There is an inescapable tragic quality to hearing the premiere of Daphne Oram’s Still Point (1949). How can such a distinctive orchestral work, symphonic in scope and ahead of its time in terms of live sound manipulation demands, be lost for decades and never even performed in its entirety? If the answer is sexism, this prom is fighting to counter that with an all-female line-up of composers.
Thought to be the earliest example of a composition specifying real-time electronic transformation of instrumental sounds, Still Point features 78rpm discs of recorded air-raid sirens and musicians (Shiva Feshareki), which blend with a live “double orchestra”: one ensemble amplified with heavy artificial reverb, the other “dry”. 23-year-old Oram’s orchestral writing, while thinly textured, is amazingly nuanced.
Before that, 72-year-old Suzanne Ciani’s semi-improvised performance on a Buchla 200e synthesiser was mesmerising. Standing in the middle of the arena, the Stepford Wives (1975) composer summoned artificial ocean roars, leaping bass and twittering high notes. Ciani’s contemporary, Laurie Spiegel, premiered her first purely orchestral work, Only Night Thoughts.
CHAINES’ Knockturning was the most obviously commercial performance, conductor Robert Ames leading the London Contemporary Orchestra to synthesised drum beats, occasionally required to laugh or whoop in chorus. Delia Derbyshire’s ominous, electronic The Delian Mode (1964) opened proceedings.
This was a sparsely attended prom; only a few hundred in a venue built for thousands. Time will see these women — these pioneers — valued for their work.
1,350 £6 Promming tickets are available on the day for every performance.