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


Royal Albert Hall for tonight's Prom.


People often say that this extraordinary space is tailor-made


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


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


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


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


composers, the profoundly reflective and constantly engaging,


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


response to hundreds of years of continental culture and history,


but the questions they address are far deeper, bigger,


broader than the politics of our own time.


A committed Catholic, MacMillan sees music as the most


He's written a significant amount of liturgical music,


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


in the same tradition as Brahms' German Requiem.


It's conceived as a single unbroken symphonic movement


for large orchestra, chorus and two soloists.


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


In fact, it was composed well before the referendum


When it was premiered at the Oregon Bach Festival last


July, to a thunderous reception, the reviews described


a "breathtaking" work of "coruscating brilliance".


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


sense, I am an optimist. James MacMillan,


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


you'll hear a savage parody of the finale


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


consoling parts we have the BBC National


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


Symphony Chorus. And coming on stage now,


our two stellar soloists, counter-tenor Iestyn Davies


and baritone Jacques Imbrailo. And to conduct this UK premiere


of James MacMillan's European Requiem the orchestra's


Principal Guest MUSIC: A European Requiem


by Sir James MacMillan to Sir James MacMillan's


A European Requiem. That magnificent UK premiere


was performed by counter-tenor Iestyn Davies and baritone


Jacques Imbrailo, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales,


leader Lesley Hatfield, the BBC National Chorus


of Wales and the City of Birmingham


Symphony Chorus, And the sound of the soaring chorus


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


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


rehearsal this afternoon. He said he was so excited.


When the European Requiem was performed in Oregon,


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


to him. Jimmy MacMillan talks a lot about


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


Scottish heritage and his social conscience.


He also draws on a number of music traditions -


Celtic, Far Eastern, Scandinavian and Eastern European.


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


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


taking the applause. A profoundly religious man.




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


young age ? everybody was talking about him.


a Proms commission, which harked to the Scottish witch hunts


and the fate of Isobel, tried as a witch.


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


remember that extraordinary Proms performance.


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


the symphony without which no Proms season is complete.


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


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


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


London's Royal Philharmonic Society which commissioned this


Symphony from Beethoven, for the princely sum


With the Ninth, Beethoven was revolutionary.


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


more importantly, its epic journey from the primeval rumblings


of its opening, through a savage scherzo and a transcendentally


beautiful slow movement led to an explosion of human voices


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


The work was written in the 1820s in a world


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


message is so powerful that this final chorus has been repeatedly


co-opted to speak by many different, conflicting


causes and ideologies ? from the fall of the Berlin Wall


to the NationalAnthem of Rhodesia ? as well,


of course, as the anthem of the European Union.


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


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


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


message that that goes far beyond the local politics


Tonight, Beethoven's eternally resonant affirmation of a universal


humanity is performed by a truly international cast ?


Canadian soprano Erin Wall, Italian mezzo Sonia Prina,


They join the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales,


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


balance these forces of the orchestra this evening and has


created the most thrilling and visceral performance. When she puts


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


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


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


Vinogradov. And there we have it, the crowd is


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


together to create the most extraordinary sound.


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


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


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


orchestra because Xian Zhang will come back on though.


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


masters, the city of Birmingham Symphony Chorus Julian Wilkins on


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


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


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


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


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


an expressive conductor, giving applause now to the orchestra.


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


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


afternoon, first the European Requiem and now the Ninth.


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


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


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


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


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


rapturous crowd, good night.


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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