David Hare wins PEN/Pinter Prize 2011

Playwright wins prize for political writing.

David Hare has been awarded the PEN/Pinter prize for 2011. The prize was established by English PEN, which supports writers working under censorship and the threat of persecution, to draw attention to writers "of outstanding literary merit who, in the words of Harold Pinter's Nobel speech, casts an 'unflinching, unswerving' gaze upon the world, and shows a 'fierce intellectual determination ... to define the real truth of our lives and our societies'". Previous winners include Hanif Kureshi and Tony Harrison. Half of the prize will be shared with a "writer of courage" who has undergone political persecution for speaking publicly about their ideas; last year this half of the prize went to the Mexican journalist and human rights activist Lydia Cacho.

Once one of the enfant terribles of British theatre, penning a series of incendiary political plays for the Royal Court and National Theatre during the 1970s and 80s, Hare has ended up becoming a pillar of the theatrical establishment. He was given a knighthood in 1998 and his Page Eight, about an MI5 operative (Bill Nighy) chased out of his job for disclosing British complicity in torture, has become the latest in a series of works he has written for the BBC. Hare was one of the group, alongside Alan Clarke, editing Play for Today during its late 70s heyday. In a recent interview with Radio Times he said that he was glad to able to work on film and TV again, with its potentially huge audience. But it would be a mistake to think he has cooled in his politics. During the 2000s he worked on a series of "verbatim plays", using transcripts of material to examine privatisation, the lead-up to the Iraq war and the origins of the financial crisis. "13 years have gone", he has said, "and whether the plays are any good or not, they are certainly no less radical." Lady Antonia Fraser, Harold Pinter's widow and one of the prize judges, said:

In the course of his long, distinguished career, David Hare has never failed to speak out fearlessly on the subject of politics in the broadest sense; this courage, combined with his rich creative talent, makes him a worthy winner of the PEN/Pinter Prize.

BBC/Chris Christodoulou
Show Hide image

Proms 2016: Violinist Ray Chen was the star of a varied show

The orchestra soaked up his energy in Bruch's first violin concerto to end on a triumphal note. 

Music matters, but so does its execution. This was the lesson of a BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus programme which combined both a premiere of a composition and a young violinist’s first performance at the Proms. 

The concert, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, opened with Tchaikovsky’s symphonic fantasy The Tempest, a lesser-known sibling to his Romeo and Juliet overture. The orchestra got off to a fidgety start, with some delayed entries, but fell into line in time for the frenetic chromatic runs that drive the piece. The end, a muted pizzicato, was suitably dramatic. 

Another nature-inspired piece followed – Anthony Payne’s composition for chorus and orchestra, Of Land, Sea and Sky. Payne drew on his memory of watching of white horses appearing to run across water, as well as other visual illusions. At the world premiere, the piece began promisingly. The chorus rolled back and forth slowly over scurrying strings with an eerie singing of “horses”. But the piece seemed to sink in the middle, and not even the curiosity of spoken word verse was enough to get the sinister mood back. 

No doubt much of the audience were drawn to this programme by the promise of Bruch violin concerto no. 1, but it was Ray Chen’s playing that proved to be most magnetic. The young Taiwanese-Australian soloist steered clear of melodrama in favour of a clean and animated sound. More subtle was his attention to the orchestra. The performance moved from furious cadenza to swelling sound, as if all players shared the same chain of thought. Between movements, someone coughed. I hated them. 

Ray Chen in performance. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Chen’s playing had many audience members on their feet, and only an encore appeased them. It was his first time at the Proms, but he'll be back. 

The orchestra seemed to retain some of his energy for Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Region. Composed between 1904 and 1906, this is a setting of lines by the US poet Walt Whitman on death, and the idea of rebirth.

The orchestra and chorus blended beautifully in the delicate, dark opening. By the end, this had transformed into a triumphal arc of sound, in keeping with the joyful optimism of Whitman’s final verse: “We float/In Time and Space.” 

This movement from hesitancy to confident march seemed in many ways to capture the spirit of the concert. The programme had something for everyone. But it was Chen’s commanding performance that defined it.