Friday, 31 July 2015

Prom 17 Uncomfortable Englishmen RVW Elgar Elder

Prom 17 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, Sir Mark Elder conducting Vaughan Williams and Elgar, with the Hallé, an orchestra with a golden Elgar pedigree.  No safe complacency in this programme though, because the two main pieces confront an uncompromising aspect of the English psyche.

Starting the Prom with Debussy Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune was a clue. Debussy, even before Schoenberg, was experimenting with tonality  and duality, breaking down the barriers of convention. The flute represents Pan,  and his disciple the faun. The flute solo was wonderful, but much of the beauty of the piece lies in its mysterious ambiguity and the multi-level interaction between the flutes and lower-voiced winds, strings and harps. The undergrowth in the forest sings, too, so to speak.

A good prelude to Ralph Vaughan Williams' Sancta Civitas (The Holy City). RVW called it an oratorio, but it harks back to the doughty non-conformism of William Blake and John Bunyan  and the militant idealism of the early Victorian age. In spirit it's akin to The Pilgrim's Progress ,which occupied RVW's mind most of his adult life. (Read more about that HERE.) The texts are drawn from the Book of Revelation, not from the Gospels, and it taps into millenialist Low Church concepts quite alien to Establishment Anglicanism. Outsider theology, which Vaughan Williams recognized, with his knowledge of High Church values and hymnal.  Down Ampney is very far away.

 From mysterious low rumblings in the orchestra, the baritone, Iain Paterson called out forcefully,  "I was in the Spirit and I heard the great voice of the people praising God and singing Alleluia". The voices of four choirs rang out, the Hallé Choir, the London Philharmonic Choir, the Trinity Boys Choir and the Hallé Youth Choir, in glorious tumult.  Note the word "spirit" for in Revelation, there are seven Spirits of God.  Yet man is mortal - what gives? The mood is apocalyptic. Heralded by trumpets the massed voices sang "King of Kings, Lord of Lords".  Heavens open, and an Angel appears. The swaying cross-harmonies in the voices, and the back and forth antiphonal exchange, emphasized chaos and disruption.  The kings of the earth are displaced and evn th great city of Babylon is no more.

The middle section, the Allegro Moderato, is defined by a solo violin, whose lines soar up the register, heavenwards, a clear reference to A Lark Ascending.   Here the violin serves an extra purpose, uniting the faithful on earth (the darkly undulating choirs) with Heaven. The choirs sang "Glo-o-ory", the legato swerving with  carefully judged  waywardness. The textures are dense, but Elder and the choirmasters ensured that the intricate cross-patterns were kept distinct,  Spatial textures were well executed, too. The Distant Choir of young voices floated across the vast distances of the Royal Albert Hall. The violin leads, like an angel, towards a grand climax, a blaze of trumpets and the booming of the organ led to temporary.detumescence. From near silence, the voice of the tenor, Robin Tritschler rose, from the balcony far above the huge auditorium. "Fear not" he sang. He's an angel, reassuring the faithful that they're at one with God. But listen to that ending, where a simple, tentative line  recurs and recedes,, suggesting that, for Vaughan Williams, the agnostic, there would be no easy resolution.

More Spirits followed in Elgar's Symphony no 2 in E flat major. The composer quoted Shelley "Rarely. rarely comest Thou, O Spirit of Delight" which might sound optimistic, but the poem continues with self-doubt. "Wherefore hast thou left me now/ Many a day and night? "Was Elgar intuiting the loss of creative powers, or expressing the anxieties  that may have been part of his outwardly peaceful life? He called this symphony "the passionate pilgrimage of a soul".  Elder defined the big opening outburst with assurance, the "spirit of delight" motif descending elegantly, leading  into confident expanses of sound, suggesting open horizons and open vistas. But the brass flared up, creating a jagged air of alarm,  Trying to explain, Elgar wrote that it was "a sort of malign influence wandering through a summer night in a garden."   Perceptively, Elder conducted the ending of the first movement so it bristled, the line ripping along with haunting, almost jazz liike tension.

