A Different Genre of Prom

Mahler, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Verdi go to prom Credits to Susan Spector, my multi-talented mother

Mahler, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Verdi go to prom
Credits to Susan Spector, my multi-talented mother

It is the end of May. As a high school senior, I should be excited and be looking forward to putting on makeup, my overpriced dress and shoes, and getting out on the dance floor to have a fun time at prom. For some reason, none of this sounds appealing to me. Paying $300 (dress and shoes not included) for myself, an outside date, and crappy food to be stuck in a hotel ballroom until 2:00 AM does not sound “fun”. I refuse to believe that I will look back when I am in my forties, pondering over why I chose not to attend my school’s prom. Maybe I am just a curmudgeon, but I am looking forward to prom in a different way. A different kind of prom: The BBC Proms live from Royal Albert Hall. Beginning in July over seventy concerts will be broadcast live from the great concert hall in London. This year’s program features everything from Alice Coote singing Handel with the English Concert to all five Prokofiev piano concerti. To me, this sounds far more fun, even just listening on a stereo at home, than going out on Friday night to my dreaded school prom and sitting on the Jersey Shore all weekend.

Here are twelve proms that I am looking forward to “attending”:

Logo for the BBC Proms 2015 season

Logo for the BBC Proms 2015 season

Prom 7: July 22

Prom 7 celebrates the 150th birthday of Carl Nielsen with Mark Simpson playing his iconic clarinet concerto. Instead of getting “summer vibes” from the Jersey shore, the concert will also feature the BBC Symphony under Sir Andrew Davis playing Delius’ flowery “In a Summer Garden” and Ravel’s romantic Daphnis et Chloe.

Prom 11: July 25

For something offbeat, Bryn Terfel will star as Tevye in a semi-staged version of Fiddler on the Roof. After his terrifyingly good performances as Sweeney Todd on the stages of New York and London last year, this is a not-miss. This will also be a debut for the Hampshire Grange Park Opera at the Proms.

Prom 14: July 28

To celebrate Tchaikovsky’s 175th birthday earlier this month, Valery Gergiev conducted the Mariinsky Orchestra in all three of his piano concertos with soloist Denis Matsuev. On July 28, Gergiev will accomplish a similar feat by conducting all five of Prokofiev’s piano concertos. Three different pianists will split this daunting task: Daniil Trifonov will play Concertos No. 1 and 3; Sergei Babayan will play Concertos No. 2 and 5, and Alexei Volodin will play Concerto No. 4. Gergiev conducted all five in a row with the Mariinsky in 2012. This time, however, the London Symphony will take a stab at these five monsters.

Prom 23: August 2

Considering I am going about my last days of high school thinking about prom as a “Dies Irae”, I think I should look forward to the Verdi Requiem with the BBC Scottish Symphony and Donald Runnicles on the podium. Three out of the four soloists will be making their BBC Prom debuts: Angela Meade, Yosep Kang, and Raymond Aceto. Karen Cargill sang with the BBC Scottish Symphony as the mezzo soloist in Mahler 3 at the 2010 Proms. For those hot days at the beginning of August, the Verdi Requiem is guaranteed to chill your spine.

Prom 39: August 14

I was reminded this past February how delightful a piece Die Entführung aus dem Serail is after playing the overture with my youth orchestra at Manhattan School of Music. The petite Glyndebourne Festival Opera takes the enormous Royal Albert Hall stage in this amusing work. Robin Ticciati, who most recently succeeded Vladimir Jurowski as the director of the Glyndebourne Festival in January 2014, conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Prom 40: August 15 – Symphonies No. 1 & 2

Prom 42: August 16 – Symphonies No. 3 & 4

Prom 43: August 17 – Symphonies No. 5, 6, & 7

All seven of Sibelius’ symphonies are being performed at the Proms this year on three separate nights. What a way to FINNISH off senior year, eh?! Ok, let’s continue…

Andris Nelsons conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra © Marco Borggreve

Andris Nelsons conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra © Marco Borggreve

Prom 49: August 22 – Mahler 6

Prom 51: August 23 – Shostakovich 10

On their most recent New York tour, the Boston Symphony performed Shostakovich 10 and Mahler 6 on consecutive nights. Andris Nelsons’ agile and limber movements on the podium brought joy to these pieces when I saw the BSO at Carnegie Hall in April. His stress for line and legato allows even Shostakovich’s turbulence and the pandemonium found in Mahler 6 to be lush (with the exception of the hammer blows). It will also be worth tuning in to hear John Ferrillo’s oboe playing. His cantabile and light style of playing is attractive and sweet compared to some of the pinched oboe sounds coming out of some European orchestras.

