Normal disservice will be resumed: Programming the Proms for television.

I’m not going to complain about the Proms. It brings music to many, catering for a range of tastes from popular warhorses from the classical canon to contemporary music, jazz, gospel, chamber music, family concerts, film and television music. And Stockhausen. Amidst all the complaints of elitism, catering for bums on seats, unimaginative programming and more, the Proms quietly gets on with celebrating music both ancient and modern, and creating one of the best festivals anywhere in the world.

20130720-142200.jpgWhat I am going to complain about, however, is how it is programmed for televisual consumption, and specifically the evisceration of last Tuesday’s Prom as it was packaged for television. Tuning in to watch last night’s broadcast on BBC4, in delighted anticipation of hearing David Matthews’ A Vision of the Sea, which was receiving its world premiere, I found that the work had been brutally torn out of the televised version, going straight to the second item in the programme, Rachmaninov’s enduringly-popular Piano Concerto no.2.

I feel the BBC missed a real trick, here. Matthews’ piece, an evocative tone-poem exploring the coast of Deal in Kent, would have been a useful way of introducing audiences to contemporary music; it occupied fairly safe tonal territory, had plenty of drama and melodic lines, and is reminiscent of Debussy and Britten. As modern music goes, it’s not scary at all, and is in fact very accessible, and would have done much to dispel the myth that all modern music is complex, atonal, and Difficult To Listen To.

I fully appreciate that, of the two works, the Rachmaninov is the more likely to keep people watching rather than reaching for the remote to flip channels – a key factor in the elements at the beginning of any programme. But to have excised the Matthews completely does a disservice, both to the BBC itself, which does wonders to promote challenging and modern works and commission new music, as well as to Matthews himself. “Sorry, David, but we don’t think your piece will work as well on television as it did in the concert-hall.’ And in wanting to cater to Rach-lovers, the Beeb failed to cater to those of us who tuned in specifically for the new commission. Some of us love new music, too.

New sea pictures: David Matthews premiere at the Proms

Ravishing – that’s the only word that can describe David Matthew’s A Vision of the Sea, which was given its world première at the Proms on Tuesday night.

David-MatthewsInspired by the sound of the sea off the coast at Matthew’s home town of Deal (a series of watercolours made by the composer during the writing of the piece can be seen here) the piece has occasional nods to Debussy’s similarly south-coast-inspired La Mer in its skirling harps and strings beneath a trumpet melody, combined with aspects of Britten’s Sea Interludes. Matthews’ orchestral pallette ranges from the drama of battering timps and growling brass to the lone echoing clarinets, imitating the call of sea-birds. The piece is a tone-poem in the Sibelian tradition, relishing a range of cascading effects as it captures the changing hues of the sea. And whilst the piece occupies fairly safe tonal territory, it does display Matthews’ post-Romantic leanings to great effect.

Listen online until Tuesday on iPlayer here.

%d bloggers like this: