Bernard Haitink conducts the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, as Isabelle Faust plays Mozart's Third Violin Concerto, paired with his Prague Symphony. Plus, Schumann's Second Symphony.
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Tonight's Prom is a meeting of greats. Proms legend
Bernard Haitink conducts the Chamber Orchestra of Europe,
treating us to music by Mozart and Schumann.
Hello, and a very warm welcome from me,
Roderick Williams, at the Royal Albert Hall.
I'm taking a break from singing tonight to present for you
an evening of eagerly anticipated music-making.
Conductor Bernard Haitink - still going strong in his 88th year -
makes a staggering 89th Proms appearance.
His first was in 1966, the year that England won the World Cup.
And I'm sure the England team would be envious
of his international success since then.
Born in Amsterdam,
he's been principal conductor of a formidable list of
world orchestras, and we are particularly fortunate
to have enticed him to the UK,
first with the London Philharmonic Orchestra,
then to Glyndebourne,
and then 15 years as Head of Music at the Royal Opera Covent Garden,
where he made memorable contributions to the
fly-on-the-wall documentary The House.
And let's not forget the phenomenal Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
Considered to be one of the finest chamber orchestras
in the world, it was founded back in 1981
by a group of young musicians
who'd grown too old for the European Union Youth Orchestra.
13 of the original members are still in the ensemble.
Haitink and this orchestra create an amazing sound together,
and tonight, the sound in the first half is all about Mozart -
Isabelle Faust performs Mozart's Third Violin Concerto,
but before that, it's the Prague Symphony No 38.
The 30-year-old Mozart hadn't written a symphony in three years
before he composed this one in 1786.
Vienna was finding his music too complex,
but he hoped for a more sophisticated audience in Prague.
"My Praguers understand me," commented Mozart.
And, indeed, they did,
for it was the Prague Opera that commissioned him
to write Don Giovanni, a work which has many a musical echo
in this symphony, especially in the grand and ominous opening bars.
Unusually, it has three movements instead of the customary four,
as Mozart missed out on a minuet altogether.
It also has more virtuoso passages and woodwind solos
than in Mozart's previous symphonies.
And here he is, Bernard Haitink,
to open tonight's Prom with Mozart's Prague Symphony.
Mozart's Prague Symphony, performed by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe,
with the leader, Lorenza Borrani, and conducted by Bernard Haitink.
What a delightful scamper that last movement is.
Everybody clearly enjoying themselves.
Bernard Haitink hardly the picture of the tyrannical conductor,
more a man at a gathering of old friends.
Sir Simon Rattle said he could always tell
when Haitink had conducted the Berlin Philharmonic
because they sounded more relaxed, spacious and expressive.
And you can really feel how responsive these world-class
musicians are under his baton.
Well, next tonight we're going to hear Mozart's Third Violin Concerto,
with soloist Isabelle Faust.
Written in 1775, when Mozart was just 19 -
just a teenager still - he called this his Strasbourg Concerto -
a reference to the Strasbourger,
a folk tune that appears in the final movement.
Throughout the piece, you can hear how Mozart takes delight
in playing the soloist off against the orchestra,
especially in the finale rondo, with its little echo games,
or the wonderful extra gavotte that breaks out of a pizzicato strings.
I'm often reminded of Mozart as a virtuosic keyboard player,
with all his sonatas, concertos, or even in the glockenspiel part
he used to improvise for Papageno in the Magic Flute.
It's easy to forget that he was also a superb violinist.
And we know from his letters that he performed the Strasbourg Concerto
at least once, writing that his performance, "Went like oil.
"Everyone praised my beautiful, pure tone."
Our violinist tonight, Isabelle Faust,
places particular emphasis
on going back to primary sources to reach her interpretation.
She says her goal in such intensive research is to
get into what the composer wants.
Isabelle will play in the tuttis, as is authentic to the period,
and she's playing cadenzas written by
the German fortepianist Andreas Staier.
Soloist Isabelle Faust takes the stage with her instrument,
the 1704 Stradivarius, known as the Sleeping Beauty violin,
to perform Mozart's Third Violin Concerto
with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
Isabelle Faust, the soloist in Mozart's Third Violin Concerto,
with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe,
conducted by Bernard Haitink.
Please excuse me if I react like a singer, but I thought
she sang beautifully, especially in the second movement.
It's also wonderful to see how the members
of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe
clearly enjoyed her playing throughout.
Isabelle will be returning to the Proms later in the season,
when she'll be playing Mendelssohn's lyrical Violin Concerto In E Minor
with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
That will be on Sunday, 3rd September, live on Radio 3.
