An explosive BBC Proms debut: first review

An explosive BBC Proms debut: first review


norman lebrecht

July 24, 2019

Any doubts about the surprise appointment of a little-known Israeli, Omer Meir Wellber, as music director of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra were blown apart last night at a BBC Prom of uncommon intensity.

Aside from a warm-up Mozart piano concerto in which the Korean soloist Yeol Eum Son barely touched the sides, every piece in a complex programme clocked in with a rising degree of energy and excitement.

The first symphony by the patriarchal Israeli composer Paul Ben Haim, written in 1940, had hora rhythms along with echoes of Hollywood and Mahler. Dated at times, the symphony was rethought by Wellber in its wartime context, trembling with anxieties and distant hope. A huge orchestra and near-capacity hall were gripped by the novelty.

After the interval, Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces were played for sheer beauty, each unlinked aphorism a picture at its own exhibition. This atonal work had its world premiere at the Proms in 1912. A century later, it sits beneath BBC orchestral fingers like bedrock heritage.

Schumann’s fourth symphony seemed at first too heavy to end a long concert on a hot summer’s night.

But Welber delivered an ice-cream sundae, rippled through with rich colours, rushing to the bottom of the glass. I have not heard the Manchester-based BBC Phil blast forth like this in years, or Schumann played with such hunger. Wellber has something of the Kirill Petrenko in his calisthenic movements and searing concentration. There is a cracking new era about to begin in the Manchester concert halls.



  • Great review Norman! Thanks!

    About (one of) the last recordings of music by Ben-Haim:

  • Derek says:

    It doesn’t surprise me that Omer Meir Wellber is making a difference.

    He is dynamic, passionate and a very intelligent musician.

    Whenever I have seen him, the concerts have been exciting and inspiring.

    • Derek says:

      I’ve not seen him with the BBC Philharmonic and not in the last year.

      Interested that judging by the “thumbs” the opinion is quite divided. Is anyone who differs willing to share their thoughts?

  • Ellingtonia says:

    Just out of curiosity Norman, do tell us how many visits you have made to Manchester in the last 5 years to hear the BBC Phil?

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    Shush. We want to keep him for ourselves. A bit of explosive dynamism is what we need here in Manchester to counterbalance the inert lumbering at the Bridgewater Hall by our home orchestra and its lento leaning maestro.

  • batonbaton says:

    Agreed – this augers well for what will hopefully be a great partnership.

  • Pedro says:

    He was the splendid conductor of a Chénier concert performance I have attended in Paris with the Bavarian Opera forces, including Harteros and ( yes! ) Kaufmann.

  • Aviva says:

    Superbe critique…Je suis complètement d’accord avec toi!

  • Dean says:

    I’m not meaning to be petty, and he certainly is raising attention, but (as a Chicago sufferer for 17 years) I am not excited by a Barenboim student.

  • Geoff Cox says:

    Read this for a review of Yeol Eum Son’s Mozart concerto which is a better reflection for what I heard from the front row of the arena!

    • Daniel Lobb says:

      The BBC Radio 3 broadcast allowed us to hear the delicacies and subtleties of Yeol Eum Son’s performance, the crystal clarity of her playing, brilliant execution, balance of hands and left hand material, pure style, in short, I was not disappointed. Perhaps the hall was very large? Not good acoustics everywhere? The mike picked it up well.

  • stanley cohen says:

    The first symphony by the patriarchal Israeli composer Paul Ben Haim, written in 1940, had hora rhythms along with echoes of Hollywood and Mahler.

    Paul Ben Haim [originally Paul Frankenburger] was Bruno Walter’s deputy and fled Germany for Palestine in 1933.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    He is not so little known in German speaking world.

  • Mark Parry says:

    Have to disagree!

    The Ben Haim didnt do much for me I`m afraid,the sound of the BBC Phil,certainly listening on the radio wasnt anywhere near that of the BBC Symphony in last nights prom.Although the second half was better,Wellber has clearly got some work to do to bring this orchestra up to the level of its London counterpart.

    • Mark Parry says:

      Even worse was the Creation the other evening.Some fine work by the chorus was let down by the orchestral playing and Wellbers odd ideas on interpretation.

  • Bill Gross says:

    One wonders with growing anti-semitism in many sectors of UK life how he got the job.

    • John Borstlap says:

      He simply told the antisemites that he was not Jewish, but Saffardically-infused, knowing that they don’t have a dictionary at home.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Er…I don’t know where you get the idea that Britain is antisemitic, it really isn’t.

      The only place where many people can plausibly be described like that are among the hard-left, and among some (but certainly not all) Moslems.

  • muslit says:

    “….an ice-cream sundae.” Funny, I’ve never thought of the Schumann 4th quite that way.

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    Touched the sides? Of what? This doesn’t sound like a Proms program, aren’t they for light music?

  • Rob says:

    The Ben Haim Symphony is the biggest pile disjointed of hotch potch s%*t I’ve heard.

    Poor conductor too.

    The BBC Phil has not had a decent conductor since Edward Downes.