Zhang's Beethoven BBC Proms


Zhang's Beethoven

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Its companion piece is the European premiere of A European Requiem, written in 2015 by the Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan.


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Hello, I'm Kirsty Wark and welcome to a jam-packed

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Royal Albert Hall for tonight's Prom.

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People often say that this extraordinary space is tailor-made

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for large-scale choral works, and tonight we're

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Later we'll hear Beethoven's iconic Ninth Symphony,

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but we're starting the concert with the UK premiere of a newer work

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- the European Requiem by one of the world's leading contemporary

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composers, the profoundly reflective and constantly engaging,

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In different ways, both of these composers are offering a powerful

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response to hundreds of years of continental culture and history,

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but the questions they address are far deeper, bigger,

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broader than the politics of our own time.

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A committed Catholic, MacMillan sees music as the most

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He's written a significant amount of liturgical music,

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but the Mass setting we're going to hear now is a concert work,

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in the same tradition as Brahms' German Requiem.

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It's conceived as a single unbroken symphonic movement

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for large orchestra, chorus and two soloists.

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There's been some speculation, but this work isn't a response

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In fact, it was composed well before the referendum

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When it was premiered at the Oregon Bach Festival last

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July, to a thunderous reception, the reviews described

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a "breathtaking" work of "coruscating brilliance".

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Here's James earlier today, talking about his European Requiem.

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Some might detect a pessimistic tone to this requiem. But it was inspired

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by The Uses Of Pessimism. In that book, he argued that the true

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Europe, Europe of spirit, has nothing to do with the fallacies

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that nearly destroyed a civilisation in the past, Nazis, communism,

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Marxism, fascism, but has more to do with the culture of mercy that came

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to Europe from the Middle East, from people that knew Christ. If that

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civilisation is over, we should sing a requiem for it. But from the ashes

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and the grave of that great culture, we perhaps might breathe life into

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the true nature of Europe again, what makes Europe Europe. In that

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sense, I am an optimist. James MacMillan,

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speaking earlier today. At the very start of the score,

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you'll hear a savage parody of the finale

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of Beethoven's Choral Symphony - a recurring threat to the gentler,

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consoling parts we have the BBC National

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Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, joined by the City of Birmingham

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Symphony Chorus. And coming on stage now,

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our two stellar soloists, counter-tenor Iestyn Davies

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and baritone Jacques Imbrailo. And to conduct this UK premiere

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of James MacMillan's European Requiem the orchestra's

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Principal Guest MUSIC: A European Requiem

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by Sir James MacMillan to Sir James MacMillan's

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A European Requiem. That magnificent UK premiere

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was performed by counter-tenor Iestyn Davies and baritone

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Jacques Imbrailo, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales,

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leader Lesley Hatfield, the BBC National Chorus

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of Wales and the City of Birmingham

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Symphony Chorus, And the sound of the soaring chorus

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filled the Royal Albert Hall. And now we can see Sir James

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MacMillan coming on to greet Xian Zhang. He was there for the

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rehearsal this afternoon. He said he was so excited.

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When the European Requiem was performed in Oregon,

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Tonight, there were 180 and I think this performance means a great deal

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to him. Jimmy MacMillan talks a lot about

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his wide range of influences, his profound catholic faith, his

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Scottish heritage and his social conscience.

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He also draws on a number of music traditions -

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Celtic, Far Eastern, Scandinavian and Eastern European.

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The soloists coming back on now, Iestyn Davies and South African

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Jacques Imbrailo. There we are. And Jimmy MacMillan back on as well,

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taking the applause. A profoundly religious man.

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CHEERING NACRO

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I remember when Jimmy MacMillan exploded on the scene at a very

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young age ? everybody was talking about him.

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a Proms commission, which harked to the Scottish witch hunts

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and the fate of Isobel, tried as a witch.

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this crowd so knowledgeable of their music, I'm sure they will certainly

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remember that extraordinary Proms performance.

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The second half of tonight's concert is devoted to just one work -

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the symphony without which no Proms season is complete.

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Beethoven's mighty Ninth - the Choral which, astonishingly,

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has been programmed in every Proms season since 1928, bar one ? 1982.

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We in the UK have ourselves to thank for this work ? it was

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London's Royal Philharmonic Society which commissioned this

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Symphony from Beethoven, for the princely sum

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With the Ninth, Beethoven was revolutionary.

