Prom 71: Boston Symphony Joy

Birthday Prom

For all the soapbox prounouncements I’ve made about the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms (Prom 72, this evening, live from the Royal Albert Hall at www.bbc.co.uk/radio3 or on tv and proper radio), any Proms fan will concur that the “proper” last night – the one which bears some resemblance to what goes on for the rest of the season – is in fact the penultimate night.

This year’s penultimate Proms gig was given by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of James Levine who not only seemed to bear a striking similarity to yesteryear photographs of Henry Wood himself, but also maintained an energetic committment to his conducting presumably feeling sufficiently reassured that he did have a comfy conductors stool to fall back on at any time during the performance should he feel the need.

The Three “Illusions” by Elliot Carter failed to strike any chord. Moments of interesting textures were eclipsed by the ocasional strange moment where it felt as though the band were finding it difficult to play as one.

All of this pailed into insignificance when the audience settled themselves into the “meat” of the evening – Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. It was this work – originally commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1943 which delivered some lush textures, tight rythmic playing and moments of genuine and intended musical comedy.

The band succeeded in keeping up momentum during the second half too during a stunning performance of Brahms’ Symphony No.1, prompting a lengthy applause and numerous returns to the platform by the conductor. Hands were raw by the end of the evening not least because of the two encores delivered to the appreciative audience.

But the real joy for me was something intensely personal and to find out about that, you’ll need to read the next posting.

Getting your homework back

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News that the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee is getting together for a bit of a chinwag always comes as a surprise. It’s never a nice surprise. I suddenly become very subdued, my eyebrows tense up and I begin to nervously rub my chin. What will they do? Will they increase the interest rate or keep it as it is? Will we be able to afford the mortgage payments or not.

Of course, we will be able to afford the mortgage payment. We wouldn’t be living here if we couldn’t. But even so, news that the committee is meeting to discuss the possibility of increasing the rate is always a bad thing.

It feels a little like a report card. As though someone has assessed all our financial committments and spending habits and made a decision accordingly. Have we behaved or are we about to be punished?

This time around it seems we’re safe although reports suggest that we’ll almost certainly be hit after the next meeting. Either way, there’ll still be that moment when I’m transported back to school waiting for my homework to be handed back.

Stress

It’s taken me just over two years to work this one out. I don’t have a therapist anymore. I put the length of time it’s taken me to arrive at this conclusion down to that.

Every so often my job demands I work what’s known as an “on-call week”. Armed with a mobile phone and my trusty laptop (the one which had to be serviced due to excessive amounts of cat fur caught in the ventilation thingamy) I psyche myself up for the possibility that I may be called upon to do something unexpected and to carry it out in a reasonable professional way.

I do get calls like that and I do handle them like that too – I’m bound to say it.

In addition to this potentially random way of having to do work between the hours of 6pm and 9am (sleeping is allowed) I also have to do something of a regular publishing task.

It seems a little crass to say what exactly, but I can tell you that I find it really quite high pressure stuff even though I’m painfully aware some might consider this to be incredibly small-fry.

The task itself only takes 15 minutes (20 if things are bad) but every time I find my heart suddenly shifts gear. Despite the fact that I’ve done the same task five nights on the trot around about once every month (give or take) I still feel the pressure.

It hits me like a sledgehammer, the moment when I remember that actually this really is stress I’m feeling. In the thick of it I’ll wonder why on earth I’m still doing this when it affects me like it does. Then I reach that moment when I realise all is well and the task is over. Done. Completed. That’s like doing the 100 metre sprint and winning it. That’s when I remember I’d be more than happy to do it the next night and every night, weirdly.

I’m not really sure how that compares with other people’s work.

Thinking about freedom

It’s not often I wake up in the middle of the night, eyes wide open, my mind working overtime.

It’s annoying, that’s for sure. Annoying mostly because I seem to spend my day worrying about one thing or another to a greater or a lesser extent, so much so in fact that I do wonder why I bothered paying the first installment on my gym membership. Anxiety is always a good contributory factor to weight loss.

