JS Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos receive modern partners in a project led by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, performed across two concerts at the BBC Proms on 5 August. The new works include commissions by Brett Dean, Steven Mackey and Mark-Anthony Turnage.
As a highlight of the BBC Proms, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard performs Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos alongside new scores commissioned from Uri Caine, Brett Dean, Anders Hillborg, Olga Neuwirth, Steven Mackey and Mark-Anthony Turnage. Each new work was paired with a specific Bach concerto, and the commissions were premiered in the Örebro Konserthus in recent years before travelling to the Royal Albert Hall for their UK premieres on 5 August, spread across two concerts at 3.00 and 7.30 pm.
Mark-Anthony Turnage's Maya, partnering Brandenburg No.1, is named after the cellist Maya Beiser who is concertante soloist in the new work premiered in 2016. Rather than the dancing patterns that characterise Bach's final movement, Turnage responds to the Adagio second movement with a lament, focusing on the plangent string sound of the cello that underpins much of the baroque master's continuo writing. The solo line echoes through the orchestral celli, often divided into multiple parts, enriched with the two oboes, cor Anglais, double bassoon, and the pair of horns that give much of Bach's concerto its distinctive colour.
There was a certain inevitably that Brett Dean's Brandenburg would be the sixth and final of Bach's concertos, with its lack of violins and focus on a pair of violas at the top of the texture. Dean's Approach, premiered earlier this year, bears the subtitle Prelude to a Canon and is intended to lead directly into Bach's concerto with its vigorous close canon first movement. The composer describes how "in establishing two contrasting temperaments between the soloists, I wish ultimately to find a point of reconciliation between them that justifiably leads us into the particuar type of close, contrapuntal companionship of voices inherent in Bach's original." Dean himself joins the Swedish Chamber Orchestra as the viola partner of Tabea Zimmermann at the BBC Proms, both in his own work and Bach's concerto.
The pair of concerts reaches its conclusion with Steven Mackey's Triceros, featuring virtuoso trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger as soloist – as at its premiere in 2015. The work can be played immediately after Bach's Brandenburg No.2 taking the high piccolo trumpet's C as its starting point. The title means 'three horns', reflecting the soloists need to play three instruments: Flugelhorn, Trumpet in C and the Piccolo Trumpet familiar from the outer movements of Bach's concerto. The composer describes how, in discussions with the soloist, they agreed that "no instrument depicted solitary melancholy better than the trumpet. This led me to focus on exploring the variety of unusual colors in addition to the bright clarion call of Bach’s Piccolo Trumpet. Like the Triceros jacksonii – aka, three horned chameleon – Håkan moves fluidly from light to dark, vivid to muted, smooth to rough."
The programmes are completed with Hamsa by the American classical and jazz composer and arranger Uri Caine, Swedish composer Anders Hillborg's Bach Materia and Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth's Aello, linked respectively with Bach's Concertos Nos.5, 3 and 4.
> BBC Proms Brandenburgs 1
> BBC Proms Brandenburgs 2
Bach portrait by Elias Gottlob Haussmann (Wikimedia Commons)
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