Bartok's Second Piano Concerto and Dvorak's Eighth Symphony are in the spotlight. The concert opens with Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres) by young American composer Missy Mazzoli.
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Tonight we travel though the rugged soundscapes
of central Europe by way of a whole new musical solar system.
Welcome to the BBC Proms 2017.
The BBC Symphony Orchestra, the backbone of the BBC Proms,
is back in the Royal Albert Hall tonight
to perform music by Bartok and Dvorak,
and a contemporary work
by the acclaimed young American Missy Mazzoli.
Hello, I'm Sara Mohr-Pietsch.
Welcome to our final night of BBC Four broadcasts from the BBC Proms.
We have a special last-night double bill for you this evening
with the ground-breaking debut of "Chineke!",
Europe's first black and minority ethnic orchestra
which you'll be able to see straight after this concert.
And we're about to see another debut
from the young American Karina Canellakis,
her first time conducting at the Proms.
Karina started out as a violinist before being encouraged to take up
the baton by none other than Sir Simon Rattle, and last year,
she won the prestigious Georg Solti Conducting Prize.
Joining Karina tonight is fellow American, the pianist Jeremy Denk,
who'll be playing Bartok's Second Piano Concerto -
a piece that's notoriously difficult
and challenging for both the soloist and the orchestra.
And we finish with the richly melodic and adventurous
Eighth Symphony by Dvorak,
reinterpreting the traditions and folk music of his Czech homeland.
But first, Missy Mazzoli, the toast of New York,
and a hugely celebrated composer of new opera.
In her orchestral Sinfonia (For Orbiting Spheres),
Missy takes us on a journey to the centre of a musical solar system.
Lloyd Coleman caught up with her at rehearsals to find out more.
Let's talk about your piece that's being played,
-Sinfonia (For Orbiting Spheres)...
Can you tell me a bit about that title, what it means?
Well, the word "sinfonia" has a couple of different meanings
throughout history, so it can refer to a Baroque orchestral work,
and this piece certainly has a lot of Baroque influences.
But there's another meaning which is that
sinfonia is the old-fashioned word, Italian word for the hurdy-gurdy,
which is the cranked medieval instrument. I have a real thing
for out-of-tune, old, strange instruments.
I'm not going to give it away, but you know, in this piece,
there are some strange instruments
that the orchestra plays that sort of imitate
the sound of a hurdy-gurdy, so I thought, OK, you know,
what if I try to turn the orchestra into a massive hurdy-gurdy?
So, there's that!
And then the "orbiting spheres" part is I had this other idea to try
to create a piece in the shape of a solar system, which, again,
sounds maybe crazy and impossible, but, it's just the idea
of all these little loops that come together to create bigger loops.
And the piece itself ends where it starts,
but in a massively transformed way,
which again, I'm not going to give away the ending,
but it comes back in a very unexpected, strange way.
You do ask the orchestra, or some members of the orchestra,
-to pick up a harmonica, or a melodica.
How have you found the response of the players?
It's tricky. And you know, you're asked to play this toy instrument
that you've never...maybe never played before
and, maybe it feels silly, but I think once they hear it,
they realise that it's actually...
You know, the sound of a harmonica is actually, for me,
a very heartbreaking sound.
It's intimately connected to everyone's breath,
it's a sound that everyone is familiar with.
So, I think, to put that in the context
of this virtuosic playing
is actually quite tender
and it gives the piece a sort of vulnerable quality.
So, I think that these players have such good ears that they,
I think, after the first rehearsal
they heard how it worked with the strings
and realised that it wasn't a joke, it wasn't a gimmick,
but it was a genuine part of the sound world.
When you're in the Albert Hall, will you be nervous at that point?
Is it a moment of, "Oh, it's out of my hands now,
"it's in the musicians' hands!"
Or is it just something that, you know, you just let the piece go?
Yeah, I mean, I wish that I could have
that sort of Zen attitude about it,
but I'm probably going to be, like, sweating out of my palms profusely!
Very honest of you! Very honest of you.
Obviously, there's something strange about not having control
and then you have to go up on stage and say, "That was mine."
You know, like, and represent.
So, I think I'll be very scared, but very excited.
So, get ready for the Royal Albert Hall to be transformed
into a sort of musical planetarium
as Karina Canellakis takes to the stage
to conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra
in Sinfonia (For Orbiting Spheres) by Missy Mazzoli.
The American composer Missy Mazzoli turning
the orchestra into a musical solar system and a giant hurdy-gurdy.
The European premiere of Sinfonia (For Orbiting Spheres)
by Missy Mazzoli.