I’ve been thinking about the word “freedom” just recently, largely because one man suggested I might like to think about it along with the words “childhood” and “equality”. It was quite a tempting offer, not least because it seemed to set my fingers tingling with excitement.

What does “freedom” mean to me? How can I illustrate what it means to me ? Is there a reasonably interesting point (or points) to be made about the word “freedom”? It’s 4.37am on Wednesday morning. Given that I can’t sleep for worrying, I’m going to give it a damn good stab.

If I stop to think about things in my life as they are right now, me staring at the keyboard and panicking about the white space on the screen in front of me, there’s one freedom I’ve only just recently realised I’ve taken for granted for quite some considerable time.

Over the past ten years the internet has afforded me more opportunities than I ever thought I’d want or need. Quite apart from the obvious professional opportunities I’ve had working with web-related things, the internet has also made it possible for me to publish the results of my creative efforts in one form or other.

If it’s not a blog it’s a podcast. Videos or photographs. Facebook statuses (?sp) or the very briefest of dalliances with Twitter. All of these “tools” have allowed me to express myself without the interference of an editor wagging his finger, rolling his eyes or shaking his fist at me.

It is in fact these latest internet technologies, some part of what’s regarded as part of “Web 2.0”, which have been the most liberating. Facebook, hailed by many as the greatest development in social networking on the internet since I-don’t-know-what, has been that for me.

Over the past few months I’ve “made contact” with a whole host of people, made different kinds of connections with people at work, people from previous jobs and most recently people from school. * I’ve seen different angles on lots of different people. I’ve felt a part of different people’s lives in a way I hadn’t originally thought possible or necessary.

With predictable shamelessness I’ve also used these growing networks of propagating my fairly regular daily creative efforts. Contrary to the advice given by a friend who said “just concentrate on the content of your blog – let others market it”, I’ve found it difficult to resist trying to draw people in. After all, what’s the point in writing something if others don’t read or can’t read it. I’ve got to be honest that after I’m done writing I don’t really have much time or inclination to read my own blog back again. Once the “Post This Entry” button has been clicked, that’s it done with. I wash my hands of it, unless of course the spelling mistakes are so grim that it warrants a return visit in edit mode.

The ultimate problem with writing regularly and sharing with people I know via the likes of Facebook is that little by little the creative freedoms I had formally are slowly getting eroded. Suddenly I have to think twice before I commit something the screen. Who will read this? Will my words offend them? Will my actions be interpreted by some as grist for their particular mill? Do some people read this and then turn to a friend and say “have you seen the bollocks he’s written here – the pretentious wanker!”

Underpinning the power of self-publishing we’ve all of us come to take for granted is the growing spectre of moral and legal responsibility. I can write about what I want, in theory, but as I establish more and more real and virtual relationships to distribute those words so I have to stop and, in many cases, cross a topic off my list. That is a very disappointing prospect, almost as though someone is standing behind looking over my shoulder and warning me off particular words, phrases, sentences or (worse) entire paragraphs.

Some people (probably sandal-wearers) will shout “That’s the creative challenge – rise to it!”

I’d just say it’s a pain in the arse.

* It’s not without good reason that the people I consider closest and most in-tune are often correct when they half-jokingly refer to me as a real-life networking whore.

Simon says

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I find myself in one of those increasingly rarer situations where I’m home alone during the day, free to relax and pamper myself before I start work with a vengeance at 6pm this evening.

Consequently the lovely, lovely Simon has been keen to stress that I must RELAX, get myself away from the computer as much as I can and indulge myself.

So, with the last Proms video now completed (there may be some tasty clips yet to come – something even I can’t believe I’m prepared to release into the wild) and only a handful of fairly straightforward administrative things yet to be done, I figure it’s perfectly acceptable to start dreaming.

Simon and I go on holiday very soon. We always go around about the same time of year. Most people I know (those without children I hasten to add) seem to go on holiday during the summer months in the UK. We, on the other hand, always get terribly excited about going when the evenings are pulling in, the leaves have changed colour and the air temperature is dropped.

So it is this year as we look forward to a week in the lap of Portugese (well, Marriott Hotels) luxury here … and yes, the picture here really is the view from what will be our balcony.