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Review of First Night of the Proms: The atmosphere wasn’t affected by Just Stop Oil

The BBC Singers received an unexpected standing ovation at the beginning of this year’s Proms, despite not having been scheduled to perform at all.

Despite being scheduled for closure earlier this year, the choir received so much public support that they were spared and reinstated to the schedule. I’m hoping their reprieve from execution lasts.

For a stirring opening, they teamed together with the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra to perform Sibelius’s Finlandia (1899, updated 1948), a celebration of the then-newest member of Nato and in particular its struggle for independence from Russia.

This concert was heartwarming for its involvement with today’s hot topics while also honoring the ageless joy of music-making.

Its fervor, idealism, and deep-dug intensity seemed fairly relevant. The two items work together flawlessly. Who would have thought?

Additionally, the primary guest conductor of the BBCSO, Dalia Stasevska, is a gem.

She has heaps of energy and charisma; her down-to-earth friendliness and her joy in the music seem to bring out the best in everyone, the audience included.

She was born in Kyiv, raised in Finland, is currently significantly pregnant, and spends her free time transporting lorries of aid to Ukraine.

The global premiere of Let There Be Light, a BBC commission from Ukrainian composer Bohdana Frolyak, was a manifestation of darkness, conjuring the suffering of Frolyak’s homeland today, with its melodic fragments fading down to a final shudder of air on flute and mark tree.

The breakthrough, however, came when soloist Paul Lewis—a Liverpudlian pianist who now resides in Grieg’s native Norway—played Grieg’s Piano Concerto with stylish grace and joy.

Rarely has a work sounded as new and endearing as it did when he and Stasevska collaborated so well, adding vigor and bounce to the massive songs and brightness and bounce to the folksy rhythms.

Based on the combative poem by Viktor Rydberg, Sibelius’s early cantata Snöfrid introduced us to Finnish heroism once more.

Lesley Manville was dressed in glitter and provided the narration, which urged the hero to “wage the unwinnable war” with dignity.

Stasevska and the massed chorus unleashed lashings of fire and ice. (Just Stop Oil’s brief attempt to start yet another pointless battle between pieces was quickly defeated.)

Finally, Benjamin Britten’s A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, which is too infrequently performed in such “grown-up” concerts, served as a superb showcase for the BBCSO. Many of the young audience members appeared enthralled, including a young boy of approximately six who enthusiastically followed along. I believe we all left feeling genuinely refreshed.



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