She started playing the violin at the age of five,
two years after her father started learning as an amateur.
"He asked me if I would like to do the same thing," Faust recalls.
"I said yes, and went with him to one of his lessons."
So, still to come, Schumann's Second Symphony performed
by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and conducted by Bernard Haitink.
And let's talk a little bit more about Bernard Haitink.
I don't expect he'd remember my solo Proms debut
under his baton 21 years ago.
It was in Verdi's Don Carlos,
and my tiny role lasted only eight bars.
But the occasion left quite an impression on me -
I have to admit I was a little bit starstruck.
Haitink is loved the world over by musicians and audiences alike,
and his relationship with the Proms is a particularly close one,
going way back to 1966.
So, before the second part of this concert, let's take
a look at one of his very first televised appearances here.
I don't believe in too much democracy,
but I don't believe at all in too much dictatorship.
The profession of an orchestra musician is extremely difficult
because you can't do things by yourself,
you have always to do something another man will ask of you.
An orchestra player will always do his best
when he feels that the man who conducts him has a musical ID.
So when I don't get what I ask, I try to explain it -
not with words, I don't believe at all in words -
but you can do it with your hands, with your face.
Bernard Haitink conducting Mendelssohn in 1973.
Now, onwards with tonight's concert.
In September 1845, Robert Schumann wrote to his friend
Felix Mendelssohn, saying "For several days,
"drums and trumpets in the key of C have been sounding in my mind.
"I have no idea what will come of it."
Well, we're about to find out,
as Schumann's Second Symphony is coming up next.
That C major key is the first thing that's fascinating
about this symphony.
Such a bright, optimistic key.
Now, you might well think that's rather plain and unremarkable,
except that Schumann spent so much of his life
enduring the very opposite of C major optimism.
He was beset by mental illness -
he would now maybe be diagnosed as bipolar - as well as being
tormented by physical conditions from tinnitus to syphilis.
By choosing the open, heroic simplicity of C major it's as if
he was trying to dominate his mental struggles.
Schumann himself said,
"My resistant spirit has a visible influence on the Second Symphony,
"and it is through that that I sought to fight my condition."
Such can be the power of music indeed.
My own experience of Schumann's music is mostly through miniatures,
songs that last a matter of minutes,
even if they eventually build into song cycles
that can last half an hour.
But in his symphonies Schumann is seeking to express
himself on a grander scale.
And let's not forget the wider context in which Schumann
was writing the Second Symphony.
We've moved on two generations from the Mozart we heard in part one.
And now the shadow of the mighty symphonist Beethoven loomed large.
One can only imagine the pressure that Schumann - a fellow German -
must have felt at the Second's premiere in November 1846.
In the event, Mendelssohn, Schumann's devoted champion,
conducted, but it still wasn't well received.
Nowadays, Schumann's symphonies are far better understood
and revered within the context of his life's work.
And who better to bring the symphony to life tonight
than Bernard Haitink?
And here he is, to conduct the Chamber Orchestra of Europe
with the leader, Lorenza Borrani,
in Schumann's Second Symphony.
Schumann's Second Symphony comes to a triumphant close there.
Bernard Haitink conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe
in a wonderful performance of that symphony.
Schumann said that he had started to feel better
by the time he wrote the final movement,
and it certainly sounds that way with the triumphant finale.
Bernard Haitink returning to the stage.
The 88-year-old man has said,
"Every conductor, including myself, has a sell-by date."
Well, judging by the vigour with which he conducted
that final movement,
he's certainly not reached that stage yet.
And Bernard Haitink, not content to take the applause himself,
is raising members of the chamber orchestra who played
so phenomenally throughout this evening.
And he seems to be returning to the podium.
MUSIC: Scherzo from A Midsummer Night's Dream by Felix Mendelssohn
Special recognition there for Josine Buter
and Clara Andrada, the two flautists there,
scampering through the scherzo from Mendelssohn's
Midsummer Night's Dream.
A perfect encore,
nearly 50 years after that archive performance we saw earlier.
What a sparkling finish to a fantastic concert
from Bernard Haitink and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
The Proms will be back on BBC 4 next Friday
with a special celebration of another Proms legend -
Sir Malcolm Sargent.
But, for now, from me, Roderick Williams, good night.
BBC Proms legend Bernard Haitink returns to the Royal Albert Hall to conduct his beloved Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Acclaimed German violinist Isabelle Faust plays Mozart's joyous Third Violin Concerto, which is paired tonight with his groundbreaking Prague Symphony. Schumann's Second Symphony closes the programme.