The Ten Pieces music education project has to be one of the BBC’s greatest successes. The aim is to get young people not just listening to classical music but responding creatively to it. There’s another thing in its favour. It always produces a terrific Prom. Once again the full resources of the Royal Albert Hall were used to create a vibrant and exciting event. Projections, screens and spots maximised its impact.
Hosted by the exuberant Naomi Wilkinson as Spell Caster, resplendent in a golden cloak, the unifying theme was the search for ten musical spells to help bring the Firebird back. Wilkinson was assisted by Josie Lawrence as a demented bird-watcher and Paapa Essiedu as Joseph Bologne, the first classical composer of African descent – the dashing first movement of his G-major Symphony was played.
The BBC Symphony Orchestra entered into the spirit with the brass section donning Stetsons for ‘Hoe-Down’ from Copland’s Rodeo and the string-players wearing Christmas-party hats for a well- shaped account of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Waltz of the Flowers’. Rafael Payare ensured energetic performances and started with a Finlandia by Sibelius notable for growling trombones, and there was one item from the splendid An Anthology of Fantastic Zoology by Mason Bates, exhilarating stuff based on a novel by Borges with jagged rhythms, lively syncopation and a riot of percussion, enhanced by the Phoenix Dance Theatre. Excerpts from Elgar’s Enigma Variations worked less well, but the first half closed in emphatic fashion with ‘O Fortuna’ from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana and the massed voices of the Ten Pieces Choir and the BBC Singers, dynamics well-observed, and the conclusion was suitably frenzied.
Specially composed music included a piece for the violins of the London Music Makers by John Barber on people who children find inspirational. No Place Like by Kerry Andrews is based on a series of responses from children on what home means to them which she turned into a poem and then set to music for a cappella choir, including humming, beat-boxing and body percussion, police sirens, traditional songs and football chants.
The Brave New Voices from English PEN performed a moving collective poem by children from asylum-seeker and refugee background, which was intertwined with the Largo from Dvořák’s ‘New World’ Symphony in which Alison Teale’s fore-grounded cor anglais solo was a highpoint. The close of Stravinsky’s The Firebird and the return of the magnificent illuminated Firebird puppet supported by four puppeteers sweeping above the Arena brought the evening to a fitting conclusion. The visceral power of live music had worked its magic once again.
- Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)
- BBC Proms www.bbc.co.uk/proms