We pick our top ten pieces featuring at the BBC Proms this summer
Summer in London usually consists of soaking up the sun (when it appears), enjoying the many outdoor activities on offer around the city and generally taking advantage of the long, glorious summer evenings. But for some music lovers there’s a slightly different agenda. The arrival of the world’s best classical music festival, the BBC Proms, means a summer of unbeatable music at the Royal Albert Hall. Featuring the thrilling film scores of John Williams, Phillip Glass’s minimalism and the brilliance of Beethoven amongst others, you would be surprised at the diversity of music there is on offer. That’s why we’re bringing you our top 10 pieces featuring at this year’s festival – and with so much music to choose from, it wasn’t easy. Maestro, take it away…
Featured at the opening night of this year’s Proms, John Adams’s Harmonium is a wondrous, sonic treat for the ears. The first movement, ‘Negative Love’, builds with an epic underlying drive accompanied by atmospheric chords, swirling harmonies and minimalistic textures, all of which are expertly delivered by choir and orchestra. The consequent climax is a towering, seismic wall of noise that might just blow you away – all you need to do is sit back, listen and admire.
Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov was a master musical storyteller, and Scheherazade is one of his most famous works. This symphonic suite tells the story of The Arabian Nights and the third movement in particular conveys the romance between a young prince and princess. Sumptuous strings open the piece, playing a romantic and lyrical melody that sets the scene within the suite’s fantastical fairy-tale world. Later on, listen out for the enigmatic solo violin which is charmingly accompanied by a harp, both of which we guarantee will transport you to the very same magical place as our lovers in this story.
March Of The Resistance
An electrifying piece, March of the Resistance is full to the brim of rebellious energy and driving rhythmic determination which will have you unknowingly tapping away to the pulse. Once again, Williams is on point with his melody writing, showing no lack of creativity even at 85 years of age, and has perfectly captured the iconic X-Fighters making a grand entrance into battle. Listen to the militant brass accompanied with the furious tenacity of the strings, which combined together produce a gleaming, intergalactic sound taking you to the heart of the action in a galaxy far, far away.
Nimrod from the Enigma Variations
It simply wouldn’t be a Proms playlist without legendary British composer Edward Elgar making an appearance – and this piece is arguably one of his most well loved. Hushed strings open the movement, delicately playing out a romantic melody ruminating upon one of Elgar’s important friendship with his music editor. How the sound of the orchestra is controlled in this piece is crucial to the impact of the triumphant and heart-warming climax heard later on, so we’ve picked a recording played by the London Symphony Orchestra that we think does it justice. And if you have seen Christopher Nolan’s film Dunkirk this summer you will already be, perhaps unknowingly, acquainted with this classic piece of music.
Scherzo, Violin Concerto No. 1
Written two years after the Second World War during a time of extreme censorship in Russia, Shostakovich’s first Violin Concerto was met with immediate critical praise. In this Scherzo the violin sounds possessed with a disturbing energy, with the soloist acrobatically summoning every conceivable noise from the violin strings. The orchestra accompanies in a slightly more reserved manner, but when both forces unite there’s a fun and infectiously twisted carnival atmosphere to behold – a pure thrill ride.
Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune
Debussy’s masterpiece, inspired by a poem of the same name by Stéphane Mallarmé, is widely considered to be one of the pieces influential in paving way for more discordant works in the 20th century. But don’t let this fool you, as this work is full to the brim of beauty, and truly deserves your full attention as the piece blossoms into vivid musical colours, symbolic of Debussy’s renowned impressionist style. The shimmering, sedate textures from the strings combined with gorgeously inventive harmonies will induce a dreamlike state that will simply take your breath away.
Phillip Glass is one of the pioneers of minimalism, and having written numerous operas, symphonies and film scores, his style emanates through to a lot of popular music you hear today. Glassworks was music he had admitted having written to introduce him to a more general audience, and it proved to be a wild success. The final movement is Glass at his best, with each instrument’s melody seamlessly weaving in-between one another in an articulate minimalistic style. And accompanied with the stunning melancholic harmonies, there is so much to listen out for and get truly lost in.
Molto Vivace, Symphony No. 9
Ludvig van Beethoven
From the iconic introductory violin notes, followed by a sudden yet abrupt bang of a timpani, you know you’re in for a ride with this movement from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Molto Vivace translates to ‘very lively’ and you can tell Beethoven meant every word in this; it is a trailblazer of a movement full of energy, suspense and marvellous playing. For the best experience, we think this piece is best heard live or turned up to the maximum on your system or headphones.
The Firebird Suite
Originally written as an accompaniment to a ballet in 1910, Firebird was Stravinsky’s breakthrough as a composer, and has since held its own as a standalone piece of orchestral music. We have chosen the finale as a highlight from this magnificent work, signalling an end to the gushing rhythmic and harmonic chaos heard in earlier movements. Tranquil strings ease in the beginning, slowly growing into a cascade of shiny brass noises for a rousing finish, which could easily be mistaken for a John Williams film score. And we think it’s absolutely worth a listen.
The Dizzy Gillespie Big 7
We’ve chosen a live version of this track by Dizzy Gillespie for you to enjoy from Montreux Jazz Festival in 1975. The virtuoso jazz trumpeter would have been 100 years old this October, and to celebrate the Proms organised a concert comprising of his and Ella Fitzgerald’s (who also turns 100 this year) jazz classics. However, in this performance you hear Dizzy and his fellow band members completely reimagine this well-loved jazz standard, exploring a more be-bop avenue through impressive improvisations, a lightning-quick tempo and outrageous musicianship – making it even more daring and fun than the original.