The first night of the Proms is always difficult to program and brings together themes of the season, perhaps a new work and, above all, a grand finale. This year's Prom # 1 has met all criteria and no feel like pick-n-mix. It was a purely British program, with Vaughan Williams and Holst in the first half, both excellent choices that followed the conductor Sakari Oramo with this repertoire, and a second half dedicated to a new work by Anna Meredith light show. But before that, a hastily added memorial to Oliver Knussen, who died this week. Knussen was a regular at the Proms, so it was fitting to mark the occasion. In this case, his Flourish with Fireworks would have been the ideal concert prelude, with or without his untimely death. The piece is based on Stravinsky's Fireworks and is similarly short and punchy. It is also more varied, the flourishes of the title appear in different tempos and textures. The always-prepared BBC symphony recorded everything without any preliminary work. The journey to the Unknown Region begins in a darker place, Vaughan Williams plays Walt Whitman, and both are in a dark funeral mood. The BBC Symphony Chorus was in great shape here, fitting us with dark and focused choral textures, but clearly articulating the words as well as there were no lyrics. Oramo gathered his large forces efficiently and dynamically, appropriately emotionally, but never sentimentally. So too with Holsts The Planets. Oramos tempi were usually lively and the transitions often surprisingly abrupt. But all of this felt very much in the spirit of the music, which, he showed, could benefit from sharp rhythms and dynamic tempo. "Mars" was perkussionswere, the timpani pounded the downbeats compulsively. The brass sometimes lost tonal control, as Oramo wanted to get louder and louder – as early as the beginning of the season he fought against the acoustics. The woodwinds were similarly emphatic in "Venus", but not to be criticized: the music retains its matte pastel tones. The ensemble in "Mercury" left something to be desired, but "Jupiter" fared better, the kind of movement that brings out the best in Oramo, clean, happy textures, a joyous sound. Some excellent tonal control in the quiet later movements, "Saturn" and "Neptune", the dynamics here still enough to fill the hall, but the round, warm tone, especially from the horns and trombones, creates a completely different atmosphere , The ladies of the National Youth Choir of England sang the end of backstage, and to appropriately mystical effect. The Anna Meredith work was entitled Five Telegrams and was written in memory of the centenary of the end of the First World War. The work is a collaborative effort with 59 Productions, who provided a spectacular light projection that included the stage, organ, choir stalls, and the entire space above it to the gallery (pictured below by Justin Sutcliffe). The five movements are titled "Spin," "Field Postcard," "Redaction," "Codes," and "Truce," but beyond that, Meredith and Co. took their subject very abstractly. Meredith's music here is tonal and repetitive, but not to minimalism. She also wrote for the National Youth Choir of Great Britain and the BBC Proms Youth Ensemble, a group of brass and percussion players, some in the choir stalls, others in the hall. And the most effective was that one movement wore a euphonium chorus and played soft chords in the gallery. The light show, all the computer-generated effects and patterns, sometimes with a single evocative word, has been cleverly integrated into the hall's architecture, illuminating the rows of pipes in the organ and moving the gallery's arches into giant sprockets. The overall effect was great and maybe a bit optimistic about the topic. Meredith's music was a component in this multimedia work, and the synergy between the light show and the music was actually close. More substance would have put the balance on the musical side better, especially on the contribution of the orchestra, but everything has served its purpose: a memorable start to the upcoming season.@saquabote


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