Where other music festivals focus on one of the year’s musical anniversaries, the sheer size of the BBC Proms means it can invite every composer, living or dead, who has any reason to be there. The late-night Prom on Wednesday threw a 75th birthday party for Steve Reich and drew a big crowd. There is no lack of recent works that might have been played but the programme chose instead to look back to the early days of minimalism in the 1970s and 1980s.
Reich himself came on at the start, with Rainer Römer, to perform Clapping Music, a four-hand duet that sets up intriguing cross-rhythms. At least, that is the intention. The infamous echo of the Royal Albert Hall quickly multiplied it to an army of clapping hands. Guitarist Mats Bergström followed as soloist in Electric Counterpoint, where the soloist is multiplied by a dozen or more pre-recorded guitars (no help from the hall’s echo needed). Then Synergy Vocals and Ensemble Modern came together to perform Music for 18 Musicians. This is one of Reich’s seminal pieces and the hypnotic rhythms of its amplified women’s voices, pianos and tuned percussion created a seductive aura of sound.
Earlier, another anniversary had been marked. The BBC Proms are making much of Liszt’s bicentenary and that inevitably means the big, bombastic pieces that fill the hall. His symphonic poem Mazeppa is as full of empty, rhetorical gestures as any but it made an effective opening to the early evening Prom by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Kirill Karabits. Glière’s Concerto for Coloratura Soprano, generously sung by Ailish Tynan, and a sombre, concentrated performance of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 2 completed a confident showing by the Bournemouth visitors in their annual Proms outing.