Harrison Birtwistle’s ‘Panic’ features on First Night of the Proms 2020

17 July 2020

Harrison Birtwistle’s Panic is to launch the 125th edition of the Proms on the 17th July, 25 years after its legendary premiere caused a stir at the 1995 Last Night of the Proms.

Performed by saxophonist John Harle, percussionist Paul Clarvis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and conducted by Andrew Davis, the archive recording of the 1995 live performance will be broadcast again on BBC Radio 3 at the First Night of the Proms 2020.

In the composer’s programme notes, Birtwistle writes about Panic:

“Panic was composed in response to John Drummond's request for a work to be performed at the 1995 Last Night of the Proms and my own desire to write a work as a showcase for the saxophonist John Harle.

I have called the work a dithyramb, in Classical Greece a choric song in honour of Dionysus, whose wild exuberance here runs riot. The soloist, as chorus leader, is identified with the mythic god Pan, literally "spreading ruin and scattering ban" as in the quotation from Elizabeth Barrett Browning with which I preface this score. The title Panic refers to the feelings of ecstasy and terror experienced by animals in the night at the sound of Pan's music. The chaos wreaked by Pan is exemplified by the conflict between the orchestra and the alto saxophone soloist together with the drum kit. At times the two odd-men-out rebel and branch out, adopting tempos independent of the orchestra,


Panic, which has since been performed again at the Proms in 2007, as well as in Japan and Helsinki, was described as “…as exhilarating as being caught unexpectedly in a violent thunderstorm and surrendering to the sheer, elemental spectacle of it all. Neither pop nor jazz, it nevertheless reached the soul of the saxophone and revealed wonders only Birtwistle could have found…" by the Daily Telegraph.

To listen to the broadcast, click the link here.

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