Karina Canellakis making her Proms debut
conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra
in the European premiere of Mazzoli's piece.
Originally a piece of chamber music,
but turned into that full orchestral version last year
for the Boulder Symphony Orchestra in Colorado.
Here's Missy Mazzoli making her way onto the stage
of the Royal Albert Hall.
She had a huge success recently with her full-length opera,
Breaking The Waves, based on the film by Lars von Trier.
It was in New York earlier on this year and won Best Opera
in the American Music Critics' Association.
And she has a third opera
due to be premiered in Washington DC next January.
Missy Mazzoli described by the New York Time Out
as "Brooklyn's post-millennial Mozart".
Next tonight, Bartok's Second Piano Concerto,
a virtuosic piece written by a true virtuoso.
Bartok is remembered today
as one of the greatest Hungarian composers of the 20th century,
but during his life he earned his living
mainly from teaching and playing the piano
and he was also a pioneering collector
and a passionate expert in central European folk music,
particularly of the Hungarian, Romanian and Slovak peasantry.
Bartok was an uncommonly gifted pianist,
but even he found his own work challenging at times.
It's said that after he wrote his fiendish First Piano Concerto
in 1927, he resolved that his second would be less difficult to play,
so quite how he ended up with a piece this hard, who knows?
The great pianist Sir Andras Schiff famously said that every time
he finishes the Second Concerto, there's blood on the keyboard.
We caught up with tonight's soloist Jeremy Denk in rehearsals.
So, Bartok's Second Piano Concerto
is about two kinds of virtuosity -
his virtuosity as a pianist
and his tremendous virtuosity as a composer.
It's in three very different movements.
The first channels Bach, Gabrielli, earlier music,
so there's all this wonderful chatter between the brass,
the winds and the piano. You know, counterpoint.
Kind of an orgy of counterpoint!
Then, the second movement, completely different mood,
everything turns still.
It's a great "dark night of the soul" Hungarian lament,
and the piano sings these kind of Hungarian blues.
And then the last movement,
good old-fashioned riotous Hungarian gypsy dance
and he brings back all the themes from the first movement
so that the piece is symmetrical, and it rounds itself out
and it returns to its beginnings.
The American pianist Jeremy Denk making his way onto the stage
of the Royal Albert Hall, joining the BBC Symphony Orchestra
with Karina Canellakis for the musical orgy
that is Bartok's Second Piano Concerto here at the BBC Proms.
NEXT MOVEMENT BEGINS
NEXT MOVEMENT BEGINS
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Well, there's no blood on the keyboard of the piano,
and, frankly, Jeremy Denk looked like he barely broke a sweat.
But what an astonishingly muscular and radiant performance
of one of the most challenging works in the repertoire,
Bartok's Second Piano Concerto -
Jeremy Denk at the BBC Proms with the BBC Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Karina Canellakis.
Bartok's Second Concerto is so difficult for both pianist
and orchestra that it's barely ever performed.
So, a wonderful treat to hear it here at the Proms.
And since it's done so rarely,
there are members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra
playing it for the first time tonight.
Exquisite playing from the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Bartok's score demands such a lot from them.
Jeremy Denk is a real musical polymath.
As well as an astonishing virtuoso pianist,
he's also a composer, a writer
and a winner of the MacArthur Genius Prize.
And now for something completely different.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Something completely different indeed!
American pianist Jeremy Denk
could not have picked a more perfect encore
than the slow movement of Mozart's C-Major Sonata
which carries the nick-name, the "Sonata Facile",
the "simple" or easy sonata. So, the ideal antidote
to the fiendishly challenging Bartok concerto
he played earlier this evening at the Proms.
Well, we've got about 20 minutes now
before the second part of this Prom
and we're almost at the end of this year's BBC Proms festival.
It all wraps up tomorrow night
with the traditional Last Night celebrations.
So, to mark the end of a glorious eight-week season
of broadcasts here on BBC Four,
we thought we'd take the chance to relive
just some of our favourite moments,
including some other encores from the 2017 BBC Proms.
LOUD CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
MUTED SASSY NOTES
WILD CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Just a taste of the BBC 2017 Proms and, of course,
lots of the television and radio broadcasts are still there
to relive on BBC iPlayer.
Well, the BBC Symphony Orchestra is starting to return
to the stage here at the Albert Hall.
The second half of their concert devoted to just one work -
music by the great Czech master, Dvorak,
and his gloriously joyful Eighth Symphony.
Unlike his other late symphonies, which are outward-looking,
the Eighth is a profoundly personal take
on the music of his homeland,
written in his summer home in Bohemia.