The Larghetto began with the expansiveness with which Elgar's music is so often associated, but the emotional temperature dropped as the tempo slowed.  Elder shaped the measured pace of the recurrent waves of sound, building up to  a crescendo which, to me, felt like a last, fond looking back on the past. The colours darkened, as if night were falling . The  Rondo has connotations of Venice,  Elgar having written, enigmatically, "Venice and Tintagel" . Elder and the Hallé created the deceptively bright spirit: one could imagine a busy city with tourists on holiday. Elgar wasn't aware of Thomas Mann when the symphony was being written, but we, inescapably, cannot miss the imagery.  The bustle and wild, whipping lines with which the movement ends certainly suggest hurried departure, which may well fit in with the idea of the death of the King to whom the piece was dedicated, and to the idea of the creative despondency Elgar was to encounter.  Moderato e Maestoso, the final movement,  was played with beautiful richness, so when its dying embers faded, the sense of loss was profound.

Elgar told the orchestra who played at the premiere: "Some of you will know that dreadful beating that goes on in the brain which seems to drive out every coherent thought.....Percussion, you must give me all you are worth!" Certainly Mark Elder and the Hallé gave all they were worth, which was a lot. The percussion didn't need to crudely drown out the orchestra, but the sense of tension and foreboding Elgar wanted was most certainly part of this superb performance. Seriously idiomatic Elgar from Elder, one of the great Elgarians of our time, and from the Hallé who've been doing Elgar since he was "new music".

Listen to this Prom again HERE

The Elgar Symphony will be broadcast on BBC TV 4 on 2nd August.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Prom 15 Transformations Xian Zhang Prokofiev, Qigang Chen, Rachmaninoiv

At BBC Prom 15, Xian Zhang did wonders with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales . Tonight, they seemed transformed, totally energized. electrified with dynamic purpose. They haven't sounded this inspired in recent years. Something good is happening in Cardiff.

Prokofiev's Symphony no 1 in D major burst into vivacious life. The capricious high jinks in the music were expressed with athletic verve, the orchestra so together that they sounded like a single organism.  Zhang is unassuming and down to earth, totally focused on music, rather than on  persona. When the media made a big fuss about the first female conductor to lead the Last Night of the Proms, Zhang quietly said that real equality would be reached when gender isn't a novelty. In any case, we must not forget that millions of women around the world suffer far worse problems than being on a podium. Zhang clearly loves making music. and has the personality and technique to do what she does extremely well.

More transformation came in Qigang Chen's Iris dévoilée (2001), the composer's best-known work, receiving its much belated UK premiere.  Chen's Joie Eternelle, a trumpet concerto commissioned by the BBC for Alison Balcom featured at last year's Proms (read more here).  Iris dévoilée is a far more substantial piece and deserves its reputation as Chen's masterpiece. Unlike so much music written to bridge Chinese and Western music, Iris dévoilée fully integrates the diverse aesthetics so they work together  especially for audiences familiar with Chinese music other than pastiche. Iris dévoilée is real music that stands on its own terms. The 45-minute work evolves over nine sections, each of which describes an aspect of feminity. It's Frauenliebe und -Leben for much grander forces, though Chen is able to recognize that he's a man, observing from the outside. 

The first movement, "Ingenue", describes a very young woman. The pipa, guzheng and erhu predominate, creating a sound world that suggests the purity and intimacy of  Chinese chamber music, traditionally played in private scholarly circles. This young girl is sheltered,  nurtured in purity. "Chaste" describes a slightly older woman, probably married, but still following the virtues of her class and status. Meng Meng sings a manifestation of the Jing role type in kunqu opera, the most refined and ancient of Chinese opera genres (which are all quite distinct).  Hence the elaborate makeup and costume. Chen, however, doesn't write Meng's music in true kunqu style.  Her lines  float and stretch freely, without the underpinning of percussion that gives Chinese opera its characteristic grounding. Instead we hear harps and western strings. Perhaps the "chaste" woman, here, living the life society expects of her, is inwardly trying to fly beyond ?  

