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Michael White’s classical news: Proms; choral singing; Roderick Williams; church concerts; Dido’s Ghost

03 June, 2021 — By Michael White

Errollyn Wallen

THE Proms are such a big deal in Britain’s musical life, they function like an annual check-up of its health. So there were sighs of relief last week when the BBC announced that this year’s season would be happening, with audience, and on more substantial terms than the sad and slightly desperate spectacle of 2020. That said, what you’ll get is on a smaller scale than usual, with no foreign symphony orchestras flying in. And what will happen about standing places – the feature that effectively defines the Proms – is still uncertain. But never mind: they’re on, from July 30 to September 11, so start thinking about what you want to see. The printed Proms guide is on sale now, but you can also view the possibilities online at bbc.co.uk/proms

The London Classical Choir & Orchestra

A problem still hanging over the Proms is the government’s ongoing ban on amateur choral singing, which we were all given to believe would be lifted by now. In an absurd anomaly it hasn’t been, even though large numbers of people can lawfully shout their heads off in pubs and at sports events – which everything suggests is far more likely to spread Covid. Happily, the London Classical Choir & Orchestra count as professional, so they managed to go ahead with their performance of the Fauré Requiem at St Mary’s Primrose Hill last Saturday – and did it valiantly, given that the chorus sang through face masks: an extreme measure that actually helped to blend the sound. The concert is on YouTube where you can watch for free until June 11, but are asked to make a charity donation.

• Last week I recommended a bank holiday trip to Horsham for the English Music Festival; and taking my own advice, I was captivated by Roderick Williams singing an unknown song cycle written by Ivor Gurney for baritone, string quartet and piano. Called The Western Playland, it’s just been released on EM Records (the Festival’s in-house label) by the same forces who did it at Horsham: Williams, the Bridge Quartet, with pianist Michael Dussek. It’s a must-have for collectors of Gurney’s evocative if odd music, spanning the divide between genius and madness that characterises his short, tragic life. See em-records.com

Lots of London churches are now running small-scale Covid-conscious concert seasons, some of them with big names. St John’s Waterloo has a late-evening series called Spotlight, starting June 4 and featuring the likes of the Doric Quartet and Pavel Kolesnikov: spotlightchamberconcerts.com. And Heath Street Baptist Church in Hampstead has a new season of period-performance events starting June 5, as well as free concerts every Tuesday lunchtime: visit baroquestock.com

• Finally, some opera. Everyone knows Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, with its sorry end for Dido. But what if she rose from her funeral pyre to haunt Aeneas ever after? It’s the idea behind Dido’s Ghost, a new music-theatre piece by Errollyn Wallen that gets premiered at the Barbican June 6, with audience but also livestreamed. Wallen’s music tends to be compellingly approachable, so try it out. Details at barbican.org.uk

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