The Ten Pieces project has now reached over four-million young people since 2010 with the aim of getting them to produce creative responses to classical music. The latest outing at the Proms (this concert the first of two) modified previous formats with Rory Kinnear as Sir Henry Wood explaining how composers through the ages have been inspired by various subjects.
The full resources of the Royal Albert Hall were used to create as much visual spectacle as possible, screens and projections, lighting to create mood and atmosphere, and there was considerable interplay between presenters, performers and the audience. A large puppet roamed the Arena to illustrate ‘Gnomus’, from the Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition: the emphasis was on storytelling, comedy and fun. A bewhiskered Kinnear was an inspired choice as Sir Henry, played as a circus ringmaster. He even danced a mean hornpipe.
Mozart’s The Magic Flute was another linking theme, although this sometimes slowed down proceedings and may have been confusing to those who don’t know the opera. Kathryn Lewek was a hugely enjoyable Queen of the Night who delivered a stratospheric and secure aria at the close. If she ever decides to leave the operatic stage she could have a great career in panto.
The large Ten Pieces Choir sang from Elgar’s The Music Makers and also the opening of Vivaldi’s Gloria with red-blooded vigour, then gave the premiere of Kerry Andrew’s a cappella No Place Like based on words submitted by children across the UK expressing feelings about home and a sense of place. Led by Grace Rossiter, it’s an effective piece with rhythmic energy and the odd football chant.
Musical values were never neglected. After a ringing Fanfare for the Common Man (Aaron Copland), Jessica Collis and the Royal Philharmonic gave a spick-and-span Magic Flute Overture and a lyrical account of the short-lived Lili Boulanger’s D’un matin au printemps evoking a spring morning. Some of the Finale from Ravi Shankar’s Symphony was played to demonstrate a merging of East and West musical traditions although it was difficult to get an idea of the piece from such brevity; Gaurav Mazumdar played the sitar with dazzling fingering. The Faces of Brahma proved a jazzy and bold response by the North Lincolnshire Music Hub to Shankar’s work.
Jess Gillam played the soprano saxophone for the first movement of Peter Sculthorpe’s Island Songs with a softly floated sound and a mesmeric quality to bring to life his evocation of Tasmania and its indigenous culture. Ivanno Jeremiah spoke Shakespeare’s words with exemplary diction before Cottis and the RPO played extracts from William Walton’s music for Laurence Olivier’s film of Henry V. The conclusion of Respighi’s Pines of Rome with its evocation of Roman troops along the Appian Way was a suitable finale with the Albert Hall organ supplying an electrifying close. For those new to concert-going, this should have been a great introduction to the visceral thrill of live music.
- The second presentation of Ten Pieces, Prom 12, was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3
- BBC Proms www.bbc.co.uk/proms