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Michael White’s classical & jazz news: Proms; Hatfield House; Wigmore Hall

10 September, 2020 — By Michael White

The Albert Hall – home to the Proms

LIKE or loathe it – and I personally sit on the fence – the Last Night of the Proms will be a shadow of its usual self this year, with no live audience to dress up and do silly things in the arena of the Albert Hall.

But it has stirred the usual controversies nonetheless, with the BBC behaving feebly as it dithered over whether or not to keep the traditional words of Rule, Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory.

For the record, they’re now scheduled to be sung after all – which means the Beeb has wasted the money it spent specially commissioning wordless arrangements.

How things will work without an audience is anybody’s guess, but you’ll discover if you watch on Saturday, 8pm, BBC1.

As well as the usual sea-songs and Jerusalem, you’ll get the poignant mini-concerto by Vaughan Williams that touches every nerve, The Lark Ascending; a new commission from the much-admired Swedish composer Andrea Tarrodi whose music has successfully played the Proms before; and a grand performance of Morgen!, the most beautiful of Richard Strauss’s songs, composed by him in blissful ignorance of the fact that the words are actually a celebration of gay love.

Less promisingly, the BBC is threatening to enliven the show with pre-recorded film of people at home pretending to watch the Last Night while they cheer, wave Union Jacks, and scatter bunting on their sofas.

Sounds excruciating.

FOR something less fake and more tasteful, the chamber-music festival run by Guy Johnston at Hatfield House, ancestral pile of the Salisbury family, has gone online this year with concerts streaming over the next three Friday nights: Sept 11, 17 and 25, at 7pm.

Filmed in the sumptuous apartments of the building, they feature countertenor Iestyn Davies, pianist Melvyn Tan, and Johnston himself – whom you may recall as the cellist who, years ago, broke a string in the final of the BBC Young Musician Competition and still managed to win it.

Access to the concerts is free, at youtube.com/user/hhcmf

THE other big development this week is that the Wigmore Hall is back in business – with audience, and with a vengeance.

The hall’s director John Gilhooly has put together an astonishingly impressive season of 100 concerts, running daily through the next few months, then on into November/December.

And they feature the cream of current performers – starting this Sunday, 7.30pm, with one of the must-hear Lieder voices of our time, Christian Gerhaher, and continuing with the likes of the Heath Quartet (Tues, 1pm), mezzo Dame Sarah Connolly (Weds, 1pm), and uber-pianist Igor Levit (Weds, 7.30pm).

Audience numbers are necessarily small, with just 56 seats at first, so pressure on tickets is high.

But check the website wigmore-hall.org.uk for what’s available.

And if you can’t get in, every concert will be live-streamed on that same site, free of charge! It’s the best news there’s been in British classical music for a long while.

Make the most of it.

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