 Meng's lines jump away from traditional form. She's still singing in Putonghau while the other two sopranos sang abstract vocalize, which might sound Chinese to westerners but sounds western to Chinese ears. Piia and Anu Komsi (Mrs Sakari Oramo) are highly sought after because they can both reach surreally high tessitura, and sustain lines almost beyond human endurance. Their presence in this performance is luxury casting, for few ordinary singers can do the vocal gymnastics they are capable of.  Meng, good as she is, is outclassed, but that perhaps is the inner meaning of this piece: the transformation of a virtuous  Chinese girl into a diva who transcends cultural boundaries. The Komsi twins make "Libertine" sound positively joyful.

The three inner movements , "Sensitive", "Tender" and " Jealous" are more serene, allowing Chen to write rather beautiful music, in a style that shows his total integration in French style, which has long embraced orientalisme. Chen was Messiaen's last pupil, and the influence shows. Long strident sounds introduce a complete change. A violin plays maddeningly high lines, matched by the Komsis' gravity-defying tessitura. Meng sang again, in a quite un-Chinese wail, while the plaintive sounds of erhu reawaken a sense of melancholy for a lost past. The Erhu is the most "vocal" of Chinese instruments, which when well played sounds like an ethereal singing voice. Here, the soloist, Nan Wang, was very much the fourth voice in the section.  In "Hysterical" , Meng's part becomes an aural tantrum, a manic parody of Chinese opera, 

The final movement , "Voluptuous", enters with high, sensuous violin, the winds and strings creating sensual textures. Meng now sings on her own, in languid, measured vocalise. It's exotic and deliciously alien.She's become one with the Komsis, and it suits her well. They now sang what might be described as caterwauling  fake Chinese. Humourous and gaily subversive. The erhu, pipa and guzheng return, blending Chinese and western elements seamlessly together in perfect, magical integration.

Rachmaninov Symphony no 2 in E minor Op 27 followed. Gloriously played, full of colour and incident, executed with remarkable vif by Zhang and BBC NOW. A superb performasnce to which I can't do justice. Anyone can write about Rachmaninov, so I won't. Besides very few can write reasonably well about both Chinese and western music and their differing vocal values. So that's what I've tried to do.  Lots more on Chinese music, Chinese stereotypes, Chinese opera and unusual instruments on my site. Please explore.

Listen online to this Prom HERE 

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Peter Schreier 80th Birthday bargain box set

Today is Peter Schreier's 80th birthday. What an eventful life he's lived. His first professional engagement came at the age of 7 when he sang one of the child spirits in The Magic Flute. He went on to become the star of the Dresdner Kreuzchor at a period when music meant a lot in war-ravaged Dresden. What must it have been like, in those difficult times, and in the early years of the GDR, to listen to the pure, clear voices of this choir ring out, like angels? Read my piece on the Mauseberger Weihnachtszyklus, written for Christmas 1945 HERE

Schreier was the foremost tenor in the GDR in his era, singing almost the entire repertoire for his voice type, from opera, to baroque, to Lieder, to folk song and 20th century composers.  He even sang Benjamin Britten! East Germany was isolated from the commercial pressures in the west, and from the boom industry in recordings that fuelled popular taste, so in many ways, GDR music harked back to earlier traditions. Schreier's singing was, in any case, so pure and ardent that it transcended borders. He worked a lot in the west, often with Fischer-Dieskau and others.  What I love about Schreier's singing is the way he was so ardent: he was so passionate about what he sang. He reached emotional depths which could be unsettling, though his technical control was always refined and elegant. For me, this is the soul of Lieder, and the reason I'm not impressed by voices that are pretty but facile, however fashionable they might be.