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It was the longest, most ambitious symphony yet written and,

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more importantly, its epic journey from the primeval rumblings

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of its opening, through a savage scherzo and a transcendentally

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beautiful slow movement led to an explosion of human voices

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in his setting of Schiller's 1785 Ode to Joy, with its appeal

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The work was written in the 1820s in a world

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that was very different to ours, but the urgency of Beethoven's

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message is so powerful that this final chorus has been repeatedly

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co-opted to speak by many different, conflicting

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causes and ideologies ? from the fall of the Berlin Wall

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to the NationalAnthem of Rhodesia ? as well,

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of course, as the anthem of the European Union.

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And who knows what meanings this piece will have taken on when

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it's performed at the Proms in 50 years' time.

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The essential core of Beethoven's music expresses a shared human

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message that that goes far beyond the local politics

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Tonight, Beethoven's eternally resonant affirmation of a universal

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humanity is performed by a truly international cast ?

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Canadian soprano Erin Wall, Italian mezzo Sonia Prina,

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They join the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales,

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and the CBSO Chorus ? all performing under the baton of Chinese American

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When I spoke to her earlier, I started by asking, why Beethoven? I

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believe it is a great test for any orchestra, a test of discipline, a

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test of playing as an ensemble. I always think it is almost like a

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work-out, like you go to the gym, you always go to the treadmill for

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half an hour, Beethoven is like that for an all Castro, you need that

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work-out. Apparently, every time you conduct Beethoven's Ninth, you use a

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fresh call. Why? -- a fresh score. Because for a piece that you perform

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so often and people hear so often, you must not get into a habit of

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doing certain things in only one way. Then it becomes very boring and

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as a performer, I think I must try to avoid that. Do you remember the

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first time you ever heard Beethoven? Ever heard Beethoven? That would be

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from the piano. I was very young and when I was able to play Beethoven, I

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think I was five or six. I was in a very small town on the border of

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China and North Korea and I believe I was probably the only one, or one

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of two, who were playing the piano, so it was very rare and I enjoyed it

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very much. I was on a piano six or eight hours a day, as a kid. I

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wouldn't imagine my children doing that now, I wouldn't force them to.

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But it worked out for you. I guess it did, it was meant to be and I do

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love music. Thank you very much indeed. My pleasure.

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And here is Xian Zhang, to conduct the BBC National Orchestra of Wales,

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MUSIC: Symphony No. 9, "Choral" by Ludwig van Beethoven

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voices of the BBC National Chorus of Wales and the CBSO giving an

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unbelievable and moving climax to tonight. Zhang said she wanted to

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balance these forces of the orchestra this evening and has

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created the most thrilling and visceral performance. When she puts

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away her score at the tonight, I would imagine she can put five stars

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on it. The Royal Albert Hall has heard many nights but this was --

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Ninths but this was superb. Sonia Prina, Simon O'Neill, and Alexander

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Vinogradov. And there we have it, the crowd is

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on its feet, the choir has behaved magnificently tonight, coming

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together to create the most extraordinary sound.

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And here we have everybody here waiting to see and waiting to

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applaud the choir masters who have done so much work to bring these two

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acquires together on tonight's extraordinary night. Waiting for the

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orchestra because Xian Zhang will come back on though.

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The choir masters coming on now and we can see two delighted choir

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masters, the city of Birmingham Symphony Chorus Julian Wilkins on

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the BBC National Chorus of Wales Adrian Partington. They should be so

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proud of what they have achieved tonight for this, Beethoven's Ninth.

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And now we can see great applause for the choir, standing very calmly,

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quietly. The soloists are coming back on now, Erin Wall in front and

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Sonia Prina, taking the applause from the crowd. And Xian Zhang, such

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an expressive conductor, giving applause now to the orchestra.

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And we can see there now, crowding round Xian Zhang, she is leaving and

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the soloists all leaving the stage together. It has been a magnificent

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afternoon, first the European Requiem and now the Ninth.

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Well, that's it for this evening's concert.

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It's been an incredible night and we have been privileged to share such

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stellar performances. Stay with us for more Beethoven on BBC Four in a

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few moments where we show a performance of the composer's only

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opera, Fidelio, recorded earlier in the season. For now, from me and a

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rapturous crowd, good night.

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Beethoven's much-loved Ninth Symphony, with its passionate plea for unity, is performed by the BBC National Orchestra & Chorus of Wales and the CBSO Chorus, conducted by Xian Zhang. Its companion piece is the European premiere of A European Requiem, written in 2015 by the great Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan.


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