lushness, sublimity and more

Summer is coming to an end. So are the Proms. Last night, we sat high up in the circle at the Royal Albert Hall to watch and listen to the Berliner Philharmoniker perform some sublime music. First up, Wagner’s Prelude to Act 1 of Parsifal – love those lush strings. Then, the extraordinary soaring, immensely beautiful and transcendent Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss, with the soprano Karita Mattila. Spellbinding, spine-tingling stuff. This definitely presses all my romantic buttons!

After the interval, the orchestra played works by Schoenberg, Webern and Berg (respectively, Five Orchestral Pieces, Six Pieces for Orchestra and Three Orchestral Pieces), presented as a whole, without applause in between, as requested by conductor Sir Simon Rattle in his brief introduction. The Webern pieces are fantastic exercises in restraint, extremely short (about 12 minutes in total) yet intricately structured. The Proms programme notes describe Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces as a ‘catastrophe in sound’ – a wonderful phrase, and how could you not be thrilled by a piece which ends with an almighty crash of a wooden mallet on a large wooden box? The angularity, the jolts and shocks, the energy and controlled aggression; this is what I respond to, and it’s exciting to find this in early 20th century music, and to imagine what it must have been like to hear this for the very first time. As life changing as my first encounter with The Birthday Party, at the Seaview Ballroom on Christmas Eve 1980? But that’s another story…

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