Today at the Proms - Prom 44

Continuing our daily coverage of what's on at The Proms 2019, Susan Omand has a quick look at the programme for Prom 44: Belshazzar’s Feast ...

There's a real feast for the ears tonight at the Proms with William Walton's religious themed cantata Belshazzar's Feast being the main event tonight. You'll know the story, even if you don't know the biblical story, because it is based on the same Psalm (137) as Boney M's Rivers of Babylon! Anyhow, I digress.  The thing I always forget about Walton is that he's a 20th century composer because his work has such a timeless quality about it and this cantata is going to be gorgeous to listen to because there will be a 300 strong choir backing up the soloist Gerald Finley.

Opening the evening we have a real barrel of monkeys with Charles Koechlin's Les bandar-log. Bandar-log (translated from the Hindi as Monkey-People) is a term used in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book to describe the monkeys of the Seeonee jungle and this work forms part of Koechlin's Jungle Book song cycle written in the late 1930s, nearly 40 years BEFORE Disney got their musical hands on the story.

But it is the piece just before the interval that I want to concentrate on because it is stunning to watch as well as listen to. Why? There are more that TEN percussionists involved in recreating the American city soundscape from the 1920s. The original scoring allowed for thirteen separate players (and 2 timpanists) with multiple players of the Xylophone, Triangle, Ratchet, Sleigh bells, Glockenspiel, Whip, Tambourine, Gong, Celesta, Bass drums, Slapsticks, Castanets, Sirens, Boat whistles, Wind machine, Cymbals, Snare drum, a Lion's Roar and a Crow call. Phew! 

There are direct musical quotes (I guess you'd call it "sampling" these days) from works by favourite composers of mine Schoenberg, Mahler and Stravinsky, as well as snatches of the stereotypical Big Band sound, so I make absolutely no apology for sharing the whole thing in full, played here (with only ten, albeit manic, percussionists!) by Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras.

Here's the full programme for this evening's Prom which you can listen to live from 19:30 on Radio 3 or on the iPlayer 

Charles Koechlin
Les bandar-log(16 mins)

Edgard Varèse
Amériques(25 mins)(original version,1921)


William Walton
Belshazzar's Feast(34 mins)

Image - Photo © Chris Christodoulou

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