To mark Schreier's 80 th birthday, the German website is offering an 8 CD box set with an additional DVD for Euro 29.99  An amazing bargain, even if you've treasured the original Berlin Classics releases from way back when. More details here.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Prom 13 Shotgun marriage? No, Holst the Planets in context

Good old Holst The Planets with Boulez and Luca Francesconi? Superficially, this might seem a shotgun marriage. But Susanna Mälkki  brought out the connections, which run far deeper than the populist media might expect.  It's easy to forget how innovative the piece is, and how edgy it must have seemed at first. Holst knew Schoenberg's Five Orchestral Pieces, which Sir Henry Wood premiered at the 1912 Proms. Echoes of Debussy La Mer surface, significantly, in "Neptune". The Planets was considered "difficult" when new, because it is difficult, but the idea that new music should be rejected on kneejerk principle is relatively recent. 
Mälkki drew from the BBC SO a performance that sounded audaciously fresh and vibrant. Holst  urged Sir Adrian Boult to make "Mars, the Bringer of War"  sound "more unpleasant and more terrifying".  Mälkki led the attack with spirit, the percussion rattling nervously,as if impatient to break out in a fight, as Holst intended.  Hearing the serene "Venus" with this Mars ringing in the memory was unsettling, but purposefully so, Peace can't be taken for granted. "Mercury, the Winged Messenger" shook things up. The first section rushed capriciously,  but the repetitions in the middle suggest turbulence, rushing winds that propel the music forward. The playful "star music" was wittily defined, setting the tone for "Jupiter" with its suggestions of a portly planet trying to dance. Well-defined rhythms, swaying from side to side, accentuated with bells and low brass. The theme would appear in Hubert Parry's Jerusalem, (1916) , the words "green and pleasant land" later taking on connotations which neither Parry nor Holst might have expected. 

Saturn began with well-paced steadiness : the ticking of a clock, the tolling of bells, or the footsteps of someone old and bent.  Mälkki could show how Saturn relates to Venus, the serenity of youth enriched with depth. As the ostinato grew louder, the strings and brasses soared with confidence. This "Uranus" sparkled with manic energy, though the fanfares and powerful climax suggested that magic can be dangerous.  And thus Neptune was liberating, its strange chromatics like a whole new musical language. Holst called this "Neptune the Mystic", signifying the planet's arcane meaning in astrology, while Debussy in La Mer referred to Neptune, the god of the sea. The Elysian Singers  sang wonderfully abstract harmonies,  Oddly enough the cries of the child in the audience added to the surreal effect.  To borrow a phrase, this was like "music from another planet".

Mälkki used to conduct the elite Ensemble Intercontemporain, which Boulez founded. She's one of the most important new music specialists around, and, having worked closely with the composer himself, is an extremely authoritative interpreter. No need for snide remarks about her gender: Mälkki is good because she is good. This performance of the orchestrated Notations I-IV and VII   captured the spirit of free-wheeling inventiveness that transforemd Boulez's original hailku for piano into a lively romp for large orchestra. Deftly conducted.

Boulez's Notations I-IV and VII   are now so familiar  that there was much anticipation for the UK premiere of Luca Francesconi's Duende (the dark notes) commissioned for Leila Josefowicz. It received its premiere at the beginning of 2014, and was planned for last year's Proms, but Josefowicz had her third child.  Francesconi  (b 1956) is a well established and respected composer, best known for his chamber music, which Mälkki and Irvine Arditti, among others, have championed for a long time. Read HERE about Mälkki's views on Francesconi's Quartett, which was unfairly trashed by the London media who seem to pride themselves on being obtuse, since facetiousness is better clickbait than comprehension.  Read my review HERE.  For a good analysis of Duende, read HERE about the Turin performance (in Italian).

Duende does benefit from careful listening. It's almost zen-like in its quiet contemplation. The rustlings with which it starts develop into a  palette of sounds which move elusively, ever changing and morphing into new directions. Josefowicz's brilliance lies in her ability to blend extreme virtuosity with intelligent refinement and emotional depth. As the piece progressed, longer chords stretch, creating magical ellipses, undercut by subtle angular bowing. Midway, tempi increased.. I thought of Xenakis's Pithoprakta, written the year Francesconi was born, though the textures in Duende are much more transparent. This gives way to a darkly mysterious section, written with utmost restraint, where the lines of the violin are surrounded by long chords in the orchestra. It's as if the "waves" in the music were being pulled by mysterious tides. The last six minutes give Josefowicz a great range to explore, over a foundation of two-note repetitions in the orchestrra. Magical -  like aural starlight. Not all so far from the world of The Planets after all.

