Spiritual epics, regal reimaginings and sonic sound baths comes to Prom 58 as Jon Hopkins makes history
As Royal Albert Hall fills with expectant guests, nobody truly knows what to expect. It was an entirely new experience for everyone involved, from the sold-out crowd (which included Jarvis Cocker), to the performers, to the BBC Proms whose ambitious curation hopefully paid off, to Jon Hopkins himself.
“I had an idea of the whole thing having a devotional feel”, Hopkins said ahead of the concert. So, when the stakes are this nerve-rattling, where better to present the object of his devotion in the world premiere of ‘ATHOS’, Hopkins’ 20-minute cosmic orchestral journey, let alone as the swirling opener to his debut outing for the BBC Proms. He wasn’t just baring all to the crowd in attendance, but to the country listening from home.
Haunting Gregorian chants swelled as the composition wandered through the annals of the regal venue, revealing Hopkins’ spiritual, meditative musical focus to those gazing intently toward the stage. The BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus, and BBC Symphony Orchestra were conducted masterfully by Jules Buckley, who collaborated with Grammy Award-winning artist Hopkins on these lofty reimaginings. The Royal Albert Hall was breathlessly quiet as the orchestral epic came to a close, and it remained that way throughout – with the exception of rapturous applause in-between, of course.
Initially planted behind the grand piano, Hopkins disappeared for the serene optimism of ‘Feel First Life’ as well as the outstanding and impactful ‘Singularity’, from the 2018 album of the same name. Hopkins is one of the leading producers in contemporary electronic and ambient music, and there is a raft of his songs which feel tailor-made for orchestral renditions. But ‘Singularity’ wasn’t an obvious choice for reinterpretation, and its sheer scale was awe-inspiring.
Jon Hopkins’ recent album, Music For Psychedelic Therapy, was exactly that. Whilst the ambitious, classically trained producer has blended his love of crunching, chaotic electronica and considered ambient music throughout his career, these reimaginings were just as immersive. And just as provoking.
There are few artists – if any at all – who could perform to 10,000 liberally loose twenty-somethings at a rave one weekend, then occupy a space as prestigious as the Royal Albert Hall a matter of days later. But Jon Hopkins is one of them. His lauded three electronic albums to date are concurrently cerebral and soulful, emotion poured into each mindfully crafted song.
At the tail end of the concert, Hopkins re-appeared on the grand piano alongside guitarist Leo Abrahams for a catastrophically powerful version of ‘Collider’, and after a lengthy applause, offered up another reworking of an Immunity track in ‘Abandon Window’. It was then we heard and felt his trademark, grinding feedback overlapping and undulating with Abraham’s synaptic plucking, which reached an ear-busting crescendo before descending back into peaceful, pensive piano.
Though most of his original compositions were unrecognisable, it wasn’t the point. Instead, with a new reflective lens on his entire career, Jon Hopkins led the Royal Albert Hall and the BBC Proms through a meditative, and quite magnificent voyage.
Photo credit: Christie Goodwin / Getty