Prom 65: September 3

The beginning of September will bring Alice Coote singing Handel with the English Concert conducted by Harry Bicket. Last November, she and Joyce DiDonato costarred in Handel’s Alcina with the same orchestra, giving a fiery performance at Carnegie Hall. She will sing several cantatas and arias from various operas brought to the surface in the Marilyn Horne era of Baroque singing, including Giulio Cesare and Semele. Handel’s music has a way of taking anyone’s swirling, violent emotions, about the end of senior year for example, and rushing them into a rhythmic, powerful storm of sound. It seems to me like this would be much more exciting than the computer-fabricated dubstep at your normal, everyday prom.

Prom 66: September 4

The London Philharmonic returns to the Proms with Shostakovich 8, one of his later war symphonies. These musicians went to battle on the piece back in October of last year at Carnegie Hall, where I got to witness the low brass section give their all for Shostakovich’s demands. The trombones particularly blasted their parts, not in an ugly manner, however. Maestro Jurowski will lead Shosty 8 once again on Friday, September 4. Mitsuko Uchida will precede the Shostakovich with the Schoenberg Piano Concerto.

Jonas Kaufmann, photo featured on RAH's website © Gregor Hohenberg

Jonas Kaufmann, photo featured on RAH’s website © Gregor Hohenberg

Prom 76: September 12

Last but not least, the Last Night of the Proms will be a real treat this year. Jonas Kaufmann is this year’s featured guest who has the honor of singing “Rule, Brittania!” at the conclusion of the BBC Proms season. He will also sing several opera arias, including “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot and “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” from Lehar’s Das Land des Lächlens. It would be a dream if Jonas Kaufmann took me to prom, however, I can settle for this amazing concert.

As I reassure myself that prom is really not crucial in the grand scheme of things, which includes graduating, going off to college, and trying to make a career in music happen, I realize that listening to the BBC Proms would be an ample substitute. They always feature fun commentary and provide a niche for classical music during the summer, while New York has an awkward gap between the spring and fall. Instead of struggling to understand why I am not enjoying the end of senior year, I will look forward to all of these BBC Proms concerts in July, August, and September.

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Summer 2013: Wagner’s International 200th Birthday Bash!

This year the classical and operatic music world are celebrating the 200th birthday of composer Richard Wagner. Many opera houses and festivals around the world have been pushing to perform more Wagner this year than ever before. That effort is showing particularly well at this point in the year. So many opera houses, radio stations, and festivals are putting on Wagner all at the same time, even while the Metropolitan Opera is closed for the summer (The Met did throw their Wagner Birthday Party by doing the Ring and Parsifal in the Winter and Spring)! Here are the numerous venues where Wagner is being performed this summer:

Royal Albert Hall: The BBC Proms

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For the first time ever the BBC Proms is presenting an entire, complete Ring Cycle. This is also the first time that Maestro Daniel Barenboim will conduct a Wagner opera in Britain. Das Rheingold was performed on Monday night, starring Iain Paterson as Wotan, Ekaterina Gubanova as Fricka, and Stephan Rügamer as Loge. Die Walküre was performed on Tuesday night starring Bryn Terfel as Wotan, Simon O’Neill as Siegmund, Anja Kampe as Sieglinde, and Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde. These were Proms numbers 14 and 15. Proms 18 and 20 will be Siegfried on Friday night, starring Lance Ryan in the title role, and Götterdämmerung on Sunday afternoon, starring Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde, Andreas Schager as Siegfried, and Mikhail Petrenko as Hagen. The whole Ring includes the wonderful orchestra of Staatskapelle Berlin under Daniel Barenboim.

IN BETWEEN the long Wagner operas of Proms 18 and 19, Tristan und Isolde will be performed as Prom 19. No, thank goodness, they are not working the same orchestra to death. The BBC Symphony Chorus will play under Maestro Semyon Bychkov, along with the BBC Symphony Chorus and Singers. It will star Violetta Urmana as Isolde and Peter Seiffert as Tristan.

In August, Tannhäuser will be performed on the 4th with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Donald Runnicles. Robert Dean Smith will sing the title role of Tannhäuser and Heidi Melton will sing Elisabeth. On the 25th of August, the Wagner fest will continue with Parsifal starring Lars Cleveman as Parsifal, Katarina Dalayman (who just outdid herself in the part at the Met) as Kundry, Sir John Tomlinson as Gurnemanz, and Iain Paterson as Amfortas. It will be conducted by Sir Mark Elder with Hallé, the Royal Opera House Chorus, the Hallé Youth Choir, and Trinity Boys Choir

Other excerpts of Wagner such as the Wesendonck Lieder and the overtures to Rienzi and Die Meistersinger will be performed. You can listen live to these Proms through their website (Click the link at the top and you can go to their site).

