The First Night of the Proms culminates with Harmonium, a choral work from John Adams, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Chorus and the BBC Proms Youth Choir.
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International superstars, inspirational performances
and mind-blowing music: we've got it all this summer in the world's
Welcome to the First Night of the BBC Proms 2017, from me,
Katie Derham and the whole team here at the Royal Albert Hall.
And welcome back if you've been with us for the first half
on BBC Four - very nice to see you again!
We're in the interval of tonight's concert and I must say
There's a real sense of excitement about the music coming up.
American composer John Adams' spectacular Harmonium begins
Trust me, you're going to get goose bumps.
But there's also been a huge sense of excitement about the performances
And if you've only just joined us, here's a taste of what you missed...
Igor Levit's stunning performance of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto
with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor, Edward Gardner,
which you can see in full on BBC iPlayer.
And there's plenty more where that came from throughout the season.
In fact there's going to be all sorts of music -
from Stax to Schumann, Big Band to Beethoven,
with 75 concerts in the Albert Hall alone.
You can hear every concert live on BBC Radio 3
throughout the summer, and we'll be here on TV
on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, so you have
And now is as good a time as any to talk about the upcoming season,
Welcome singer and vocal coach Mary King and double bassist,
Founder and Artistic Director of the orchestra Chineke!
Thank you very much for joining us. What a great night it has been so
far. Mary, what is it about the Proms which gets everybody so
excited? I think the fact that it is two months long, and it is the
diversity and depth and brilliance of all the performances. You think
about the range of material. You can come with your children to an
early-morning prom and here ten short pieces or come to a late-night
prom and get in touch with your soul. And here Tom Jones. Or you can
hear Beethoven's only opera Fidelio, or the Aurora orchestra
deconstructing a Beethoven symphony and putting it back together again.
It is fantastic. You have performed here many times, as a performer,
what is the atmosphere like, Chi-Chi? There is no other festival
like it. And you are bringing the Chineke orchestra here for the first
time. When you think our first concert was two years ago, now we
are at the Proms. We have gone from zero to 100 mph in no time at all.
It is an orchestra which has black and minority ethnic musicians. There
are over 40 nationalities now. It is the majority BAME. It is so
significant because it really signals the fact that there are
musicians and performers of all nationalities and where everybody
can feel that they belong. A question I get asked all the time is
I have not been to the Proms before, where would I start? Mary, what is
your recommendation? In a way you could turn up and whatever is here
would be interesting. But I am terribly fond of John Wilson and his
Orchestra and his extraordinary reconstruction of the MGM sound from
the Hollywood movies. He is doing Oklahoma this year and it is a
matinee and an evening performance and he is also doing a more regular
repertoire with the Planets. He is doing a mainstream repertoire which
he also does either of those. I am a big fan of the John Wilson Orchestra
as well. They always put on a great show. We can take a peek back at the
Gershwin prom from last year to give you a flavour of what to expect this
time around. I love that! The John Wilson
Orchestra performing Gershwin last year. Do check out the Proms website
for this season's performance of Oklahoma. Chi-Chi, what is your top
recommendation? If there is any festival with Simon Rattle in it,
that would be my top recommendation. He is here with the London Symphony
Orchestra. It is his first time with his new Orchestra at the Proms. My
experience of working with Simon, which I have done over the last 30
years or so, everything he touches turns to gold really. He is one of
these consummate artists that whatever gesture he gives to, you
not only know exactly when to start playing, you know exactly the kind
of articulation, the sound, the colours he wants to bring. It is as
though he is holding the bow with you. You never get a routine
performance with Simon. Every time something fresh comes. I have never
seen him with a score. He totally embodies the piece of music and then
shares it. Let's have a little look at him in action last year.
Sir Simon Rattle with the Berlin fell on it at the 2016 Proms.
Details of his performance this year with the London Symphony Orchestra
is on the BBC Proms website. I know Chi-Chi, you are going to detect
your feet and enjoy the rest of the concert. Mary, you will stick around
to talk about Harmonium. And we will see the Chineke prom in August.
It's Adams' 70th birthday year, but we've also we've got another
It's 90 years since the BBC took over running the Proms!
So what would be more appropriate than a dip in to the archives,
as Zeb Soanes presents us with a crash course through the decades.
