Today at the Proms - Prom 46

Continuing our daily coverage of what's on at The Proms 2019, Susan Omand has a quick look at the programme for Prom 46: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra ...

I've had a fun time with this because I must admit that I didn't know three of the four pieces tonight so I've been down the YouTube rabbit hole to see what they sounded like and there's some wonderful stuff awaiting.

First up is Dorothy Howell's Lamia. A popular Proms piece back in the day, it hasn't been heard much in recent times and Howell herself has been a bit forgotten - she was a new name for me. Birmingham-born in 1898, she studied music at the Royal Academy in London at 14 and was only 19 when her Romantic (with a big R) symphonic poem Lamia hit the big time.  Full of swirly woodwind and brass and underpinned by a glorious string section, this is masterful orchestration.

Next up, a work I do know, because it's a cello piece. Elgar's Cello Concerto is played tonight by the wonderful young musician Sheku Kanneh-Mason. If you think you've heard his name before, you'd be right. Not only did he win Young Musician of the Year a few years back, but he was also the one who played at Harry and Meghan's wedding.

Skipping to the end of the night, and it's the second work of this proms season from Weinberg. Having heard his own cello concerto a couple of week ago, I'm looking forward to his Sypmhony,which was apparently the first of Weinberg's to run into trouble with Andrei Zhdanov's new anti-formalism crusade, the so-called "Zhdanov Doctrine." This doctrine meant that Soviet composers at the time were required, on pain of severe penalty, to produce music for the people - which meant straightforward works that ideally drew on folk material, so I'm really interested to hear what subverted it so much.

But it's the short Oliver Knussen piece that I want to share with you, purely because The Way to Castle Yonder is from his opera called Higgledy Piggledy Pop, a collaboration with Maurice Sendak, he of Where the Wild Things Are, and it's just glorious. I found these programme notes from the composer on the Faber Music website, which explain it so well...

"The Way to Castle Yonder is a concise digest of orchestral interludes for my second operatic collaboration with Maurice Sendak, Higglety Pigglety Pop!, which is a theatrical requiem for his dog, Jennie, in the frame of a 'quest' opera. Castle Yonder is the animals' theatrical heaven of Sendak's imagination. The Way to Castle Yonder is affectionately dedicated to Belinda and Colin Matthews, and the three continuous sections are: 1. The Journey to the Big White House, on a horse-drawn milk wagon driven by a cat-milk-man. The music is based on Jennie's aria which opens the opera. 'The wagon drives off and the show curtain closes. After a while, the pig is seen peeking out mysteriously from an arbour. He makes himself scarce when the milk wagon appears, crossing the stage in front of the show curtain'. 2. Kleine Trauermusik: 'A Little orchestral meditation while Jennie dreams of lions' - a chorale with another variant of Jennie's aria. 3. The Ride to Castle Yonder: 'Chimes begin to sound in the distance. The characters climb on the Lion's back. Mother Goose disappears as the bells get louder. The Lion springs forward, and the show curtain closes'. This final section grows from these images virtually in reverse, and the arrival at Castle Yonder briefly harks back to the Trauermusik chorale."

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 

Dorothy Howell
Lamia(12 mins)Henry Wood Novelties: world premiere, 1919

Edward Elgar
Cello Concerto in E minor(31 mins)


Oliver Knussen
The Way to Castle Yonder(8 mins)

Mieczysław Weinberg
Symphony No. 3(32 mins)London premiere

Image - Photo © Chris Christodoulou

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