Sunday, July 20, 2014

Prom 2 with China Phil and great Chinese Musicians (and Alison Balsom)

To the Albert Hall last night for Prom 2 which was the proms debut of the China Philharmonic. Our friend Wang Boming was one of the sponsors of this tour and he very kindly gave us two tickets and invited us to the reception.  An additional delightful surprise was to find our friend Angela Chen in the box with us. Angela is very musical and has recently joined the Board of the NY Phil.

The first item was Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance No 4 - a kind tribute to the UK. This was followed by Tchaikovsky's Overture to Romeo and Juliet - the ghostly sections particularly effective.

Then the brilliant young Zhang Haochen was soloist for Lizst's first Piano Concerto. This was an absolute delight - he played with enormous subtlety and the filigree pianissimo sections were really striking in concept and execution. I felt he was, in the best possible sense, playing Liszt as though it were Schubert. And indeed it transpires from the programme notes that the Concerto was inspired in part by the Wanderer Fantasie.After three curtain calls he gave an exquisite Liszt solo as an encore.I also find from the programme notes that Liszt's father had been a cellist at Esterhazy in Haydn's time.

During then interval we went to the BBC reception and met Helen Boden (who runs BBC Radio) and Edward Blakeman the interim Proms Director, and were able to congratulate both of them.

The second half began with the UK premiere of a new work by Chen Qigang called "Endless Joy" - essentially a trumpet concerto, with the great Alison Balsom as soloist. This was a real triumph. Chen Qigang had studied with Messien and it showed. He made the trumpet do extraordinarily difficult things: very musical and no element of pointless virtuosity but a fast triplet theme which would have been slightly intricate on the piano or violin is, unless I'm much mistaken, virtually impossible on the trumpet and Balsom aced it apparently effortlessly. Wild and well deserved applause for her and for the composer, who was present.

Then Ravel's orchestration of Tableaux d'un Exposition. The programme note began with a dairy entry from the great Svatoslav Richter saying that he loathed this orchestral version because he considered Tableaux the greatest Russian piano work, and he told an interviewee that the orchestration was "a decorative travesty". Perhaps, but it's a very fine piece.  By a happy accident the baton flew from Yu Long's hands early on so he conducted batonless. His conducting, and the orchestra's playing, became noticeably freer, more fluid and expressive. I do hope that he does this more often.

We were treated to two encores, the first a traditional Chinese tune arranged for orchsetra. Then Yu Long explained that, at the request of the young musicians, they were doing a piece as a tribute to their French and UK hosts. Two young players, a violinist and a cellist, came forward, and started a duo which then morphed into a set of variations on God Save the Queen, loosely arranged from Beethoven's.  This would have been even better if the two young musicians had borrowed Strads for the occasion - which could have been arranged.

At the reception following we met and congratulated the pianist, composer and conductor, and I hope we will keep in touch with all of them.

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