This week Proms audiences put their hands together for rock-star composer Steve Reich, embraced cinematic music and gave the Spaghetti Western Orchestra a gleeful yee-hah
Now 75, Steve Reich gets cooler every year, just as his music gets more relevant. The "messiah of minimalism", as Stephen Pritchard put it in the Observer, "received a rock star's welcome." His late-night Prom opened with an old favourite, Clapping Music, into which the baseball-capped composer launched just as the audience applause was dying down. It's a deceptively simple piece ? as Stephen put it: "All you need is your hands and a friend with similar appendages. Oh, and you need to count like crazy" ? but it wasn't exactly at home in London's Albert Hall. As George Hall noted in the Guardian, the acoustic suggested not "four hands clapping but eight or perhaps more", an impression confirmed by Richard Fairman in the FT. Hall was more impressed by the 35-year-old masterpiece Music for 18 Musicians, in which "endless harmonic perspectives seem to spin off into an infinite distance."
Reich received a rock-star's welcome in the Guardian as well as in the hall, the paper praising the composer as one of few to have genuinely "altered the direction of musical history", while the Music Weekly podcast carried an interview with Reich on his new commemorative piece WTC 9/11. Commenting on the leader, rongoklunk advised those with reservations about musical minimalism to "think of it as sonic wallpaper. It doesn't need to 'go anywhere'." This didn't wash with sadoldpedant, who prefers actual wallpaper, or fritzl, a "confirmed maximalist".
Is Reich the best known and most influential American composer alive today? Not so, says Keith Lockhart, the bright-eyed conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra, part-time magician, and all-round good-egg. Though he wasn't specifically talking about Reich, the remarks with which he opened his second visit to the Proms last Friday night suggested that those looking for composers with reach and influence, need look no further than Hollywood. The ensuing concert was a lively affair, featuring cinematic wallpaper by some of the genre's indisputable masters: Herrmann, Walton, Bennett, Williams, and Greenwood, and a superb medley of the late John Barry's James Bond scores. My stereophonic enjoyment of the latter on the night was enhanced by a lively Dutch lady hollering "gooooltFingaaaa" in my right ear while my left succumbed to the onslaught of Barry's waa-waa trumpets. A lasting impression, to be sure.
The Independent's Edward Seckerson relished Herrmann's "slicing, dicing, violin glissandi" in Psycho, while the Telegraph's Hugo Shirley was equally impressed, though slightly dismayed that more audience-members hadn't joined in with my neighbour's Shirley Bassey tribute. Twitter was busy too, with @thoroughlygood recommending @KeithLockhart as the next Batman, while @mrchrisaddison thought Rory Kinnear's contributions from Shakespeare's Henry V suggested a bright new future in rap.
The weekend marked the half-way point of this year's festival, which often implies a temporary change of gear. So it was this year, with Lockhart's film music Prom preceding the hotly anticipated appearance of the Spaghetti Western Orchestra. I'd been looking forward to this since missing the outfit during their last visit to London. But looking forward was about as good as it got for me, as well as for clinician, who thought the SWO's "theatrical sonic adventures [were] not as compelling as they think", nor for CliffordChallenger, who thought it "a total bore" and "like listening through the wall to someone else's party": "Forgetting most of us listen to Proms on the radio rather than in the hall is a serious mistake." The mood on Twitter however, was rather better.
If the Spaghetti Western prom presented the familiar site of Guardian critic vs the world, so did Stuart Jeffries's appraisal of the next evening's Comedy Prom, featuring the occasional Guardian reader Tim Minchin and Sue Perkins wearing horns. Jeffries was unimpressed by the "slickly assembled but perilously thin" material, feeling by the end as if "caught up in a crowd looting Greggs sandwich shop ? thinking that we, as a civilisation, need to up our game." Many in the audience, however, seemed less ill-at-ease with the pillaging of fair-to-middling patisserie. As gwhovera123 remarked, "the double ovation and cries of 'More!' indicated the audience had a ball". ThePickledWalnut meanwhile came out of his shell to suggest that "only the most bitter, curmudgeonly and humour-challenged Prommer could have come away from the evening feeling hard done by." CliffordChallenger , however, was quick to reach for his curmudgeons after catching up with the Prom on iPlayer, and preferred to look back to Gerard Hoffnung's 1958 Interplanetary music festival, from which the Guardian critic at the time reported that "Never before at an Edinburgh exhibition can so many visitors have been heard giving way to uninhibited laughter as the crowds filing through the Hoffnung exhibition." Assuming CliffordChallenger was present at the 1958 concert, one should say he has every right to be curmudgeonly, and is doing well to be using iPlayer.
Soon, though, the festival returned to normal ? Proms-normal, that is ? with the visit of Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra for some Tchaikovsky-flavoured sugar plums. These clearly tickled the fancy of George Hall, who thought it "remarkable not just how well [Swan Lake] stood up to concert hall scrutiny but also how marvellously the Mariinsky Orchestra played it". Things were back to normal below the line, too.
"Er, were we in the same room?", said LionsBite . "It was a rushed, thoughtless performance, breathtakingly insensitive at times, and poorly played: because we get all starry eyed over the Mariinski's credentials, we think we hear greatness. We didn't." But starry eyes have their upside, particularly if you are a cat from New York. "It was absolutely stunning", wrote manhattancat, "a one-off, to be remembered for the rest of [my] life." Cats have nine lives, of course, and get through them at fair lick in Manhattan, so this praise may be less fulsome than it seems.
Don't forget you can listen to all the concerts again for up to a week after live broadcast on the BBC iPlayer.