In 2008 the Proms celebrates two major composer anniversaries – the 50th anniversary of the death of Ralph Vaughan Williams and the centenary of the birth of Olivier Messiaen. An all-Vaughan Williams concert is performed on the exact date of his death 50 years ago (26 August), while Ashley Wass plays his rarely heard Piano Concerto and the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sir Roger Norrington close the 2008 season with the composer's Sea Songs. In Messiaen's centenary year the Proms celebrates his work and life with an organ series featuring Messe de la Pentecôte and La Nativité du Seigneur; the Turangalîla Symphony and rare performances of his two largest works, La Transfiguration de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ and the opera Saint Francis of Assisi. In another Proms centenary celebration this year, Elliott Carter has four works performed including two UK premieres – Caténaires and Soundings. The late Karlheinz Stockhausen's 80th anniversary is celebrated with a day dedicated to his work, including a world premiere of Harmonien, the UK premiere of Cosmic Pulses and, on his actual birthday, Punkte. Other anniversaries marked in the 2008 season include Michael Berkeley (born 1948); Simon Holt (born 1958); Leoš Janáček (died 1928); Thea Musgrave (born 1928); Nigel Osborne (born 1948); Giacomo Puccini (born 1858); Rimsky-Korsakov (died 1908); and Ethel Smyth (born 1858).
Vaughan Williams: Around the Vaughan Williams anniversary, and in the spirit of BBC Proms founder-conductor Henry Wood, the Proms celebrates British music in 2008, and in particular places Vaughan Williams's music in context – with works by his friends, teachers and fellow students.
Friends of Vaughan Williams include Finzi with his Intimations of Immortality and Holst with his suite The Planets; his students are featured with Grace Williams's Sea Sketches; and there is music by his teacher Max Bruch, with the ever-popular Violin Concerto No. 1, and his fellow student George Butterworth (alongside whom he fought in World War One) with A Shropshire Lad. The first public performance of Bax's In Memoriam, Patrick Pearse is juxtaposed with Vaughan Williams's Fourth Symphony, a work that was dedicated to Bax and, in celebration of Ethel Smyth's 150th anniversary, Tasmin Little and Richard Watkins perform the little-known Concerto for Horn and Violin, dedicated to Proms founder-conductor Henry Wood. Another work dedicated to Wood is Vaughan Williams's Serenade To Music, which is performed by 16 young British singers on the exact anniversary of the composer's death.
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