This piece written on 27 July 2019
The BBC Promenade Concert No 7 on 23 July 2019, and televised on 26 July 2019, was the first concert given by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, one of several orchestras currently maintained by the British Broadcasting Corporation, under their new resident conductor Omer Meir Wellber.
The BBC ‘Phil’ is the latest incarnation of the BBC Northern Orchestra which I knew particularly well during the early-1950s because, as a 5th Form schoolboy studying music at Salford Grammar School, I was privileged to sit in at many of their live broadcasts.
Above: Me playing in our garden in Salford in 1951
At those live broadcasts, in the upper floor of Milton Hall on Deansgate, Manchester, I was privileged to sit on a straight-backed chair just a few feet behind the conductor and I was almost always the only one apart from the BBC announcer, Roger Moffatt, just off to one side.
The first item on 2019’s Prom 7 was Mozart’s 15th piano concerto, a work I have been familiar with for many decades - but not my favourite Mozart Concerto. The soloist on this occasion was 33-year-old Yeol Eum Son, from South Korea. I was under her spell from the very first notes. Immediately after watching the Prom, I downloaded, from Spotify, her 2018 performance of this concerto with The Academy of St Martin in the Fields conducted by Sir Neville Marriner. At the risk of upsetting some diehards, I found Yeol Eum Son’s Prom performance of Mozart’s 15th technically much superior to Daniel Barenboim’s 1988 performance in which he conducted, from the piano, the English Chamber Orchestra. As Yeol Eum Son herself said in an interview before the Prom performance, the last movement of this concerto is extremely difficult to bring off – and she did it will great aplomb.
Following the Mozart concerto was Symphony No 1 by Paul Ben-Haim (or Paul Ben-Chaim, Hebrew: פאול בן חיים) who was born 5 July 1897 and died 14 January 1984 - I got that from Wikipedia where there is a very interesting biography. I had never heard of him and, apparently very little is known of him, but this symphony was a joy to listen to. (It is available on Spotify – and probably other streaming services.)
I nearly forgot to mention Schoenberg’s Five Orchestra Pieces – fortunately very short pieces! – and Schumann’s 4th Symphony which has long been a great favourite of mine – and brought this concert to a rousing end.
Omer Meir Wellber conducted the entire concert from memory – a very brave thing to do at any time with such a varied and musically complicated programme, but especially brave on your first public appearance live on TV with your new orchestra.
In conclusion I have to mention something I have complained about for years. Why on earth goes the TV Director, if that is who is responsible, have to keep swinging his cameras away from the musicians during the performances to show totally irrelevant dark shots of the Albert Hall’s auditorium and lighting arrangements? It happens at every BBC-televised Prom – it surely can’t be for aesthetic reasons. I don’t know how I do it, but I can forecast with pretty good accuracy exactly when he (or she) is about to do it. I have this theory that the TV director finds the music boring. It is a great pity because, for the rest of the transmission, the cameras focus promptly and accurately when various members of the orchestra have solo bits. Someone must be following the music score to get that right. (See also this earlier afterthought.)