Updated: Jul 29
I've been writing the occasional mental health post here over the past year. Last time I shared a bit about the challenges of Summer for many of us on the bipolar spectrum.
One of the bright spots I find each summer comes courtesy of the BBC Proms. In case you don't know about the Sir Henry Wood Promenade concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London, the Proms has the right to call itself "the world's greatest classical music festival" for any number of reasons...
BBC Radio 3 is an engaging place to start where classical music is concerned any time of the year. Its programming can be peerless, and it appears to have the resources it needs to sustain its centennial of success. Like institutions of every discipline and strata, it's also a case study for the tensions between progress and tradition, between "stock" stories and hidden ones. The Proms is no different (See "Rule Brittania," and the famous "Last Night of the Proms," this year on Sept. 10.)
The BBC is also one of world's major music organizations promoting the work of women and artists of color. More than "token-ism," they are programing new music and featuring new voices along with re-discovered and under-sung names. For comparison, the UK has more women in prominent orchestra conducting posts right now than the US has ever had. Ever.
This year the focus on Women Composers centers on Ethel Smyth, who was equally renown/infamous as an imprisoned Suffragette and an "eccentric" bisexual socialite. Her friend Virginia Woolf said loving Ethel must be "like hugging a crab." Ouch. Her music is like none other. Check out her opera, The Wreckers. Then read The Lighthouse. You be the decider...
I started jotting a list. It ended up being a select one (there are over 75 concerts to peruse, after all):
Sally Beamish, Doreen Carwithen, Hannah Eisendle, Cynthia Erivo, Betsy Jolas, Nicole Lizée, Missy Mazzoli, Kaija Saariaho, Caroline Shaw, Ethel Smyth, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Errollyn Wallen, Jennifer Walshe, Judith Weir, and among others, Grace Williams.
Jennifer Walshe's charged orchestral monodrama, "The Site of the Investigation" was on the bill Jul. 28. She's one of several new (to me) voices I'm excited about. And the piece! 35' of spoken-work docu-poetry, along with various singing styles deployed by the composer, played by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The Brahms Requiem was the second half of that program.
Cynthia Erivo was - is! - amazing. I can't wait for Missy Mazzoli's new violin concerto. She and Caroline Shaw are two of the young American voices I love. Like a lot of 21st c. composers, they are making genre-defying music. Music which catches the ear and engages the brain. It's unashamed to tug heart strings or touch political buttons. It is rarely predictable.
For the first time since the pandemic, international orchestras are returning to London. I'm particularly excited to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra play Florence Price, and the Berlin Philharmonic play Mahler. Impressive lineups of soloists, conductors, major works and premiers, chamber concerts, the first-ever Gaming Prom, Pops and other "Relaxed Proms" are among the offerings. There's a season-long tribute to Vaughan Williams for his 150th birthday year, as there is for the centennial of the first African American composer to win the Pulitzer, George Walker.
I hope you discover whatever music your soul needs right now: soothing, stimulating, relaxing, invigorating, challenging, contemplative, rousing, meditative. I could continue, but we music lovers
and makers know that words sometimes can't express it... Happy listening!