Monday, 27 July 2015

LISTENING LINK Thielemann's devastating Tristan und Isolde Bayreuth

The 2015 Bayreuth Festival opened Saturday with Tristan und Isolde, devastating well conducted by Christian Thielemann.  It was broadcast live on many European stations, but now can be heard again on repeat HERE.    Orchestrally, it reaches very deep into the inner spirit of the opera. It's as if the ocean is singing along, its tides controlled by malevolent cosmic forces. This connects to the sense of curse that haunts Tristan, doomed before he was even born. Tristan und Isolde isn't about colourful tapestries and fake medievalism. It's not a romance. Tristan and Isolde didn't date. Their passion, triggered by a potion, is so intense that it transcends everything rationl. This is a cosmic drama of the human soul. This is a performance to remember. Absolutely recommended ! Please read my initial review HERE - the more I listen, the more I'm getting from listening.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

NEW Mahler autograph on sale

On sale on eBay, a photo of Gustav Mahler with a chequered history. Read more here.  Is it the photo Arnold Schoenberg treasured so much he kept it by his desk? How did it actually become missing from the Schoenberg archive? Why sell an extremely important document like this on eBay instead of through the specialist auction houses, who need to prove provenance or get sued? Will Paypal dispute resolution cover the buyer if the photo and its ownership aren't quite "as described". Who knows? Anyway, above, what has been described as "authentic Photoshop" created last night by one of my loyal readers. Available for sale,  offers over $100 000.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Bayreuth 2015 Tristan und Isolde Thielemann

The 2015 Bayreuth Festival began today with Wagner  Tristan und Isolde. A devastatingly brilliantt orchestral performance  with Christian Thielemann at the helm, a term I use deliberately because it really felt as though the music was centre stage, expressed by a conductor who really understands what Wagner is about, his darkness and his light.  I think that, on some level, a good Wagner conductor needs dark corners in his soul to really interpret Wagner with depth. That's what made Furtwängler great. Cuddly and cute doesn't necessarily make for good art.  If Thielemann's politics aren't acceptable, it's also not acceptable to destroy a person because you don't like what he thinks. Losing Berlin has probably taught him not to use his position wrongly. Thieilemann seemed to be pouring his heart into this performance. The turmoil in the Third Act, the poisonous seduction in the Shepherd's flute, the anguish that wells up, as if the ocean  was echoing Tristan's deathwish, all slightly demonic, but well within the nature of the opera. Truly cosmic. The extremes of love and death aren't "romantic in the Hollywood sense, however much some audiences might prefer, but part of the fervour of the Romantiker movement.

The livestream is over, but HERE IS A LISTENING LINK on repeat broadcasst

Stephen Gould sang a good Tristan. The edge to his voice added greatly to the characterization of the role. Tristan is a hero to everyone, but not to himself.  The potion raises his hopes. Perhaps he won't die alone, after all. But even in love, he's haunted. I was transfixed by his long, last monologue.. Evelyn Herlitzius was a good Isolde . The forcefulness in her voice brought out Isolde's strength and fearlessness. . For all her healing powers, Isolde cannot save him, but must transcend life itself. Iain Paterson sang a nice rounded Kurnewal, straight guy to tormented Tristan. Georg Zeppenfield, another Bayreuth regular, sang King Marke. I only heard the audio, so can't comment on the staging. But Thielemann's conducting was so stunningly vivid.that it didn't matter a bit. Bayreuth has really struck gold.

 Listen to an interview with Thielemann here.

Vibrant Organic Growth - BCMG Prom Boulez, Betsy Jolas

Nature renews itself with constant, organic change. Good ideas grow and proliferate. As demonstrated in the well-planned programme by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group conducted by Franck Ollu at Cadogan Hall, the first of this year's Proms Saturday Matinees at the Cadogan Hall, London.

Pierre Boulez Notations were originally written as a keyboard haiku.,  Hence their elusive, quirky charm. Later, Boulez was to orchestrate Notations I-IV and  VII.  Today, though, we heard Johannes Schöllhorn's orchestration for small ensemble of Notations 2, 11 and 10  and his own mysterious 13th which Boulez didn't write. Creative outgrowth on Schöllhorn's part, and very enjoyable for that.  Susanna Mälkki will conduct Boulez's own orchestrations of Notatioms at Monday's Prom 13.

