Proms 30 & 31, National Youth Orchestra, Jurowski/ Nigel Kennedy, Royal Albert Hall

Posted on August 7th, 2011

The building had barely cooled down after the Simon Bolivar Mahler the previous night but youth still ruled at the Proms with the arrival of our own National Youth Orchestra and that eternal wild child Nigel Kennedy promising and delivering astonishment in a not quite solo Bach gig in the evening’s late spot.

And just in case you really hadn’t got the message that youth was the keynote here, there was a DJ on hand. DJ Switch doesn’t usually come out this early but Gabriel Prokofiev’s Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra (and yes, his grandfather was the great Sergey) has had a Proms marker on it since first strutting its stuff in 2005. “Scratching” and “Mixing” between his turntables in a series of itchy hip-hop, beatbox, manipulations the real surprise here was the realisation that what was on his discs was also in the hall and that the funky interplay between the two was like flicking a time-switch between the 20th and 21st centuries. The speed-slurring of flute samples in the meditative fourth movement emerged like a cosmic message from Olivier Messiaen (via ondes martenot, what else) and there was even a cadenza for the main man.

The other “main man” was Vladimir Jurowski working wonders with his gifted young players. The substantial cut-and-paste selection from the elder Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet was remarkable for the deftness of the “footwork” given the humongous size of the band. And needless to say there was something genuinely heartbreaking about those aching string effusions – identification with and recognition of young love, star-crossed or not. Fabulous first trumpet, by the way.

It’s amazing how much Prokofiev there is in Britten’s fanciful Piano Concerto and suffice it so say it takes one boy wonder – this season’s rising star Benjamin Grosvenor – to recognise another. Especially delectable here was the capriciousness and fantasy of the playing both in the razzle-dazzle of the opening Toccata and the liquidity of things like the Ravelian glissando-festooned cadenza evaporating so magically into the orchestra.

An encore of Morton Gould’s Boogie-Woogie Etude was Grosvenor’s nod to Nigel Kennedy who couldn’t resist swinging some Fats Waller later in the evening. But he was there to play solo Bach and I doubt that any of the 6000 or so present will easily forget his concentrated mastery of the Partita No.2 in D minor. From the timeless gravity of the “Sarabanda” to the mighty “Ciaccona” this was dancing for the soul with only the occasional foot stamp to bring us back to reality.

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