BBC Proms Diary 2018: Prom 3

It’s only day two of this diary (about Prom 3) and already I’m struggling with to what to say and how to say it. So early on in the season this doesn’t bode well.

It seems I’m not as comfortable saying difficult things as I first thought. No one wants to come across like a complete arsehole, of course. But it’s precisely because see anyone else no especially speaking their mind that I end up feeling motivated to do so and, paradoxically, guilty for having done so. 

Over the past day or so for example, I’ve questioned what it is I love about classical music. For a music genre that I love and I want others to love there seems to be an enormous amount about that gets my goat. So far in this Proms season my goat has been got. Am I really a classical music fan or just someone stuck in a loop of bitterness?

Here’s the thing I struggled writing about. I’ll just come out and say it: I didn’t especially enjoy the Young Musician at 40 Prom (Prom 3).

On paper it looked OK – a touching celebration inviting multiple generations on a trip down memory lane. I even looked forward to it. In execution however it was a little cloying.

The music was on the whole light – a function of there being so many previous winners present who needed to have their moment in the spotlight – though David Bruce’s Sidechained made for an exhilerating listen. 

The exchanges between presenter and musician were nauseatingly stilted. Introductions and links between pieces all felt very forced as though somebody somewhere had said to someone ‘what we really need to do is make sure this concert not only represents ‘young people’ but connects with them too. Hence phrases cropped up like ‘BBC Young Musician: making dreams come true since 1978’, the word ‘family’ repeated ad nauseam to describe the Young Musician Alumni, and my particular favourite, the description of saxophonist Jess Gilliam having ‘smashed’ a particular performance.

Numerous ambitious claims about how BBC Young Musician is at the heart of this country’s cultural identity seemed to cast a shadow over a great many other institutions, privately-funded endeavours, and countless other competitions. In this way it felt like this Prom was more of a shameless plug for the BBC.

Musicianship takes years to develop. In striving to inspire the next generation we’re in danger of marvelling at ‘crowning’ achievements, looking on wins as the end of a journey rather than one of many steps taken on a necessarily long developmental path. When celebratory events like these are staged, I worry we focus on the wrong thing.

The percussion ensemble performance of Steve Reich’s Drumming was one of two musical high points. Reich’s music has a hypnotic effect through a combination of repetition and phased variation. In live performance especially the effect can be meditative. 

There were moments in the performance even across the radio broadcast when I was completely hooked into the story of the piece and it’s performance. That made the performance a tantalising and completely engaging experience. So much so that to then be broken out of what was a near-meditative state with the words ‘Wow’, ‘Amazing’ and ‘Guys’ did – I’m just going to say this and be done with it – totally shatter the moment. 

Nicola Benedetti’s performance of Tzigane was as you might expect, similarly captivating. But the real power was her speaking shortly before her solo performance. Here she went beyond patting the BBC on its back for Young Musician contextualised her work in the wider music education scene. 

I really hope I cheer the fuck up in future posts. I don’t want to be negative all the time. At the same I don’t want to apply a gloss to everything I see because of a flawed notion that everything around me is awesome (when it quite clearly isn’t).

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