During rehearsals, Lloyd Coleman spoke to tonight's conductor,
Karina Canellakis, about this symphony,
and also about her stellar career which has taken her
from a job as a professional violinist to the conductor's podium.
Working with an orchestra like the BBC Symphony Orchestra,
how does your experience
as a professional violin player inform that?
My experience playing string quartets
probably influenced my approach as a conductor,
my approach to scores,
more than any other single thing that I've done as a musician.
The analytical way you have to approach
playing in a string quartet,
the way that you have to try things dozens of times.
You have to also learn how to communicate with other people
without necessarily dictating
or deciding every single tiny detail,
but sometimes it has to be left up to...what happens in the moment.
I understand that none other than Sir Simon Rattle
became something of a mentor for you,
or encouraged you to take up conducting?
He heard me play a chamber music concert and was very encouraging,
um, towards the idea that I would become a conductor.
And he gave me a tremendous amount of confidence and guidance.
We are still very much in regular contact
and talk about all things related to nerdy conductor problems.
What a thought! You and Simon Rattle having coffee over a score
and nerding out over Dvorak Eight or whatever!
I think all conductors love to nerd out together.
And it's your first time at the Proms as a conductor,
but it is also your first time conducting
the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
What do you make of this particular band?
Everyone is excited to play at the Proms,
and, at the same time, we're still getting to know each other,
there is a lot of electricity in the air
and there's a lot of suspense, even, as to what is going to happen.
How are we going to react to each other on that stage
with that audience on that particular day?
So, I'm very happy and very excited to work with them.
The Eighth Symphony by Dvorak - what did this piece mean to you
and why do you want to play it at this Prom?
I love this symphony...so much.
I think it's, um...
one of the most joyful pieces ever written.
It is so beautifully constructed,
every movement complements every other movement,
and by the time you get to the third movement,
this theme that the violins play, you don't expect it,
and it just takes you into a whole other world.
And then, you get to the last movement
and the trumpets have this fanfare
that comes out of...out of nowhere.
And you expect, perhaps, something victorious or march-like,
and you don't get that at all. You get, again,
the cellos somehow reminding you of the beginning of the symphony,
but then they play something incredibly tender,
like a lullaby, and then, after that,
you have the exciting full orchestra that comes in.
But even at that moment, it's never aggressive,
it's never violent, it's never that kind of intensity
that you would hear from perhaps other composers.
There's always a roundness to the sound,
there's always a richness and a suppleness
in the sound in Dvorak's music.
And especially in the Eighth Symphony.
And, ultimately, at the end of the symphony,
just the most sort of ebullient and joyful ending you could imagine.
We should have a thesaurus to look up
all the different words for "joy",
because it's just... that is what this piece embodies.
It's just absolute, pure joy.
Karina Canellakis, and here she comes to conduct
the BBC Symphony orchestra in Dvorak's Eighth Symphony.
NEXT MOVEMENT BEGINS
NEXT MOVEMENT BEGINS
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
The BBC Symphony Orchestra bringing warmth,
exuberance and plenty of joy to that performance
of Dvorak's Eighth Symphony,
conducted here at the BBC Proms for the first time
by the American Karina Canellakis.
The Eighth is one of Dvorak's most popular symphonies,
second only perhaps to the one that came after, the Ninth,
the so-called New World Symphony.
Karina Canellakis bringing principal flute Michael Cox to his feet,
principal clarinet Richard Hosford, principal oboe Richard Simpson.
And that's bassoonist Amy Harman.
Some wonderful woodwind writing by Dvorak in that symphony.
And Karina Canellakis was making her debut tonight as a conductor
at the Proms, although she has already played at the festival
as a violinist back in 2008.
She appeared in a concert with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
under Bernard Haitink.
There's lots of wonderful standout solo and orchestral writing,
but it's a very collegiate piece, Dvorak Eight.
Dvorak doesn't give any one individual limelight to a player,
he involves the entire orchestra
in the atmosphere of warmth and optimism.
Well, that's the end of this concert given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra,
but do stay tuned because straight after this broadcast,
you can watch the ground-breaking orchestra "Chineke!"
in their Proms debut from last week.
And, of course, tomorrow night, starting at 7.15 on BBC Two,
we'll begin our live broadcast
of the Last Night celebrations of the BBC Proms 2017.
But, for now, from all of us here at the Royal Albert Hall, goodnight.
Bartok's sparkling Second Piano Concerto and Dvorak's Eighth Symphony are in the spotlight as American pianist Jeremy Denk joins conductor Karina Canellakis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The concert opens with Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres) by young American composer Missy Mazzoli, music 'in the shape of the solar system'.