One of classical music’s greatest spectacles, the BBC Proms, has just kicked off – we already have five reviews in – but there has been plenty more of the spectacular, and indeed the (literally) unspectacular, all around the world in the last couple of weeks. Music might be a sonic experience, but it’s clear that what we see (or indeed don’t see) shapes our experience too.


Theater an der Wien, Attila © Monika Rittershaus
Theater an der Wien, Attila
© Monika Rittershaus
When we see a load of Nazis on stage, for instance, the impulse is to boo. But thankfully Opera Australia’s Tosca managed to integrate its German villains into a clever new interpretation of this taut dramatic classic, as David Larkin reported from Sydney. When we see a chorus of Huns banging some kitchen utensils, it’s unlikely (in Chanda’s words) to leave you bored or indifferent – and indeed Peter Konwitschny’s reimagining of Verdi’s Attila was a provocative treat at the Theater an der Wien. When we see a respected composer headbanging to a heavy metal number he’s written, it’s hard to know what to think at all, but it’s gripping all the same. And when we see a press release about a multimedia opera by Gorillaz star Damon Albarn, we might initially get very excited, but eventually feel let down by the resulting opera itself – even, in fact, by its visuals.

But what happens when we don’t see anything at all? This was the situation Rebecca found herself in at Lera Auerbach’s The Blind, which (like Albarn’s Monkey) has been being performed at Lincoln Center Festival. For this unusual opera, the audience is blindfolded before even entering the auditorium, and Rebecca found the experience “a sort of liberation”. For whatever reasons, at Lincoln Center Festival so far, the cartoons-and-dancing-filled multimedia extravaganza has received two stars from us, and the sense-depriving a cappella opera has received five.

Not being able to hear anything, over an enormous thunderstorm, is a problem of a different sort, but one which The Cleveland Orchestra’s first summer trip to Blossom Music Center faced up to last week: Tim reviewed what he managed to hear of the resultant concert, and enjoyed some rather more clement conditions for a Wagner concert the following weekend. Further west, another summer series had a different force to contend with: the Hollywood Bowl season kicked off with a Mahler 2 whose flute solo was lost under the whirring of a low-flying helicopter.

Martha Argerich © Adriano Heitman
Martha Argerich
© Adriano Heitman
Fortunately, Rohan managed to hear every note of Martha Argerich’s performance at Manchester International Festival with Manchester Camerata – and, as expected, this concerto proved “something quite special”. The rest of the concert, with pieces by Bartók and Arvo Pärt, may have lacked star quality by comparison but certainly didn’t disappoint musically. But even without Martha Argerich, a number of other festivals have been making their mark recently: Cheltenham Music Festival for one, where we’ve heard young pianist Boris Giltburg and some “authentic music theatre” from the enterprising group Sound Affairs as well as much else, and the City of London Festival as well have both lived up to their impressive reputations.

Elsewhere, Gavin witnessed a successful gamble on young talent in Cologne, with the WDR Symphonieorchester joined by 34-year-old conductor Kazuki Yamada and 22-year-old violinist Serge Zimmermann; Ken heard Bruckner in Ebrach and Heidelberg; and Emily was treated to some exceptional late Lassus at Wigmore Hall. Our dance reviewers saw two shows from Pilobolus in New York, showcasing their amazing flexibility and style, and ballet bad-boy Sergei Polunin unsurprisingly stole the show on his trip back to his former home London with the Stanislavsky Ballet.

The Doctor Who Prom © BBC / Chris Christodoulou
The Doctor Who Prom
© BBC / Chris Christodoulou
As for the Proms, it’s already been an eclectic mixture of things. For the Doctor Who extravaganza, our reviewer Jane was assisted by her eight-year-old son Edmund, who enjoyed himself very much. Who knows what he would have thought of the Helmut Lachenmann that Bamberg Symphony Orchestra brought to the Royal Albert Hall two nights later, but Georgina found the performance “like a glass ping-pong ball”, and a surprisingly effective companion piece for Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Plenty more Proms reviews are to come, of course – everything from Stockhausen to Verdi next week, plus the small matter of Daniel Barenboim’s first-ever UK Ring cycle. But wherever you are, we recommend keeping your eyes wide open for classical music.