The Big Bang, dinosaurs, insects and space: this weekend's Darwin-inspired Proms for children have it all. Conductor Charles Hazlewood gives us a sneak preview
Prom 21, repeated in Prom 23, is entitled Evolution! A Darwin–inspired extravaganza for kids. Can you tell us about the programme?
To start the whole audience will be involved in an improvised take on the Big Bang! I’m far from knowing exactly what I might do yet but I’ll come out before the gig starts and rehearse the audience. Then the orchestra will come on stage and we’ll create a glorious Albert Hall Big Bang. We’ll follow that with the origins of the planet – the storms, floods and so on. We’re going to play the storm from Britten’s Peter Grimes, which is visceral, inspiring and frankly quite terrifying.
Other highlights include some of the Walking with Dinosaurs music and elements from Jurassic Park – you can’t talk about dinosaurs without including some of John Williams’s fabulous score. Also there’s an amazing piece by Arvo Pärt, the contemporary Estonian composer called If Bach had been a beekeeper. It’s all about insects. Pärt's idea is that bees are well-known for being very faithful and loyal to the hive, and this becomes a metaphor for Bach who is, as far as Pärt is concerned, a composer who is all about bringing humankind together. Pärt uses a Bachian leitmotif without quoting from Bach at all. In some respects it’s like Bach through a filter. There's a sense of bees in the Bach collage texture as Pärt indicates sul ponticello, where the players play close to the bridge, making a buzzing sound. It ends with a redemptive Bachian chorale.
Children can go so much further than Peter and the Wolf, not to say that this isn’t a brilliant piece, but by goodness it’s been overplayed. The thing that people always forget is how adventurous kids are. Teenagers are often quite conservative, curiously, but younger children are definitely not. In fact when my son was about 5 I premiered a new percussion concerto at a festival in Scotland. The piece did not have tunes, it wasn't in any way consonant. It was a crazy piece of scrambled music. But he was jumping up and down in excitement. So I'd argue that the ideal piece for children would be something like Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, or a piece by John Adams or Xenakis.
What’s special for you about performing at the Proms?
Oh, lots of things! For a start I love the Proms because it is the most egalitarian festival in the world. Where else at a great music festival, anywhere on the planet, can you pay £5 and stand within ten feet of some of the greatest artists in the world. You can be how you want – lie down and have a snooze or stare at that ceiling, or be at the front willing it all on.
Then you throw into the mix the Albert Hall itself, a stonking and totally unique location. There’s something about the arena style of it which gives it a bear-pit quality. It’s such a wonderful knackered old chameleon of a space which has seen everything from Jimi Hendrix to the world premiere of Strauss’s Four Last Songs to Muhammad Ali’s greatest boxing victories. It has a sense of world-weary wisdom about it. So a Prom is always a special occasion. Any orchestra that walks out onto that platform will be made to feel special.
Interview by Rebecca Franks
Charles Hazlewood conducts the BBC Concert Orchestra in Proms 21 and 23 on Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 August 2009.
Image: Jon Freeman
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