The BBC took over the running of the Proms in 1927. A few yards from
Broadcasting House stood the Queens Hall and that is where our concerts
began. Concerts were broadcast on the newfangled wireless signal
reaching 90% of the country. The first televised prom was in 1938,
broadcast from Alexandra Palace, and looked a bit like this. It was a
sound only transmission. This was cutting edge broadcasting. It meant
ultra short wave television sound, all very high quality in those days,
could reach up to 40,000 homes in the UK. In 1941, the Queen's Hall,
the original home of the Proms was gutted by fire in an aerator. All
that was left are these two columns by some bins. Glamorous. Then the
iconic setting is the Royal Albert Hall. The last night of the Proms
was televised for the first time in 1947, only this time with the
addition of pictures. Broadcasting was in its infancy, barely out of
nappies, and the BBC only had two outside broadcast cameras. One of
them had to be rushed to the Albert Hall from the Oval where it had
spent the afternoon televising the cricket. The Proms began to take a
front row seat in every living room. From 1948, all concerts were
broadcast on radio, and that continues to this day. In the 1950s,
there was a huge appetite for fun and frivolity, following the
austerity of the Second World War, and viewers absolutely loved it. But
BBC executives felt the audience were becoming far too rowdy, fading
out the traditional sea songs deeming it a frightening emotional
orgies. The switchboards were jammed with protests from angry viewers.
They got back what they wanted. The 1960s was a time of modernity and
mushrooms, and not just the magic kind. Stereo sound was introduced to
radio, enhanced by the mushrooms or flying saucers which were installed
in the Albert Hall in 1968 to improve the acoustics. The BBC music
department's Brave New World was striding forward in the hands of
controller William Glock. They champion Bob music encouraging
challenging new works and performances in new locations. The
Proms included special performances throughout the 70s, taking new music
to the gritty industrial space of London's roundhouse. The 70s and 80s
saw the BBC bring nearly every superstar from the classical world
to the Proms, making it a truly international festival. Innovative
technical advances allowed the BBC to endlessly reinvent the live Proms
experience. In 1996, Proms in the park was launched in Hyde Park and
thanks to big screen technology, the thousands of picnickers Inbee Park
could link live to the Albert Hall in the second half and join in the
singalong at the end. Digital broadcasting allowed further
advances such as the iPlayer and the Proms in your pocket. You could
download and watch or listen to the Proms at a time which suited you.
There was even a camera where you could stare at the conductor's
knows. But not all innovations stood the test of time. 3-D Proms, anyone?
Over the last 90 years, the BBC has consistently pioneered the latest
technology, to bring classical music to younger, bigger audiences far
greater than the number of seats in the Royal Albert Hall. To make the
Proms truly the most accessible and largest classical musical festival
in the world. And long may it continue. The
perfectly cast Zeb Soanes there. We'll be hearing his thrilling
composition, Harmonium, shortly. And joining Mary King
for a chinwag about it is Hello. I know John Adams is a
favourite of yours. Tell me why you love it so much. This piece, because
it is ravishing. It is absolutely ravishing. It starts with what the
composer called a single tone emerging out of a vast empty space,
which given there are 470 people on stage tonight, will be incredibly
dramatic. It evolves into this beautiful patchwork landscape. It is
very tonal and approachable. It is in three movements called love,
death and sex. It is a truly romantic piece and it nods back to
Wagner. It builds into an enormous bang link or Duterte thing with the
percussion section and 40 word Emily Dickinson poem. Ace Angling or Geac
the Proms, who could ask for anything more that? What is this
piece like? It is very, very loud, very fast and very high. When it is
not all those things it is slow and is sustained and very exposed. In
this space which is so resonant and the chorus is split with the organ
in the middle, it is very hard to keep together so it is a big
challenge. It is fantastic but a big challenge. Lots of young singers on
the stage as welcome as Mac nearly 300 which is fantastic.
Some of them have been learning the piece since January and they are not
necessarily note readers so this is very new to them.
We caught up with you squire Academy to talk about this evening's
performance. I'm 18 years old and I'm from Surrey. This is the first
time I've sung classical music. I'm usually a beatboxer, but I was here
to sing Harmonium. I'm Connor Randall is, heavy metal vocalist and
I'm here doing classical music, something I wouldn't expect to do.
I never listen to classical music before. It's interesting to see how
it's all set up, with the voices and different parts.
Heavy metal and classical music, there's quite a lot of similarities
there, because you've got to read your music. You can't just listen to
it and try and repeat it because it's very hard to do that with
metal. It's not the easiest of scores to read, but it's also a very
beautiful piece. I'm completely moved by the commitment of people
who've been learning this piece for six months and perhaps you haven't
sung in any kind of organised choir before. I think Coral music
especially is all about community. With younger voices there is a much
pure sound and actually, it suits the sound world of the piece
beautifully. There's a naivete as well in the sound, which I think
it's beautiful for these texts, which are so presenting of love and
life. The all toes and sopranos do a lot
of the work in the piece and there are some hard bits in there. We
don't have a break anywhere in the piece.
