Editorial Board

London Editor:
(London UK)
Melanie Eskenazi

Regional Editor:
(UK regions and Worldwide)
Bill Kenny

Bill Kenny

Music Web Webmaster:

Len Mullenger


Classical Music Web Logs

Search Site With Google 

WWW MusicWeb

MusicWeb is a subscription-free site
Clicking  Google adverts on our pages helps us  keep it that way

Seen and Heard Promenade Concert  Review

Prom 13: Beethoven, Dean, Gondwana Voices, BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Chorus, David Robertson (conductor), Royal Albert Hall, London,  22. 7.2007 (AO)


The BBC website described this programme thus : “Brett Dean's 'sociological cantata' shares a social conscience with Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, whose first performance, in December 1813, was at a benefit concert in Vienna for soldiers wounded in the Napoleonic Battle of Hanau.”  The connection is so tenuous that I thought it was a wry joke.  But as the concert notes show, it wasn’t. Dean’s Vexations and Devotions takes itself very seriously indeed, despite the overlay of cute jokes.  It would have been impressive at a Blue Peter Prom, but whoever programmed it with Beethoven is having the last laugh.

This “sociological cantata” deals with concerns of modern life such as telephone answering machines, business jargon, and mindless TV. An enormous orchestra is used, augmented by unusual extra instruments. In addition to the BBC Symphony Chorus, there’s the large Gondwana Voices, a youth choir flown in all the way from Australia.  The costs of mounting this production – and I use the word deliberately – must be huge.  On the other hand, the costs will be recouped, because extravaganzas on this scale always grab attention because they look so impressive.   No doubt this will be a great success on television, particularly at home where Gondwana are fêted, and royalties will recover the cost long after the Proms are over. Indeed, it is a wonderful vehicle for the choir, and possibly the entire piece was designed around them.  They are so enthusiastic that you can’t help but admire their energy, even though devices like clapping and waving foil sheets are more clever than wise.

Elaborate extravagance can mask weaknesses.  The central movement is titled Bell and Anti-Bell, built around the frustration of being put on hold on the phone.  The first time the recorded message appears, it is cute and amusing, despite being an obvious cliché.  But it gets repeated again and again, descending into parody. Perhaps that’s supposed to illustrate how frustrating such messages are, but what started as a thin joke first time round becomes mindlessly banal.  Similarly, the last movement with its murmured corporate speak, repeats a point that could be made in moments into fifteen minutes of otiose meander. True, that’s what banality is. But does it follow that the music should also be banal?  This work is a paean to the superficial. The jokiness keeps things nice and easy so it’s accessible to all.  It colludes with the assumption that audiences don’t like depth. Perhaps that’s its intent, but if this is a “sociological cantata” and deeply humane, maybe the shallowness of modern life has already irrevocably permeated our minds.

Beethoven uses half the forces, but with a thousand times the impact. Beethoven was most definitely a “thinker”, for whom the events of his time mattered a great deal, but his music reaches universal levels that live beyond place and time. It sprang from the deep inner sources in his soul.  Robertson led the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a vivid, muscular performance of the Seventh Symphony that emphasized the taut dynamic pull, and the tight clarity of the composer’s orchestration.  Even minor quibbles in some parts only served to underline the emotional commitment, giving it the “human” dimension that underpins the work. At the end the Proms audience gave it a huge, well deserved ovation. 


Anne Ozorio


Back to the Top     Back to the Index Page

Seen and Heard
, one of the longest established live music review web sites on the Internet, publishes original reviews of recitals, concerts and opera performances from the UK and internationally. We update often, and sometimes daily, to bring you fast reviews, each of which offers a breadth of knowledge and attention to performance detail that is sometimes difficult for readers to find elsewhere.

Seen and Heard publishes interviews with musicians, musicologists and directors which feature both established artists and lesser known performers. We also feature articles on the classical music industry and we use other arts media to connect between music and culture in its widest terms.

Seen and Heard aims to present the best in new criticism from writers with a radical viewpoint and welcomes contributions from all nations. If you would like to find out more email Regional Editor Bill Kenny.


Search Site  with FreeFind


Any Review or Article

Contributors: Marc Bridle, Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling,  Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, John Leeman, Sue Loder,Jean Martin, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, Raymond Walker, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)


Site design: Bill Kenny 2004