PROM 49: THE LOST WORDS | BBC Proms 2019

Artist Jackie Morris and author Robert Macfarlane‘s 2017 book The Lost Words: A Spell Book won the Children’s Book of the Year at the British Book Awards. The “lost” words of the book’s title are twenty of the names for everyday nature (including “acorn”, “wren”, “bluebell”, “kingfisher”, “lark” and “otter”) that were controversially dropped from inclusion in the Oxford Junior Dictionary due to under-use by children. This entire multi-media, theatrical Prom was themed around this best-selling book.

At the heart of this Prom were two new BBC commissions, with conductor Jessica Cottis leading the Southbank Sinfonia and National Youth Choir of Great Britain. Jocelyn Pook’s You Need To Listen To Us utilises audio fragments from a speech by child climate activist Greta Thunberg, in a tuneful choral work that aims to capture Thunberg’s spirit and patterns of speech. Alissa Firsova’s Red Fox follows the exact text of Macfarlane’s poem, in an absurdly dramatic, full orchestral working.

Macfarlane and Morris’ book also went on to become the inspiration for Spell Songs (2019), a collaborative folk music album by various artists, all reunited for this Prom. They performed “Otter”, “Scatterseed”, “Heron”, and “The Lost Words Blessing”, the latter receiving a heavenly orchestral arrangement by Jim Molyneux.

Actors Janie Dee, Indigo Griffiths and Vincent Franklin helped to communicate the book’s narrative elements, while Morris herself narrated and created live paintings. A couple of moments of beatboxing (Jason Singh) with spoken word (Caleb Femi) and robot-style dancing (Thomas Carsley) didn’t quite fit the mood. Some time was given over to excerpts from a few classics like Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony and Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, featuring a stunning solo by violinist Stephanie Childress. Altogether impressive, and couldn’t be more prescient.

1,350 £6 Promming tickets are available on the day for every performance.

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