In praise of … Havergal Brian | Editorial

His Gothic Symphony is the ultimate cult neglected work by a British composer forgotten by all but the fanatical few

After booking opened on Saturday for the BBC Proms 2011, 87,000 tickets were sold in the first 12 hours. Amid such Glastonbury-level demand, it is not surprising that seats for a few of the starriest concerts have now all gone – though uniquely, of course, there will still be 1,400 tickets available each night on the night. It's no shock that Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra were first to sell out the Albert Hall, or that the Verdi Requiem ran them a close second. No surprise, either, among the chamber concerts, that tickets for Bach's Goldberg Variations and the Yo-Yo Ma recital have now gone too. The truly remarkable news, astonishing even, is that the only other Prom to sell out on day one is a performance of an 84-year-old work that has only ever been played complete five times and has not been heard in London for 30 years. Havergal Brian's Gothic Symphony is the ultimate cult neglected work by a British composer forgotten by all but the fanatical few. Everything about it is massive, from the 150-strong main orchestra, the 40 extra brass players and the nine choirs who will cram the Albert Hall to the Gothic's two-hour length. The rare performance on 17 July has clearly struck a suitably gargantuan chord. "Stunning recognition for Brian's magnum opus," was the Havergal Brian Society's verdict to the news. Those of us who missed out on Saturday will surely be crammed into the standing places or glued to our radios for this once-in-a-livetime symphonic extravaganza.


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