Betsy Jolas is a year younger than Boulez. Both were students of Messiaen, Jolas eventually taking over Messiaen's teaching duties at the Paris Conservatoire. Her Wanderlied, for violoncello and 15 instruments, dates from 2003. It's based on a poem by Jolas's father, Eugène Jolas, describing an old woman who journeys, telling stories to all, whether they care to hear or not. A Leiermann, perhaps, the spirit of creative integrity despite all odds. The cello part meanders purposefully, leading the orchestration around it, which reacts and proliferates in response.

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis s.l., is a long title for a miniature in five parts running around seven minutes., but it's accurate, describing a fungus that attacks ants . When they die, their bodies provide nutrients for a new  generation of microscopic life. Shiori Usui's piece is delicately observed. First tiny cells ripple along in cheery formation, while some slowly start to wander in another direction.
Longer elliptical lines overwhelm. The rustling stops but then is replaced by outbursts of energetic freedom. Abstract musical ideas used creatively to replicate the complexity of Nature. Joanna Lee's Hammer of Solitude followed, apparently written in homage to Boulez's Le marteau sans maître. Hilary Summers sang the text and scraps of words and exhalations, but it's an otherwise unoriginal work. 

Usui's Ophiocordyceps unilateralis s.l. for all its quiet refinement is a much more accomplished piece and worked far better with the ideas of organic growth that mark Boulez's Dérive 2. While Dérive 1 was a miniature piano concerto, the ideas in Dérive 2 proliferate with energetic abundance. Often, when thinking of this piece I visualize the Mandelbrot theory, where simple cells generate multidimensional patterns, with endless variations and invention - the very stuff of life itself.  Ollu and the BCMG performed with such joie de vivre that the piece seemed to levitate of its own volition. Anyone who insists Boulez is dry hasn't understood this work.
Listen again to the BCMG Boulez Prom again on BBC Radio 3 

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Black in Britain - musicians and stereotypes

Good article "From slavery to singing star: celebrating Thomas Rutling, by Ronald Samm, who is a singer himself. Samm is starring in a piece on Rutling's life at Harrogate, where Rutling settled down. Samm was also one of the security guards in Tansy Davies' much misunderstood  Between Worlds  at the ENO. What must it have been like to be black in Britain in late Victorian times when any kind of non-white person was an exotic alien?  Rutling is seated above, middle row left. In his tux he could pass for a banker or a patron of the Royal Opera House. But look at the banjo and guitar in the foreground. The Fisk Jubilee Singers were admired but they still had to conform to stereotypes. No way was the public ready for blacks  as equals in "serious" music.

Rutling (1854-1915) was a contemporary of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), whose blackness was an accident of birth, and who grew up in an all-white environment, admired by Elgar and feted at the Three Choirs Festival. To Coleridge-Taylor's credit, he set out to learn about black identity, writing music influenced by generic "African" ideas and Black American music. Being a proper English gentleman meant he was received by the President of the United States. Ordinary black Americans  didn't get invited to the White House except as menials.  To Coleridge-Taylor's credit, he went out of his way to learn about black culture and meet black American artists and intellectuals, Coleridge-Taylor's music is possibly better known in the US today than in Britain. Read my article "Who really was Coleridge-Taylor ?" HERE, and my other pieces on him by clicking the label below.

Coleridge-Taylor's music is fascinating because he was genuinely trying to come to terms with non-white western aesthetics, much in the way that French composers from Bizet on explored exotic themes. Imagine if he'd worked with Ravel and developed a whole new musical language?  But he's also important as a perspective on race in late colonial times. Jeffrey Green's biography Samuel Coleridge-Taylor:: a Musical, Life is  essential reading. It's based on exhaustive first-hand research, presented with genuine knowledge of background and the composer's position in society. Even now, black people are exploited for novelty value, an approach which is fundamentally racist even if it's not intentional.  Jeffrey Green's sensitive book gives Coleridge-Taylor the dignity and respect he deserves.

