Elgar, Spectra and Orpington

Loggia Box 1

This post refers to Prom 27

I sat in a Loggia Box for this concert. Get the right box (as close to the stage as you possibly can) and the experience can be every bit as enlightening as it from the Choir.

Inevitably, this prompted an exchange of views on Facebook amongst Prommers I know. Their opinion can sometimes seem a little hardline: if you’re not in the arena how could you possibly be having an amazing experience? It’s true. There have been stunning concerts from the arena, but the appeal of standing has worn off (so too the thought I often have on a hot afternoon that if you’re promming you need to get there early rather than be somewhere near the back – I should probably make a point of reacquainting myself once this season – it has been a while since I last prommed after all).

I found myself focussed on the conductor nearly all of the time. Mark Wigglesworth (‘he’s got such a great name, hasn’t he?’ said my plus-one earlier in the evening) is a proud showman with a tenacious spirit and warm smile. It was a pleasure to see him at work again (‘He was the conductor of the first concert I managed back in Aldeburgh 16 years ago,’ I said back, beaming like he was an offspring. ‘I hope to God he doesn’t remember me.’) Wigglesworth also came to the Albert Hall with three surprises: a very fast piece of music Wagner, a violin concerto by Welsh composer Mathias and Elgar’s first symphony.

The concerto made violinst Matthew Trusler really work hard. There is seemingly no let up for the soloist with a manuscript full of notes and precious few rests. Trusler worked hard in what was a hugely accessible and enjoyable work. I feel rather sad that for the composer Mathias (who died in 1992) this was only the third time one of his concertos had been performed at the Proms. I want to hear more of the man’s output.

It was Elgar 1 that really surprised me. It is a considerable achievement. A work which those who know only a fraction of Elgar’s output would be equally surprised to sit through. It’s proper Elgar. A man a world away from the saccharin, syruppy stereotypical view we assume he had of England. Pensive and vulnerable, the work’s moments of yearning (especially in the third movement) are the complete antithesis of a composer whose self-propelled PR clouded his compositional achievements. Bypass Enigma and all that other schtick. Tom Service is right: this is the real Elgar.

Wigglesworth took everyone in the Albert Hall to an unexpected place with the third movement. This was when everything fell into place and we saw (and heard) something exquisite. A very special moment, one which was felt even if it wasn’t immediately obvious what it was. A moment which brought the entire programme together and signified to what extent I had been willing the band and conductor throughout. The word ‘journey’ is always sneered upon for its cheapness, but it wouldn’t be out of place here. We all embarked on it and the destination at the end of the last movement was quite something.

My journey home was equally off my usual beaten track. A swift pedal down from South Kensington to Buckingham Palace (I need to get some lights on my bike – the parks aren’t terribly well lit) and then on to the Houses of Parliament to get a look at Spectra, the fantastic art installation that has been throwing a beam of light into the sky. An eery, strangely celebratory piece. Free access. Lots of people wandering through a massive square of lights interacting with the individual beams of light. An incredible experience.

And then on, home. Or at least in the direction of home even if the train I had inadvertently stepped onto didn’t stop there or indeed anywhere near there. Orpington at 11.20pm was not part of the plan. Hither Green was the plan. So I had to get a taxi home. For £22. Making this entire evening the most expensive Prom concert so far this season.


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