Bayreuther Festspiele (Bayreuth Festival):

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The Bayreuth Festival has been around since 1876. Wagner built it specifically to perform the Ring and Parsifal with the financial support of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. After Wagner’s son Siegfried, and after his grandson Wieland, and after his other grandson Wolfgang, the festival is now run by Richard’s two great granddaughters: Eva Wagner-Pasquier and Katharina Wagner, who are the daughters of Wolfgang Wagner.

Photo: Castorf’s set for Das Rheingold

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This season Bayreuth is performing an entire new production of the Ring, and revivals of Der Fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, and Lohengrin. The new production of the Ring will be directed by Frank Castorf. The whole Ring will take place on Route 66 in the United States, making many people think it is going to be “regie”. Kirill Petrenko will conduct the Ring Cycle. Singers in the Ring include Johan Botha as Siegmund, Anja Kampe as Sieglinde, who is also singing it at the Proms, Lance Ryan as Siegfried, who is also singing it at the Proms, Wolfgang Koch as Wotan and the Wanderer, and Bayreuth’s new British Brünnhilde: Catherine Foster. Conductors include Kirill Petrenko for the Ring, Christian Thielemann for Der Fliegende Holländer, Andris Nelsons for Lohengrin, and Alex Kober for Tannhäuser. You can listen to broadcasts live from Bayreuth during their season through various internet streams, look on the internet!

WQXR’s Wagner Week

(One of many hilarious Ring cartoons WQXR has put out on its Facebook Page)

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This week WQXR’s station is holding its Wagner Week, celebrating his 200th birthday. They started out on Monday by playing broadcasts of the Ring from the Metropolitan Opera under James Levine. On Tuesday they played Wagner excerpts such as Wotan’s Farewell, the Magic Fire Music, and the overture to Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman).They also played Tannhäuser conducted by Daniel Barenboim with Staatskapelle Berlin (The same duo that is performing the Ring at the Proms). All of the Operavore shows on WQXR this week are Wagner themed as well. All day today, July 24, you can hear all four operas of the Ring conducted by Clemens Krauss with the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra. Wagner Week will continue all of this week on WQXR and Operavore.

Seattle Opera: The Ring

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The Seattle Opera gets to join the 200th birthday party with its Ring Cycle. It will be performed in three cycles, running from August 4 to 25. Das Rheingold will star Greer Grimsley as Wotan, Stephanie Blythe as Fricka, Richard Paul Fink as Alberich, Wendy Bryn Harmer as Freia, and Mark Schowalter as Loge. Die Walküre will star Alwyn Mellor as Brünnhilde, Stuart Skelton as Siegmund, Margaret Jane Wray as Sieglinde and Greer Grimsley as Wotan. Siegfried will star Stefan Vinke in the title role, Dennis Petersen as Mime, Greer Grimsley as the Wanderer, and Alwyn Mellor as Brünnhilde. Götterdämmerung will star Alwyn Mellor as Brünnhilde, Stefan Vinke as Siegfried, and Daniel Sumegi as Hagen. Single tickets and Cycles are on sale now!

Tanglewood:

Tanglewood and the Boston Symphony Orchestra have given several Wagnerian programs in the shed this summer. They have an All-Wagner program on July 21 with overtures from Rienzi, Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, and Tannhäuser, and also the Siegfried Idyll, the “Liebestod”, Forest Murmurs from Siegfried, and the iconic Ride of the Valkyries. They also performed Act III of Die Walküre with Katarina Dalayman as Brünnhilde and Bryn Terfel as Wotan on July 20.

Glimmerglass Festival:

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The Glimmerglass Festival is performing Der Fliegende Holländer until August 24. It stars Ryan McKinny as the Dutchman, Melody Moore as Senta, Peter Volpe as Dalland, and Jay Hunter Morris as Erik. It is being conducted by Maestro John Keenan and the production is by Francesca Zambello.

The Sydney Opera House:

The famous and brilliant looking Sydney Opera House performed Der Fliegende Holländer in the land from down under on July 20 and July 22. David Robertson conducted Eric Owens in the title role, who was making his Australian debut, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

The bicentennial of Wagner’s birth is a huge reason to celebrate, and opera companies, radio stations, and festivals all over the world are making it huge. It is incredible that all over the world, Wagner fans are invited and are attending one big birthday party for one composer. Happy 200th, Richard!