The BBC Symphony Orchestra and Igor Levit, conducted by Edward Gardner, follow the tried formula for the First Night of the Proms at London’s Royal Albert Hall, combining an exciting new work by a British artist, Tom Coult’s St John’s Dance, with a repertoire classic – Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto – and a topical piece such as John Adam’s Harmonium, marking the composer’s 70th birthday.
The world premiere of Coult’s St John’s Dance proves an intriguing start of the night. Inspired by the medieval phenomenon of unstoppable, involuntary dancing that afflicted whole communities and could last for weeks, the new piece is a proper boost of energy.
Acting as the perfect counterbalance, Igor Levit performs Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto “with rare grace and intimacy” (The Independent). The soloist, regarded as one of the top pianists of his generation, is also responsible for one of the opening night’s highlights: the Russian-German pianist chooses Liszt’s transcription of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the official hymn of the European Union, as his encore – a spellbinding moment by the outspoken musician who has advocated the EU as “a project of unity and peace”.
For the grand finale of the First Night of the Proms, John Adam’s Harmonium receives “a glowing performance” (The Daily Telegraph) by its gargantuan choir: alongside the BBCSO under Edward Gardner, the BBC Symphony Chorus and the BBC Proms Youth Choir make up the choral forces for the most well-known secular Minimalist choral work, doing “a formidable job” in “this stratospherically high, rhythmically difficult, super-exposed job.” (The Observer)