That's a mega phrase at the end of the mega phrase.
I'd say this piece has a credible economy and an incredible pulse to
it, but actually, it's so emotionally connected. For me it's
one of John Adams's great pieces. When we speak about minimalism, we
think about something quite clinical, quite mathematical. And
although this piece has some of those elements, it has a very strong
pulse, sometimes it has a chorus singing just individual notes with
one syllable, this piece rides emotionally way above anything I
consider to be minimalist. It's much more romantic piece, a piece about
everything that we deal with through life and towards death.
There are some moments where it's like you sit there and you're
listening to everyone in that room putting in the effort and it's a
beautiful sound. It's great I'm at the Royal Albert Hall performing
there is going to be good. It will be a lot of fun. I'm excited and
nervous at the same time. I'm definitely going to go away and do
more classical after this. Classical has this feel that I don't really
know how to explain, but it's like when it comes together and it just
joins into one piece, it's one of the most beautiful sound you can
imagine to hear, this amazing huge group of people singing it with all
their passion. Well done, everybody, good,
fabulous! Fantastic stories. That really is what it's all about, isn't
it? I cannot wait to see how they get on. In fact, there they are,
just waiting for the lights to come up properly. We can see the metal
head. They must be feeling so excited. I should tell you of course
that they are part of this big group of quires joining the BBC Symphony
Chorus. We've got the CBSO Youth Chorus, the University of Birmingham
Voices, Cornwall County Youth Choir, black county music education hub
squire and the you squire Academy making the most tremendous sound and
Mary, you were listening in rehearsal. Have you got any tips of
things we should look out for from a focal point of view? I think they
need to take a very deep breath before they start, that's my best
advice! Then, because once you are on, it's like a vast machine, it
just goes to the end. Jason, a favourite moment you are holding on
for. Listen for the sea, Emily Dickinson, you can hear the rowing,
and the singers sing rowing, rolling, rolling. We will, we will
be doing that. Any minute now, if the voices in my ear are correct,
whereabouts of the Edward Gardner come out on the stage to conduct
this epic work. There he is, about to come onto the stage. What a job
he has got for the next half hour or so, 470 people on stage to conduct
and he's going to relish every moment. This is John Adams,
Harmonium. MUSIC: Harmonium
by John Adams And you can all breathe again, after
that mesmerising performance of John Adams' Harmonium. Setting the poems
of John Donne and Emily Dickinson. Edward Gardner there, a huge smile
on his face. Having conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BBC
Symphony Chorus, and the BBC Proms you squire, which comprises -- BBC
Proms Youth Choir which comprises the CBSO Youth Chorus, University of
Birmingham Voices, Cornwall County Youth Choir, black -- Black Country
is it to great and and the BBC Proms Youth Choir Academy. And what of the
-- phenomenal sound they made! I promised you goose bumps. I hope you
got some at home. We certainly got them in the hall. The chorus
directors deserve particular congratulations. Neil Ferris and
Simon Halsey, coming to the stage now stop and you can hear over 400
young choristers them there. They are being brought to their feet
again. It's an experience that nobody here will forget.
Well, as I already mentioned, John Adams' music will feature throughout
the season to celebrate his 70th birthday year, including the Last
Night of the Proms, when we will have an extract from his new opera,
The Girl From The Golden West. It opens in San Francisco in the
autumn. But what a way to finish this First
Night of the Proms. Thank you Mary King
and Jason Hazeley. And thank you all of you at
home for joining us. We'll be bringing you concerts
on television every Friday and Sunday evening on BBC Four
throughout the summer. And join me every Saturday evening
on BBC Two for Proms Extra. This Sunday, on BBC Four perhaps
the most famous figure in classical music today,
Daniel Barenboim, and the Staatskapelle Berlin perform
Elgar's second symphony, and a UK premiere of a new piece
by Sir Harrison Birtwistle. Meanwhile, I'm going to leave
you with a taste of what you can expect from the rest
of the season... orchestras and soloists who'll be
inspiring the proms this summer As alter my's musicians are cheered
once again, it's time for me to wish you were very good night.
The First Night of the Proms culminates with Harmonium, a dazzling choral work from American music titan John Adams, who celebrates his 70th birthday this year. Harmonium is a thrilling and captivating setting of poetry by John Donne and Emily Dickinson, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Chorus and the BBC Proms Youth Choir, conducted by Edward Gardner. Presented by Katie Derham.