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This week, let’s take a trip “across the pond” and have a look-see at what’s happening at the BBC Proms!

The Proms is one of my favourite summer festivals for the simple reason that it includes everything: from events for kids, to the most contemporary of contemporary classical music, from outdoor, sit on a blanket in the park singalongs, to the quintessential historical practice of standing in the “stalls” at Royal Albert Hall.

This week, The Proms is presenting one of my very favourite works for orchestra, too: Camille Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony. The premiere of this work was given at London’s St. James’ Hall in May of 1886.

Saint-Saëns was a musical prodigy, making his concert debut at the age of ten. After studying at the Paris Conservatoire he pursued a fairly conventional career as a church organist and pianist. However, his skill as a performer earned him a comfortable income, which allowed him to also pursue composing. He was an intent student of music history, and although his compositions were often considered “conservative,” in the years after his death (the height of the avante-garde in France), he is now frequently played, and many of his works are well known.  

Of composing his Third Symphony (Symphony with Organ) Saint-Saëns said, “I gave everything to it I was able to give. What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again.” The musical themes are broad and sweeping, and many of the motifs seem to echo Gregorian chant melodies. These motifs are woven throughout the work, as musical material returns in numerous guises, handed from one instrument to the next and then return in another section on a different instrument. By the end of the work, you’re guaranteed to be humming the main themes, along with the recording.

Keyboard instruments are given special prominence in this work. Not only is the organ/organist featured throughout the work (and especially in the final section), but there are a number of notable sections for piano – both two hands and four hands!

The Proms concert this week also includes Joshua Bell performing Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole. Accordingly, this week’s playlist includes the final movement of the Lalo, along with the entire Saint-Saëns work, performed by Orchestre de Paris at The Proms in 2013.

The BBC Proms 2017

Sound Theology Playlist #124 – Summer Festivals IV