BBC Learning’s Ten Pieces initiative is in its fourth year, opening up classical music to children all over the UK by encouraging them to make music at school. This Prom was themed around a search for the Firebird and a magical narrative was constructed with the help of Naomi Wilkinson, Paapa Essiedu and Josie Lawrence. Each Piece was introduced with a charming biographical story about the composer accompanied by beautiful animation by Ana Stephaniak.
Sibelius’s Finlandia, illustrated by stylised trees in a snowy landscape, created a subtly evolving panorama, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Rafael Payare giving a performance of dynamism and emotional power. The search for the Firebird then extended to the prairies of America, to the ‘Hoe-Down’ from Aaron Copland’s Rodeo, the brass section sporting Stetson hats.
The colourful character of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, followed to introduce a movement from his Symphony in G, written in 1799. Essiedu told tales of Bologne’s virtuoso swordsmanship and violin-playing. He and Lawrence’s Molly Finch provided humorous links between the music and also some moving dialogue with those with refugee and asylum-seeker backgrounds, who had written poems about home, inspired and accompanied by the Largo melody from Dvořák’s ‘New World’ Symphony, Alison Teale on cor anglais.
Themes of home and birds intertwined throughout. The Phoenix Dance Theatre brought music by Mason Bates to life, slithering and creating fascinating shapes and formations. Meanwhile Molly was on the trail of the elusive Firebird and encouraged the orchestra to play snippets of her favourite bird-themes, from Delius (Cuckoo), Handel (Nightingale) and Saint-Saëns (Swan). Young violinists from the London Music Masters project played their own compositions with the BBCSO, inspired by Barak Obama, Rebecca Adlington and Rosalind Franklin, and the Ten Pieces Children’s Choir performed with gusto and precision ‘O Fortuna’ from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana and Kerry Andrew’s No Place Like.
Tchaikovsky’s ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ (The Nutcracker) and the Fugue from Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra were also included, the latter performed with an electricity that rivalled the appearance of the Firebird herself, yet the Stravinsky finished in a blaze of colourful effects and the gorgeous puppet version of the mythical bird left us completely enthralled.
- Recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 2
- BBC Proms www.bbc.co.uk/proms