BBC Proms 2016 - David Bowie
Opening with Warszawa was a smart move, as it is probably Bowie's most symphonic piece, and segueing into the atonal chug of Station To Station seemed only natural. The vocals were led by Neil Hannon who was giving it his best Thin White Duke impression, ably abetted by Amanda Palmer.
Bowie was one for never doing the obvious, and looking down on the increasingly surreal world he has left behind, can only have approved of the scope and daring of this secular celebration of his musical legacy.
A percussive arrangement of Life On Mars was fronted by a typically full on Marc Almond, the drama of song and singer being a perfect fit. Anna Calvi put Lady Grinning Soul firmly in the Berlin cabaret with a portentous arrangement from the orchestra that was my favourite interpretation of the concert. She ended it with some cacophonous slide work on her Telecaster. Marvellous stuff!
Other successes were Conor O'Brien giving a heartfelt and soulful performance of The Man Who Sold The World, Paul Buchanan's querulous AshesTo Ashes, and John Cale's suitably avant Valentine's Day. Cale and Calvi got together for Sorrow, but it was more like a rock band backed by some strings and seemed rather out of place, even though Calvi in particular made a marvellous racket!
The expansive and anthemic pop of Heroes perhaps did not work so well, although ultimately the strength of Amanda Palmer's delivery won the day. A lot has been said about Marc Almond's delivery of Starman. Let's just say it was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting given some of the more barbed comments I have seen. He might have got a bit carried away, but he never has been quite on the note, has he? Bless him.
The only way to take on songs as recognisable as these is to reinvent, and of course the chamber orchestra takes it halfway there, it then becomes the task of the singer to complete the remodeling. Most of the time that was the approach taken, but conversely Laura Mvula's take on Fame stayed faithful and the sound of a chamber orchestra getting funky was a delight.
Laura stayed for the moving Blackstar trilogy, joined by Paul Buchanan and Anna Calvi. These songs are still fresh, so radical reinterpretations are no real shock, more than maintaining the raw emotions of the originals. Amanda Palmer and Anna Calvi channeling Blackstar while both wearing black and crowns of thorns was particularly moving, with a superb arrangement from the orchestra to top it off.
The most adventurous reinterpretation has to be David Lang's complete restructuring of Always Crashing In The Same Car, led by an electric harp and sung in the upper register by classical countertenor Phillipe Jarousky. Quite enthralling I must say.
The large cast assembled for Space Oddity, led by John Cale's iconic baritone, backed by the House Gospel Choir. Despite the numbers on stage it was a tastefully restrained, unhurried, and unusual rearrangement that worked a treat. The entire cast plus the RAH organ assembled for the grand finale of After All, started off by the slightly wayward Marc Almond. A typically unobvious song to end an evening out of left field, just as David Bowie would have liked. The celebration ended with a crowd singalong to Let's Dance, proving it wasn't all high art.
Overall the concert was an undoubted artistic success, as long as it was approached with an open mind, which is exactly what is needed where any format of progressive music is concerned, as this Proms certainly was. Mr Jones would have approved...now, please can we have some of the reality back that you seemed to have taken with you when you left our beleaguered planet?