It has been a matter of pride for years at the BBC Proms that every major composer centenary and jubilee would be marked with at least one performance. It used to be the duty of the Controller’s assistant to supply a list, four years in advance, of all good composers to be celebrated in this way.
Which makes it all the most distressing that this year’s season omits one of the most significant European composers of the past two centuries. I’m not pointing fingers at any individual or demanding official excuses. Call the omisson for what it is: a major shortcoming in this year’s Proms, an embarrassment for the BBC.
I have written about the enduring importance of Ferruccio Busoni in the new issue of Standpoint:
Ferruccio Busoni, born 150 years ago last month, (was) one of the most famous faces of his time. His leonine head led to him being often mistaken for Beethoven, while his hands made light work of Liszt. Busoni was a fearless pianist, a formidable thinker and a composer overstocked with good ideas. His character was so fascinating that Gustav Mahler, never a man to waste time on soloists, craved his rare visits to Vienna. Arnold Schoenberg (no fan of anyone but Mahler) craved his personal approval. Busoni was the teacher and mentor of Kurt Weill. In the early Weimar Republic, he moulded its culture.
The 150th anniversary should have been a golden opportunity for the Proms to stage Busoni’s piano concerto, a behemoth with chorus. It’s a terrifying piece, but the British pianist Peter Donohoe has made it his own, as has the Canadian Marc-André Hamelin. If someone had offered it to Daniil Trifonov, he would have bitten their hand off.
The Busoni concerto is made for the Proms, but not under present management.
Failing that, they could have included the Berceuse élégiaque, a short work premiered by Gustav Mahler in the last concert of his life. But present management are dull to such sensitivities, deaf to Busoni.
In a poor Proms season, this is the poorest decision.
Read the full Standpoint article here.