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Jessica Duchen
Thursday 8th April 2010
Fantasy Proms!

When the cherry blossom comes out, you know it can't be long until the Proms programme does too. This year's Proms season is to be launched the week after next, and over at The Guardian Tom Service is playing the time-honoured game of Fantasy Proms Programmes. Lots of comments there, with some listeners wanting the Proms to do complete Mahler for the anniversary, and others wishing for anything but. I should remind you right now that there is another Mahler anniversary next year, so perhaps we can have the whole lot twice...

But concert programmes depend too much on anniversaries at the best of times - and this year as we know, Schumann has been missing out in the shadow of Chopin - so here are a few suggestions for my own Fantasy Proms Season, leaving all the birthdays and death-days firmly to one side.

I would love to see the Proms feature performances that can work better in the Royal Albert Hall than anywhere else, and that will strongly benefit from R3 backing and promotion. In other words, big music; unusual music; wacky music; daring, roof-raising, thrilling music that uses the space of the RAH creatively and that others might hesitate to touch.

So let's have Busoni's piano concerto with chorus. Let's have the Monteverdi Vespers, with multiple choirs dotted around the great space for St Marks-ish antiphonal effects. Let's have a weird, wonderful and all-but-unstageable opera or two in concert - by Schreker or Tippett or Stockhausen, or a long-lost European emigre. And not just Korngold, as plenty of others have enjoyed less of a renaissance yet deserve one, including Bernard Herrmann who wrote a beautiful opera on Wuthering Heights; even Schoenberg's Moses und Aron is not exactly a staple of the repertoire in any of the British houses. Please throw in Gurrelieder for good measure.

Let's put up a huge, huge screen and bring in Carl Davis for a series of his silent films with live music. I love them and they're a big audience puller. DW Griffiths' Intolerance, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Ben Hur, to name just three - and, why not, Napoleon. These could also work nicely out in the park, as long as the screens are big enough and it doesn't rain. 

Paradoxically, some of the most exciting Proms have been those all-too-rare recitals for some of the biggest stars in the business, whether solo, with piano or with orchestra. My shortlist for next time: soprano Nina Stemme in, for instance, Mozart, Strauss and Wagner; pianists Grigory Sokolov, if someone can please give him a visa, and Marc-Andre Hamelin with all his wizardry and wonders; and Jonas Kaufmann singing anything he feels like singing, anytime. 

And let's have the inspirations back again, the super youth orchestras that keep it fresh and thrilling and idealistic. Let's queue down the hill for Barenboim and his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra or Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, and please extend an invitation to Buskaid in Soweto to bring back their wonderful ensemble, with some of their graduates - now exciting young professionals like Samson Diamond - to play concertos. And let's celebrate UK youth too: the National Youth Orchestra always has a Prom, but what about adding a massed orchestra drawn from all the UK conservatories, whose achievements are too often forgotten on home turf?

As for new commissions and bright composers, yes please, and the more the merrier - but not just the usual suspects. Let's get the Bang-on-a-Can team over from New York and give them a carte blanche evening! And please go east to Latvia and commission a new piece from the visionary Peteris Vasks. Closer to home, give the gorgeous music of Errollyn Wallen a chance to find the audience it deserves. And invite a top soloist with a bent for the new - Gidon Kremer, perhaps - to commission a concerto from a composer of his choice.

Family days could go off the beaten track. Bring in the Lost and Found Orchestra, which was such a hit at the South Bank. Have a day based on musical theatre - my nieces and nephews would love a massed tap-dancing class followed by a good complete MGM musical (I vote for An American in Paris or Singin' in the Rain). And apparently we all love singing now, so we should have a Singalong concert! - either something nice and predictable like Messiah (if necessary) or venture to more ambitious territory like A Child of Our Time or maybe the Verdi Requiem. Additionally, there must be a way to integrate music and food...but leave this one with me...

Speaking of audience participation, whatever happened to Benjamin Britten's children's opera The Little Sweep? Its audience songs are pure enchantment and the story, about the rescuing of a child chimney-sweep, is very touching. I once heard it rumoured that the piece is not often done these days not just because it's dated, but also because the play that is supposed to introduce it, Let's Make An Opera, is full of hints of things we'd rather were not hinted at, especially not by Britten... but The Little Sweep itself certainly isn't, and could do with a high-profile hearing. With a little updating of the text for modern audiences, it could be quite a hit.

I'll shut up now, because whatever appears in the real Proms Prospectus will no doubt contain very little of the above, but will be much more practical, and full of anniversaries. That's the point of Fantasy Proms, though: you don't have to worry about the funding when you dream...

 

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Harmony
April 28th, 2010
9:04 AM
I gather the silent films can't be done in RAH Proms as too many seats would need to be lost to allow a screen to be built.

Hariclea
April 8th, 2010
7:04 PM
You so have a point about making it more fun, mor sassy, more participative and interesting. I also agree that it should go more off the beaten track and bring the things we all adore as well as the ones we never hard off. It's such a rare oppotunity to do things big, or at least involve many people with less entry costs than usual. It seems like it needs both more of a fun factor as well as a "bling" factor. I sometimes don't understand why people don't think in classical music one can think big, fun and interesting! And i'd like to hear more about the music and food thing ;-) I bet you could get more than just one big name interested in that combination :-) And i'm all for a singalong! After all it is the Proms! Give us a chance to really participate!

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About Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.

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