(The Sir Henry Wood Promenade Concerts, or the Proms, are daily orchestral concerts presented by the BBC each summer, primarily in London's Royal Albert Hall. Mike Wright is Chair, International Society African to American Music.)
Congratulations to All Performers at the Landmark Henry Wood Promenade Concert on 15 July 2007
by Mike Wright
Prom 3 was perhaps the most exciting performance of music that few people know about, let alone know. There are always dangers of filling a programme with such material – and in a weekend slot - that may discourage those who are expecting the usual baroque fare, period instruments and all. Quite often, 'period instrument' ensembles and the Royal Albert Hall just don’t get on too well together. However, one can always expect Sir John Elliot Gardiner to come up trumps. In previous Proms, he has tended to include big choral works always performed in a most exciting way. In Prom 3 this performance, starting with Campra's Messe de Requiem in the first half, I suspect that many in the audience were totally unprepared for what was to follow.
The music of Jean Phillipe Rameau (1683-1764) is not heard anything like as much as deserved, well certainly that is the case in the UK. He was a ‘cutting edge’ composer of his day and surely as inventive as JS Bach or Georg Philipp Telemann in Germany. However, Rameau’s operas were in a class of their own, a huge development from those of Lully. His ideas on harmony were published in “Nouveau système de musique théorique” in the 1720’s. It was considered contentious in its day but nevertheless, is still a standard reference. Now I hear you say ‘what has all this to do with Prom 3’?
In my view, Prom 3 did everything that Sir Henry Wood would have endorsed. It also did it extremely well and in a way that one feels would not have been out of place in the French Opera houses in the 18th century. However, whilst that is just conjecture, nevertheless, the English Baroque Soloists have for long been a very fine Ensemble that have moved so-called ‘authentic period performance’ movement into mainstream. However, I must say that I feel the term ‘authentic period performance’ is an oxymoron, and with all due respect to those who claim authenticity, such performances can even now by some lesser musicians still seem to forsake musicality.
This is where I move on to the Buskaid Soweto Ensemble which I have been aware of for some time now from CD recordings published. They are so frighteningly good that they could put many established string bands into the shade. I am not aware that these players had been especially versed in the rights and wrongs of playing French baroque music but it seems likely that the players entered into the music with few pre-conceptions. However, at this point, and for the benefit of perhaps most people who would attend concerts such as this, I should point out that the performance style the Buskaid Soweto Ensemble when playing South African music shares much in common to the style of string playing that is supposed to represent an authentic baroque period instrument ensemble. It follows that those who attended Prom 3 must have immediately become aware of the fine quality of the Ensemble and the synergy they shared with the works they performed and later with the English Baroque Soloists.
One hopes that further collaborations with Sir John Elliot Gardiner materialise in the not too distant future. In my view, Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble are going to become a leading force which could soon be as well known as the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. One sincerely hopes that this Ensemble will have the opportunity to open up the ears of Europeans to the art music of Africa. This is music that perhaps nearly everyone who attends the Proms is likely to be totally unaware of. I would certainly like to introduce the Ensemble to a number of African composers who may have material that they would like to consider. I even have information and valuable contacts who can provide details of works by composers of African descent that go back to the 18th Century, some works I am aware of are not outside the bounds of being of possible interest to Sir John Elliot Gardiner and have high musical value.
Finally, I welcome interest by all who performed at Prom 3 including the very talented Dance for All ensemble.
International Society African to American Music