Part 15: And the winner is…

With the Last Night of the Proms in sight, Tristan Jakob-Hoff looks back over this year's season and makes some awards


So here we are again, at the end of another epic Proms season. With just three concerts left – tonight’s Vienna Philharmonic and Silk Road Ensemble Proms, and tomorrow’s Last Night of the Proms, which I will be writing about on Monday – it seems as appropriate a time as any to begin handing out awards.

But before we begin, what were your thoughts on the season? Was this a classic season, or did you feel that there wasn’t much that will stick in the memory? Which were your favourite concerts? Most disappointing? And have you made any great new discoveries as a result of the season? Musical adventures are, after all, a big part of what this festival is about.

While you mull over your own choices, here is my own highly subjective pick of the best (and worst) of the 2009 Proms.

Concert I shouldn't have missed: Only half an award this year, for Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra’s performance of Beethoven's Fidelio. Still feeling the after-effects of a boozy lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant, I was compelled to abandon the concert at the interval. It was a wonderful performance – I just wasn’t in a good space to properly appreciate it.

The Gerhard Schröder Award for most improbable hair colour: Take a bow Charles Dutoit: you might be 72 this year, but you have the hair of a 20-year-old. Be sure to give it back when you’re done.

Biggest upset to tradition: It hasn’t taken place yet, but I would nonetheless like to award this one to the Last Night of the Proms. There are certain things you shouldn’t meddle with, and Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs is one of them. This year, it will be entirely absent from the Last Night line-up, which equates to a fun factor decrease of roughly 50%. Boo.
Biggest disappointment: Fabio Luisi’s messy and thoroughly unmagical Alpine Symphony. And I thought Strauss’s biggest and best tone poem was supposed to be conductor-proof.

The 'better than it looked on paper' award: Xenakis and Rachmaninov? In the same programme? In that order? Kudos to David Robertson and the BBC Symphony Orchestra for somehow, miraculously, making it work.

Best new discovery: For me it has to be Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang Symphony. This shot straight to the top of my list of favourite Mendelssohn symphonies after Mark Elder’s jubilant performance with the Hallé.

Best programming: Congratulations go to Gianandrea Noseda for his brilliantly well-pitched exploration of Rome, as seen through the eyes of Mendelssohn, Rossini, Peter Maxwell Davies and Respighi. It captured the sheer diversity of the Eternal City, or at least as much of its diversity as you can cram into the Royal Albert Hall in an evening.

Performer of the season: This year, I think the plaudits will have to go to the BBC Symphony Orchestra. A faithful stalwart throughout the season, their contribution is often taken for granted. Yet this year, their twelve concerts – yes, twelve! – included amongst them two of my favourites this season: the aforementioned Xenakis/Rachmaninov affair, and a superb performance of the phenomenally complex second act of Birtwistle’s Mask of Orpheus.

And finally…

Prom of the season: Quite a tricky decision this year: nominees would have to include Haitink’s Mahler Nine, Brabbins’s Mask of Orpheus, Barenboim’s Fidelio (the first half, anyway), David Robertson’s Xenakis, and Chailly’s Mahler Ten. But after careful reflection, I think I’m going to have to go with the last of these.

Perhaps it wasn’t the best performance of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony I have ever heard, but it was certainly an emotionally involving one. I’d go so far as to say it was the only truly gut-wrenching concert of the season, and the one I most needed a drink after. Congratulations to Mr Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra: you did yourselves – and Mahler – proud.

So, do you agree? Disagree? Can you think of a more deserving winner of the Gerhard Schröder award? Post your comments below!
Tristan Jakob-Hoff is a freelance music writer, critic, and a  contributor to The Guardian. He has been a fervent Prommer for the last six years, and can be found every summer in the middle of the Royal Albert Hall arena, looking slightly faint...
  • Article Type: | Blog |
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