Last night (Thursday) was going to be my night at the Royal Albert Hall. I was going to feel all superior about it too. I’d prepared the blog entry well in advance. I could even taste my air of moral superiority 24 hours before I actually got there. I would go to great lengths to explain how much nicer it is not to follow the crowd and go to the first night of the Proms but instead to take pot luck and indulge myself with something unexpected.
I was thinking that right up until the point my colleague George reminded me that I was covering his on-call shift during the evening. The colleague who conveyed the message from George to me sat at her desk and watched me as I turned around and, with my back towards her, started gesticulating wildly. Had I spoken out loud she probably would have winced and reported me to HR.
So, I thought, I’ll have to listen to it on the radio. I’ll indulge myself at home. I’ll settle down with a gin and tonic, my notebook and my programme notes and I’ll sit and listen to the programme.
The first element – Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten by Arvo Part – was absolutely stunning. I’d not heard the seven minute work before but when I read in the notes that the composer Arvo Part had felt such a sense of loss when Benjamin Britten had died in 1977 that he felt the need to write the memorial music, I was immediately hooked in before I’d even heard a note. Part had commented how he’d wished he’d been able to meet Britten face to face before the man had died. Speaking as someone who comes from the same county as Britten and who was inspired to take up music as a result of his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, I felt a strange affinity with the work before I’d even heard it.
Second part of the first half offered a real treat. Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini is a brilliant work giving everybody involved the opportunity to show off some bravura playing. After nearly a week of a lot of new sounds in the other concerts to hear this would be like having something terribly reassuringly familiar .. like a teddy bear.
Things got off to a slow start which I did overlook. In fact, it didn’t really dawn on me to tell the truth. Variation One seemed to adopt the same speed, variation two was similar. I decided not to let any internal criticism dampen my self-indulgent experience and overlooked these points.
By the time variation six has cruised up at exactly the same speed I began to get a little dispondent. Then there was mild irritation , followed by rising fury, mounting rage and focussed determination to effect some kind of resolution to the woeful problem of a lack-lustre performance which was emerging from the Royal Albert Hall.
After some thought, I concluded that there was only one option available: to communicate my feelings in such a way as to make people feel totally sorry for me for what turned out to be the only truly disappointing element in the Proms so far this season.
I tried to listen to the second half – billed as the “epic third symphony by Gliere” – but to be completely honest with you .. I did drop off to sleep by that stage. Terrible shame.