A heartbreaking display of Ukrainian defiance at the Proms, plus the best of July’s classical concerts


Ball 19A, Royal Albert Hall ★★★★☆

As President Zelensky of Ukraine said in today’s ball program: “Music can be a powerful weapon against invaders.” This is why the creation of the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, which made its UK debut here, is of vital importance. This shows the determination of Ukrainians to keep Ukrainian music and musical creation alive, in the midst of so much suffering and destruction.

The brainchild of Ukrainian-Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, UFO is made up of Ukrainian refugee musicians, as well as those who have chosen to stay in their own country. It’s a stunning and moving achievement, and Wilson’s program on paper seemed quite fitting for the occasion. The Seventh Symphony by Ukraine’s greatest living composer, Valentin Silvestrov, was followed by the 2nd Piano Concerto by Chopin, a composer who spent most of his adult life exiled from his own country because of the Russian aggression.

Then came Beethoven’s great soprano aria “Abscheulicher!.. Komm Hoffnung”, from his opera Fidelio, in which the heroine Léonore defies tyranny and clings to hope. The final piece, Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, was a less obvious choice, but the seriousness of the music here took on a defiant tone. It was an affirmation of civilization against barbarism.

All were executed in front of a packed crowd, which waved hundreds of Ukrainian flags. However, not all elements of the concert were entirely successful. Silvestrov’s symphony is like a series of half-forgotten moments of heartbreak and resignation in Mahler and the warmer romantic melodies of the golden age of cinema. The music’s timid moves towards hope, followed by a gradual sinking into an infinitely gentle extinction were beautifully expressed, but it wasn’t really a time for a gentle extinction.

The performance of Chopin’s concerto by Ukrainian pianist Anna Federova had a beautifully shot slow movement, but could have been more impassioned in the outer movements.

But things really started to take off in Beethoven’s great aria, launched with spirited conviction by Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska. As for Brahms’ great symphony: it shone, especially in the Scherzo, which may seem galloping but, here, danced ecstatically, and the Finale was as overwhelming as it should be. If music could win wars and hearts and minds, Ukrainians would now be home and dry. HI

See this ball on BBC Two on August 7 at 6:25 p.m. Available on BBC Sounds and iPlayer until October 10. The Proms continue until September 10. Tickets: 020 7589 8212; bbc.co.uk/proms

Ball 17, Royal Albert Hall ★★★☆☆

Have you ever found yourself really annoyed by the likes on social media? Have you ever thought that the futurist Ray Kurzweil, who wants to download himself on a computer, is really scary? Are you totally disgusted at the thought of your cells being invaded by microplastics? Does all that and those annoying automatic doors that don’t work make you want to scream and smash things?

If the answer to these questions is “yes”, then Jennifer Walshe’s new piece for narrator and orchestra THE SITE OF AN INVESTIGATION (those garish hats are the composer’s), premiered at the Thursday night ball, would have been right up your street.

The composer in her role as narrator came across as a Fleabag-ish figure, sometimes telling us she was going to party!, sometimes threatening to snap footage, sometimes pushing back an unwanted kiss, sometimes pondering the meaning of life and madness. of billionaires trying to get to Mars (his thought: isn’t one planet wasted by humanity more than enough?).

Meanwhile, as she pondered, howled and (at times) sang a tender song, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ilan Volkov played Walshe’s own backing score. It was effective in a broad and satirical way, with deceptively heroic fanfares and sudden terror-stricken glacial chords, but like so many new pieces that strive to be relevant, the profusion of topical subjects and the torrent of words were in inverse proportion to the actual musical substance. The orchestra’s skills weren’t exactly stretched, and really the piece — especially its soft, very human ending — would have worked better in an intimate, cabaret-style setting.

After this delirium, the stoic resignation of Brahms’ Requiem, which reminded us that humanity and all its works will wither like grass, felt as a restoration of reason, as well as a radiance of musical genius. Too bad the overall impression was spoiled by Ilan Volkov’s overly leisurely tempos – this piece hits the depths more effectively if there is a sense of urgency – but the piece was saved by the eloquent playing of the BBC SSO, and the even more eloquent song .

The National Youth Choir was fascinatingly focused and sonically intense, and the two soloists were equally wonderful, especially the Russian soprano Elena Tsallagova, whose rapturous and tender sound in the fifth movement, where solace is promised to suffering humanity, was like a healing balm. HI

Watch and listen to this Prom via BBC Sounds and the BBC iPlayer until 10 October. The Proms continue until September 10. Tickets: 020 7589 8212; bbc.co.uk/proms

Jakob Lenz, Mozarteum, Salzburg Festival ★★★★☆

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