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The first woman to conduct the last night of the BBC Proms.

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Unlike the previous movements of Holst’s orchestral suite The Planets, which are static in the sense that each depicts various aspects of a single trait, this one moves through a series of “events” that bring the music to conclusions not envisioned at the beginning. There is a profound hollowness and sense of defeat in the harmony of the opening chords, and an even deeper despair in the motif sounded beneath them by the double basses. But the elderly voice of wisdom is soon heard in the B minor theme for the trombones, and at the end the mood is one of acceptance, reconciliation and consequent serenity.

We are standing beside the coffin of a man beloved. For the last time his life, his battles, his sufferings, and his purpose pass before the mind’s eye. And now, at this solemn and deeply stirring moment, when we are released from the paltry distractions of everyday life, our hearts are gripped by a voice of awe-inspiring solemnity, which we seldom or never hear above the deafening traffic of mundane affairs. What next? it says. What is life – and what is death?

Have we any continuing existence?

Is it all an empty dream, or has this life of ours, and our death, a meaning?

If we are to go on living, we must answer this question.

(Gustav Mahler)

Mahler, brought up in the Jewish faith, had recently converted to Roman Catholicism when he wrote this.

Five decades into his brilliant career as one of the world’s great tenors, Plácido Domingo – now a baritone – is working as hard as ever. Catch him while you can, says Peter Conrad.

Plácido Domingo’s name means Placid Sunday, which is not what he will be enjoying today. He may well sleep until the afternoon, but will make up for that inertia tonight on stage at the Royal Albert Hall, in a BBC Proms performance of the Royal Opera’s production of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, he will age half a century, beginning as a swashbuckling corsair and ending – after the lapse of a few decades between the acts – as the elderly, careworn Doge of Genoa, poisoned by a vindictive political crony.

The Australian conductor Sir Charles Mackerras, who led the opening concert at the Sydney Opera House and was the first non-Briton to lead the Last Night of the Proms, has died in London at the age of 84.

Charles Mackerras was born in the US and raised in Australia before coming to England to study music.

Though internationally acclaimed, he disdained stardom and missed out on the plum post at Covent Garden.

He had become maybe my favourite conductor over the last few years. What a great man – great conductor, great musicologist, great reader and lover of music, great arranger too (Pineapple Poll). This is really sad news. He was the one conductor among the current generation of 80-somethings I was hoping would live longest; sorry, Haitink, Harnoncourt, etc. Not least because he was due to perform Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, Mozart’s 40th and Schubert’s 4th in London this year – concerts which, since I’m moving to London, I was expecting to be the best nights of my year.

I don’t think I ever heard a recording of his that was not good, whether it was 18th 19th or 20th Century – he seemed to bring a fresh and exciting and always musically rewarding interpretation to the works he conducted.

It is very sad news, but he had a long and full life and left behind a great recorded legacy; you can’t ask for much more than that.

I recall an excellent concert at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester nearly ten years ago, where Sir Charles conducted Mahler’s Sixth Symphony with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. This was issued on CD with the BBC Music Magazine about a year later and I recalled how special and heartfelt the performance was. It is this, which I am spinning now, preparing for Mahler’s Eighth Symphony from the BBC Proms tonight. Great memories, great performance, very sad loss.

R.I.P. Alan Charles MacLaurin Mackerras, conductor, born 17 November 1925; died 14 July 2010

Related:

The modest maestro

BOOKING OPENS ON TUESDAY 4 MAY

SEASON ANNOUNCED ON THURSDAY 22 APRIL

Just a reminder that tickets go on sale at 8.00am on Tuesday 4 May online, by telephone and in person*, launching a greatly improved booking system. Tickets may also be requested by post.

Plan your concert-going before tickets go on sale by using the new online Proms Planner from 12 noon on Thursday 22 April until midnight on Monday 3 May.
Visit www.bbc.co.uk/proms for details.

Full concert and booking details will be in the BBC Proms Guide, available from bookshops from Friday 23 April priced £6.00, and at www.bbc.co.uk/proms from 12 noon on Thursday 22 April.

If you are intending to book online, in order to ensure your booking goes as smoothly as possible please visit www.royalalberthall.com and create an online account or check you are able to login to your existing account.

If you have any problems setting up your online account please contact the Royal Albert Hall Box Office on 0845 401 5040**.

From the BBC Proms team
BBC Radio 3 www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/

* The previous two-stage Advance and General booking system, together with the postal booking form and old online request system, has been discontinued.

** Calls cost up to 4p/min from a BT landline (plus a one-off connection charge of up to 8p). Charges from mobiles and other networks may be considerably higher.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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