Prom 42: Jennifer Bate plays Messiaen

Sunday saw another necessary break from the Proms treadmill in the form of a Sunday afternoon summer party with the in-laws. The food was brilliant (of particular note were prawns soaked in garlic oil with chilli peppers – I’ve no idea how they’re prepared but bloody hell they were gorgeous).

Stars of the said summer party were undoubtedly house dogs Honeybun and Molly (left). They do the whole posing-for-a-photograph thing in an extremely laid back way.

In the Royal Albert Hall at around about the same time as I was tucking into a hot-dog, organist extraordinaire and adorable-lady-on-the-radio Jennifer Bate sat at the organ keyboard and start bashing out some of Messiaen’s finest work.

Obviously, to refer to her skill and musicality merely as “bashing out” would be doing her a disservice. (Although, it has to be said that for some reason I do find it more difficult to believe that organists show musicality – it’s something to do with the fact they’re playing a mechanical instrument with a motor and a bellows and massive pipes – even though they obviously are playing musically.)

As I sit and listen to that concert for a second time via iPlayer I’m confident in my assertion that this year’s organ gigs have been some of the finest and that we should have a regular slot from the Royal Albert Hall every single Sunday afternoon.  Somebody see to it, will you? There is something immediately engaging about the sound of organ music which calms the senses and wipes away some of the white noise which thunders around my head. 

Messiaen’s music too has been a real revelation. I expected it to be inconsequential melodies and irritating trills. I can picture how I’d react listening to stuff like that. I’d wriggle uncomfortably in my seat, flick through the programme, pick my nose or scratch my arse.

Not so. Messiaen’s music casts a spell. It’s deliberate and considered. Each chord emanating from the organ demands the listener’s attention and, perhaps, the slow progressions give the listener the opportunity to take things in before we move on to the next. In that way Messiaen’s compositions – certainly in the works played in this concert – are always meditative, hardly surprising given that the composer himself used to be a cathedral organist in Paris.

Prom 42: Jennifer Bate plays organ works by Messiaen