Monday, September 14, 2009

Villa-Lobos at the Last Night of the Proms

I felt privileged to be able to watch The Last Night of the Proms from the Royal Albert Hall, live via satellite here in Red Deer this weekend. It was a very enjoyable, if slightly exhausting, concert, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Singers & Symphony Chorus, and two amazing soloists (trumpeter Alison Balsom and mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly), all under the direction of David Robertson.

The highlight for me, of course, was Choros #10, which came across in spectacular fashion in the HD presentation, with BBC television's many roving cameras and excellent sound. David Robertson really got under the skin of this piece, which sounds difficult enough to hold together in a regular concert, much less the barely controlled chaos of The Last Night, with its hoovers & shotguns; a raucus crowd with flags, noisemakers, and sparklers; a huge programme of various styles of music; and a daunting technological challenge coordinating the music in the RAH and five Proms in the Park from around the UK.

That's one of the reasons Villa-Lobos fit so well into this concert: his music is barely controlled chaos itself. Choros #10 is a Proms-like concoction of ultra-sophisticated art music, near-silliness, and a well-loved nation-building tune (Rasga o Coração, "Rend my Heart"). Any Rio de Janeiro audience from the 1920s until today could sing this tune in the same way today's Prommers sing "Jerusalem" or "Rule Britannia".

You can hear the tune in this YouTube version of the second part of Choros #10, an excellent version by the Sinfónica de la Juventud Venezolana Simón Bolivar, conducted by Isaac Karabtchevsky:

And here is Anacleto de Medeiros' Schottische "Yara", aka Rasga o Coração, in a performance by pianist José Miguel Wisnik

If you didn't get a chance to watch or hear The Last Night concert, you have 7 days to listen on the web using BBC's iPlayer. You also have 7 days to read the excellent Programme Notes by Robert Maycock.

It was interesting seeing instant feedback on the concert via Twitter posts. Here's a selection (do a Twitter search on #lastnightoftheproms for more):
@sciencesub Oh good they are playing a piece by Hetoir Villa Lobos Now that I like!
@bexxi This Villa-Lobos piece is EXTREMELY cool: like a cross between Leonard Bernstein and Charles Ives.. #proms #radio3
@RoeDent #proms the villa-lobos sounds like 'little train' with added passengers!
@Braziel This Villa-Lobos on the Proms is fantastic. Makes me want to join a choir! Must be great fun to sing. #proms
@dotterel - the Villa Lobos was what we classical music lovers describe as 'absolutely bloody brilliant'. N'est pas? #lastnightproms
@SirCasey Villa Lobos answer to Beethoven's 9th symphony!
@goldsbrough Loved the Villa Lobos piece at the LNOTP. Must get a recording of it. #proms
@wongawoman1 villa lobos a definite highlight tonight at albert hall
It all comes to a climax with this post:
@propagation0 Villa-Lobos is GOD
The BBC isn't resting on its laurels when it comes to Villa-Lobos. This morning (September 14th) they begin a five-programme series on Villa-Lobos in Composer of the Week - I'm listening to the first one as I type this. Donald Macleod provides excellent commentary, along with a very well-chosen list of works from CD.

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