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Proms without pomp: week two highlights of the Albert Hall

25 July, 2019 — By Michael White

Nicola Benedetti plays Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Photo: Allan Beavis

WEEK two of the Albert Hall Proms comes in the wake of a bizarre and utterly unwarranted attack on the whole season – by a recent Guardian editorial that dismissed Promming as an elitist activity.

I can only assume that the unnamed author of this piece has never been to a Prom – because although there are aspects of classical music at large that might just merit that sort of jibe, the Proms don’t rank among them. By any means.

They manage, musically as much as socially, to be both serious and accessible. And an example is the concert this Saturday (July 27) which has the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain – a powerhouse of emerging talent, featuring the best of this country’s adolescent musicians – in a programme that will be as close to world professional standards as makes no odds, and done with a decisive freshness, energy and drive that tough professionals don’t always manage.

They play Prokofiev’s blisteringly beautiful ballet suite, Romeo and Juliet, alongside Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with soloist Nicola Benedetti (a true champion of access to music, as well as a fine player). And these two popular items come prefaced by a more challenging new work by contemporary composer Lera Auerbach: a Russian who defected to America in her teens and had the distinction of being named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in Davos. Whatever that might mean if you’re a musician.

Tuesday July 30 and Wednesday 31st bring what should have been one of the truly great performing partnerships of our time, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra with their conductor Mariss Jansons. But Jansons is in poor health and has cancelled – leaving the Proms with a problem they’ve managed to solve by flying in the diminutive but dynamic Yannick Nezet-Seguin, music director of the Metropolitan Opera and the Philadelphia Orches­tra, to take his place. Fortunately Yannick knew much of the planned repertoire so it stays mostly as advertised: Beethoven and Shostakovich Tuesday, with Sibelius, Prokofiev, Strauss on Wednesday. All unmissable.

Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. Photo: Gregor Hohenberg

And so is Thursday’s Prom (August 1) which has Britten’s darkly haunting Piano Concerto (written in 1938 with disturbing prescience of what, historically, was round the corner) played by one of my favourite pianists, Leif Ove Andsnes, followed by Mahler’s epic Das Lied von der Erde – a symphony with voices, one of them the outstanding Wagner tenor Stuart Skelton.

As always, tickets start at £6 – try getting into an Ed Sheeran concert for so little – and everything is broadcast live on Radio 3.

Start times vary so check the website: bbc.co.uk/proms

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