Three early gems by Harrison Birtwistle brought the 2014 Proms Saturday Matinee series to an end. Thanks to some thoughtful curation by Oliver Knussen, the programme featured works which are often overlooked; although the 1995 Last Night of the Proms catapulted Birtwistle into the public eye (thanks to the uproar which greeted Panic), the pieces which most frequently occupy concert halls nowadays date from the mid-1980s onwards. It was refreshing, then, to hear works dating from 1968-71. Already displaying an assured compositional voice, they show evidence of the preoccupations which have been important throughout Birtwistle’s career.
John Adams and Gustav Mahler might not seem the most obvious bedfellows. Separated by a large temporal gap, the two figures are worlds apart; indeed, the only thing linking the pieces featured in Prom 63 appeared to be orchestral colour. However, it was not a musical connection which tied together the programme, but the ebullient personality of Marin Alsop. Alsop has long been a champion of Adams’ music, and proved herself to be no less impressive in Mahler.