William Grant Still (1895-1978) grew up in a black community in the South, so his experiences of black identity were more acute than Coleridge-Taylor's, and very different indeed to the prettified fantasy of Delius's Koanga. Grant Still was middle class and educated, but had to adapt to a certain amount of stereotype to make a living.  Fortunately, he lived long enough to be recognized as a musician and part of the Harlem Renaissance.

Back to Ronald Samm and his ideas on the role of black singers today. If this really was an equal world, the issue wouldn't arise, but the fact is, the number of black people in classical music doesn't reflect demographic reality.  Like it or not, classical music is perceived as being elitist. The myth reinforces prejudice, intensifying the problem.  One of the stupidest things in current arts policy is the idea that music can somehow change society, but in reality, unless society itself changes, we aren't going to get more blacks on stage and in the audience. Non-white people get patronized all the time. More talking down doesn't help. Besides, being non-white can sometimes be an artistic advantage. Last year, Eva-Maria Westbroek sang Puccini Manon Lescaut.  Westbroek's lush blonde voluptuousness was nicely set off by Lester Lynch as her brother. In a sense having a black guy as lowlife feeds stereotype, but the dynamic between Westbroek and Lynch was electric. Brother and sister, enthusiastic parters in crime, enjoying every moment.

Prom 7 Hugh Wood Nielsen Ravel Delius Davis

At BBC Prom 7, Andrew Davis and the BBC SO gave the world premiere of Hugh Wood's Epithalamion.  New music has always featured at the Proms. Sir Henry Wood premiered Schoenberg. Some new music becomes immortal, some falls by the wayside, some is rediscovered by later generations.  Even Bach.The Prom began with Delius's In a Summer Garden. Gardens never remain the same.  Change is a natural process that cannot be halted.  And so, too, in music. Many Proms premieres these days play safe and beget mediocrity, but Hugh Wood's  Epithalamion  is genuinely new, and refreshing.

At the age of 83, Hugh Wood's creative powers are, if anything, refreshed. Epithalamion  is one of the composer's most ambitious works yet, imaginative and beautifully constructed. The title refers to the procession of a bride to her bridal chamber. Cue the idea of flowers, happiness, and the promise of renewed fertility. The text comes from John Donne's poem of the same name celebrating a royal wedding in 1613, but the concept is universal: procreation as a metaphor for endless change and regrowth.

The voices of the BBC Symphony Chorus call out, long, soaring bright lines, impatient excitement.. Wonderful circular lines in the orchestra, curving like an embrace. Glorious bells, hushed anticipation. Donne employs images of birds, including "the husband cock".  The newlyweds are "Two phoenixes, whose joined breasts /Are unto one another mutual nests,/Where motion kindles such fires as shall give" Lines stretch out and converge, commingling with fervour. A magnificent, dramatic interlude at mid point where the orchestra seems to explode into joyous fanfare, given depth by rumbling gongs and two harps,  with suggestions of night, stars and darkness. . In the fifth section, male and female choruses separate and merge, from which arises the voice of the soloist, Rebecca Bottone, one of the finest character sopranos in the business, with a particularly fresh, energetic style. A single male voice rises from the chorus and the music surrounding takes on quite explicit sensual frisson. This is seriously good, sophisticated writing for voice, the separate parts distinct yet well blended, sometimes hushed, sometimes triumphant, but vividly dramatic and tightly scored. Epithalamion should become a regular Proms favourite.

Cylcic figures also enliven  Carl Nielsen's Clarinet Concerto (1928). The clarinet moves like a living organism, with adventurous dynamic leaps and contrasts.  Mark Simpson's playing was fluid, capturing Nielsen's open spirit. "I have such free voicing in the instruments" wrote Nielsen of this piece, "that I really have no idea how it will sound".  Hence the cadenzas and boisterous inventiveness, captured by Davis and the BBC SO and ravishing BBC Symphony Chorus with great aplomb. Back to the theme of sensual love in a vernal setting with Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé Suite no 2, Lusciously played. I'm glad that Prom 7 of 2015 was one of my top Proms picks.

This Prom is available for 30 days on the BBC website and will also be broadcast on TV from 30 July.