Vasily Petrenko. Photo: Mark McNulty.

Prom 54: Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Frederick Delius and Shostakovich

Resistance movements. It didn’t take long for everyone to realize that they had a musical star in Vasily Petrenko, the boyish thirtysomething conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. He debuted with them in 2004 at the age of 28 with brilliant promise. No one spoke of promise after a concert or two; they were already floored. One of a star’s perks is a roaring welcome at the Proms. You’d have thought at the end of their concert two nights ago that the orchestra had just played Crown Imperial rather than the angst-ridden Shostakovich Tenth.

Prom 13: Verdi’s Requiem

Temporary immortality. The Verdi Requiem is an event, a masterpiece, an emotional catharsis, but also an old shoe. Well worn by dozens of recordings since two great ones, by Toscanini and De Sabata, started the grooves turning, it hasn’t been saved from familiarity by being magnificent, any more than the Grand Canyon has. What do you do to breathe life back into music that has been worn down by so many feet? (I apologize to readers who feel that I’m asking the equivalent of “Caviar again? Didn’t we have that yesterday?”)

The French Orchestra at the Proms: Myung-Whun Chung Conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France

Whee! Paree. A general moaning arose from music reviewers, starting around forty years ago, about French orchestras. They no longer sounded French. No more pinched oboes being played through the nose. No more horns sounding as if they were warbling underwater or inbred with the saxophone clan. No more lean, on-the-dot precision in the strings. As they lamented this loss, the same bemoaners forgot that they once carped about the very sound that was fading away. Uncharacteristically, the French were listening.

Prom 4: Havergal Brian’s Symphony No 1 “The Gothic”

OMG! The appearance of Havergal Brian’s “Gothic” Symphony is like the biblical Leviathan surfacing in Hyde Park. It’s epochal. The buses lined up behind the monster aren’t full of gawkers but the assembled forces needed to perform the work, not counting trucks loaded with 32 timpani, eight brass choirs, a horde of extra offstage trumpets, and more — much, much more. Choruses throng from all points of the compass. Somewhere at the musicians’ union a shop foreman is screaming into the phone, “Don’t tell me we’ve run out of ophicleides and sarrusophones! This is apocalypse!” Oh wait, it was Berlioz who calls for ophicleides and sarrusophones. But some wisp of his spirit hovered over Stoke-on-Trent when the very, very dotty composer, Havergal Brian, was born in 1876.

First Night of the Proms 2011

Check the odometer. The Proms deserve a jolly rev up when they start, and after 117 summer seasons, it was a fresh young pianist, Benjamin Grosvenor, who provided it. At nineteen, he came out in a casual shirt looking like a college freshman who might be spending his vacation as a pizza delivery boy or valet parking attendant. Those attendants are notorious for taking Porsches and Jags for a quick spin, returning them with hot wheels. Grosvenor had his chances with Liszt’s Piano Concerto no. 2, but he returned it respectfully to its owner. He displayed glittering fingers and a beguiling soft touch at the beginning, but this work is faux art, setting a mood simply to tease the audience before the fireworks display.

Henry Purcell, The Fairy Queen, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

Glyndebourne is only a quarter of a gas tank away from London, but a good seat at this swanky summer opera costs as much as four barrels of crude oil. It was a privilege, therefore, that Glyndebourne’s current production of Purcell’s masterpiece from 1692, The Fairy Queen, travelled to the Proms for one night. They couldn’t bring the scenery and the stage mechanisms, which are strange and lavish to judge from photos online, but we got everything else. London reviewers were agape at the marvels of Jonathan Kent’s production, so I was eager to see how an epic chamber opera, for that’s what this is, would translate in the wide open acreage of Albert Hall.

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