküre and Tippett’s Child of our Time

Writing about Wagner or choral works are a bit of a nightmare.
You need to know the works inside out so you can reference the various signposts in what you’re writing about. If there aren’t any signposts then everything just presents itself as a bit of an amorphous blob.

Fortunately, there is another way to talk about tonight’s Prom: by using the emotions the music triggered in me. And at various those emotions were unexpected, sometimes indescribable, but all of them exquisite. 

The final scene of Die Walküre, the first half of tonight’s Prom felt familiar, reassuring and still gratifyingly rich. A lot of that is down to the tremendous introduction I had to the work in Budapest earlier this year. A special time.

Tonight’s performance of the last scene of Die Walküre by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Mark Wigglesworth gave me the chance not only to revisit happy memories but also to go deeper with the music. 

And as I did so, I overlooked the promised conclusion implicit in Wagner’s writing: that much-needed nearly understated climax that creeps up on you unexpected and gives you the release you hadn’t realised I needed. 

Wagner’s music is now fast becoming a drug. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it.

Tippett’s The Child of Our Time was a moving experience. There was a bleakness to his writing – a surprising lushness to his scoring too. I expected him to be more like Britten. Now I’ve had an introduction to Tippett’s seminal work, I’m now wishing Britten had had the balls to be more daring in his writing. My childhood hero now seems a little tame in comparison. 

My overwhelming impression of the work is how unexpectedly timely it felt. There is a realism to it which is neither over-indulgent nor superficial. 

Its origins – inspired by a pre-WW2 shooting of a Naxi diplomat by a Jew – might at first seem dated. But the universal messages – a grim struggle between the horrors of reality and a vague sense of hope – still resonate today. It’s music which doesn’t have the answers, but explains reality in such a way you can reconcile yourself with it. At least that’s how I heard. And I was grateful for it too.

That experience of hearing it for the first time makes Child of Our Time an incredibly important composition for me as a listener. And judging by the warm prolonged applause in the hall tonight, a lot of that was down to the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales.

Sunflowers, toms and rocket

A few months effort

Please forgive the pun, but there is nothing more satisfying than seeing the fruits of ones labours sprout (above) from a seemingly insecure little branch on a tomato plant.

I’m still not entirely convinced how it is that a yellow flower can in the space of only a few days result in a green ball. Despite paying close attention to the plants over the past few days and seen the first tomatoes emerge, I’m still confused about how it actually occurs. Very odd, but pleasing nonetheless.

The thing I thought was a courgette plant has – inexplicably – blossomed into a sunflower (below). I know for a fact I didn’t purchase sunflower seeds (I kept hold of all the empty packets and the courgette seeds are the only things which haven’t grown into anything). Still, its a rather perky thing to see outside the backdoor and there are three others on their way.

Sunny disposition

Seeing the small collection of carrots now clearly read for harvest (see the picture below) reminds me how conditioned we all are by our local supermarket. There was a time – maybe one hundred years ago or so – when what was served from the table was sourced from the garden. That must surely have driven what was eaten. The provider wasn’t scanning recipe books thinking “what shall we eat tonight?” more “what do we need to eat tonight because it’s ready?” So it is with the baby carrots which look delightful. I’ve removed one from the pot but hope the one I’ve pulled will wait until tomorrow night.

Tonight is – quite necessarily – a salad evening on account of the massive growbag full of rocket and mixed salad leaves which need harvesting. Yes, I’m pleased. But my God, I think I’ll sow less next time.

Rocket in need of harvesting

Radio: Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.2 Symphony No. 5 BBC NOW John Lill

This post seems as good a point in time as any to let you in on a little secret.

Actually. There are a handful of secrets to let you in on. Naturally it depends on whether you know this already as to whether or not the following facts qualify as secrets. Here’s hoping. They strike me as secrets. I can’t imagine anyone else has considered the following important enough to blog about.

Listed in no particular order …

Secret Number One: Friday night on BBC Radio 3 is something to mark off in your diary. If you can’t listen to the network from 7pm as live (I couldn’t – I was round at a friends house devouring a tasty turkey goulash and watching the adorable Disney animation miracle that is ‘Up‘), be sure to make a point of listening again via BBC iPlayer.

Why? Because Friday night appears to be now given over to live performances. Some time ago – around about the time everyone’s favourite Radio Uncle Brian Kay and his Light Programme got ditched from the schedules – there was a bit of a rumpus about how the daily evening concert was being chopped and changed around, replaced with pre-recorded concerts from up and down the concert. If I recall correctly, a considerable number of live broadcasts were sacrificed as a result. Lots of people got hot under the collar. The fact I can’t actually remember the necessary details to back up this part of the blog post indicates that perhaps there was quite a lot of hot air around a subject, which hasn’t stood the test of time.

Nevertheless, what I’ve noticed since the beginning of this year is how a regular slot (Friday nights) appears to have been given over to a live broadcast from somewhere or other in the country. I like that. It’s like the Proms only once a week and all year around. Not only that, it’s like the Proms only better because each live relay comes from a venue with more than half decent acoustics.

I’m a picky listener. Get used to it.

Secret Number Two: The BBC National Orchestra of Wales have grabbed the ‘The Best Live Performance Given by a BBC Orchestra 2010” and – if they’ve got any sense – they won’t let go of it either. Friday night’s concert was a bit of a cracker, you see.

Secret Number Three: Their Friday night gig last week was something you really ought to listen to, if you haven’t already. Quite apart from the concert featuring a breathtaking performance of Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony in the second half, the performance of the Russian composer’s second piano concerto in the first half left the audience in both St David’s Hall in Cardiff and at least one kitchen in South East London eager to clap their hands together until they were red raw. Even if you know nothing about classical music, pay attention to the audience reaction at the end. They obviously recognised a performance worthy of raucous applause. (Nothing gets past me.)

Secret Number Four: The entire broadcast of Friday night’s Performance on 3 is long enough to prepare the following homemade Saturday night feast: spicy lamb koftas accompanied by an aubergine-yoghurty-thing, tomato salsa, chicken in lime mayonnaise, guacamole and crispy tortillas. There was even time to guzzle a couple of glasses of cheap merlot and wipe down all surfaces too. Nice.

Secret Number Five: You don’t need to rely on Rachel Allen‘s recipe books to complete a passable Saturday night feast. Nor do you need to resort to trawling the BBC’s Food database to find the text version of the recipes either. I did, failed and later resorted to watching it again on iPlayer. All Ms Allan seemed prepared to offer was an account of how to make the chicken thing. And really and truly. If after having watched it you don’t know how to make that without resorting to a recipe then you’ve no hope in the kitchen, in my humble opinion.

:: Listen to the BBC National Orchestra of Wales with soloist John Lill play Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto followed by a Twenty Minute Interval Feature thing about books by someone quite earnest, after which you can hear a cracking performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.5.