gmoving slowly through the orchestra and across the stage of the Royal Albert Hall to the conductor’s podium, Zubin Mehta, in white tie, tail coat and shiny patent leather shoes, had the dignity and allure of a golden age ocean liner. Of course, this 86-year-old Mumbai-born Indian didn’t slip at all. He walked with difficulty, using a stick, but with a graceful determination that inspired welcome cheers from the Proms audience, who were there to hear the Australia World Orchestra make their debut as part of a UK tour.
This diaspora orchestra, founded in 2010 and made up of Australian musicians from many world-class orchestras, has the energy of a festival ensemble. The fact that they only got together to rehearse last week added to the sense of adventure. The first part of their Prom, Webern’s Passacaglia, Op 1 and Six Pieces for Orchestra, Op 6 (revised version, 1928), hardly yielded to the acoustics of the Albert Hall, although listening again on BBC Sounds , it appeared with subtlety and color. . Debussy Ariettes forgotten was sung by soprano Siobhan Stagg in a delicate arrangement by Brett Dean, the Australian composer and violist who, on this unprecedented occasion, was playing in the orchestra and got up to draw his bow.
Mehta himself, a rare visitor to these shores despite starting his conducting career at Liverpool, hasn’t been to the Proms for over a decade. Many whose passion for classical music was ignited by Christopher Nupen’s 1969 film Schubert Trout, featuring the young Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim – always to be seen, always to be revisited – could remind us that the handsome young double bass player was Mehta. This feeling of a lifetime’s arc of experience came on powerfully in Brahms’ Symphony No. the exchanges of woodwinds, the glowing horn solos, the singing minuet rhythm of the third movement, this work moves the listener with its nostalgia and humanity. Seated to conduct and using minimal gestures, however, Mehta rose, as the years went by, for the thunderous encore of the evening, Dvořák’s Slavic Dance in G minor – a fitting duet: the two composers were devoted friends . The spirit of friendship dominated this whole event.
As he also did at Plush, a small village deep in the chalky hills of Dorset, a favorite haunt of Harrison Birtwistle, where many of his works were performed and in some cases premiered in the former converted Church of St. John the Baptist. Birtwistle’s friend, dedicatee and performer, cellist Adrian Brendel, organized a Birtwistle Day for anyone who wanted to remember the composer, who died in April this year at the age of 87. the easiest place to get to in a week of rail strikes) and performing for a few minutes reflected the affection in which he was held.
I arrived in time to hear a series of pieces from some of the composer’s prominent advocates. Nicolas Hodges, pianist and unwavering champion of the short story, reminded us of the jigging virtuosity of jig machine (2011). Brendel and Hodges entered the meditative mood of Variants of Bogenstrich (2006-9) and baritone Roderick Williams sang a song from the same Rilke setting. Bass John Tomlinson and pianist Andrew West inhabited a stage in The Minotaur (2008) as lost in a staging of the entire opera. West and tenor Mark Padmore explored the full emotional range of (part of) Songs from the same land (2013), setting to music of poems by David Harsent. Forbes Henderson performed the miniature Guitar and White Hand (2007), Birtwistle’s first guitar piece, whose title is borrowed from Picasso. Joanna MacGregor gave a tender account of another short work, Oockooing Bird, from the composer’s adolescence.
To come full circle, in another place – back to the Proms, which for last minute reasons I heard on Radio 3 instead – Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra performed Donum Simoni MMXVIII (2018), one of Birtwistle’s last works. He wrote it as a musical gift for the conductor and the orchestra. Rattle said a few words in tribute to his friend Harry. The short, gruff fanfare provided a laconic upbeat beat to a searing, by all accounts performance of Mahler’s mighty Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection.” Watch it on BBC Four at 8 p.m. tomorrow night.
Star ratings (out of five)
Australia/Mehta World Orchestra ★★★★
Harrison Birtwistle Day ★★★★★