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

Shitting, buggery bollocks

Three blog postings in the time I’d normally devote to listening to the Archers omnibus. The blogging addiction is taking over.

I’d wanted to comment on what I’d heard on the radio just now. In a bid to try and engage the radio listeners across the capital, this morning’s discussion topic was constructed to provoke comment on whether we thought Team GB (I hate the way we now apparently have to refer to the British Olympic team as “Team GB”) should have done better in the medals table than we have (can’t we just be pleased and proud of our team’s efforts instead of constantly banging on about higher expectations?).

There I am, poised at the laptop for the third time in two hours, ready to rant and then I discover that there’s an incoming link to a blog from a Facebook application which promotes this blog.

Not having an incredibly deep understanding of how the various applications work on Facebook, I’m now wondering whether every single blog posting on this wordpress blog does, in fact, get promoted in people’s news feeds on Facebook.

If it is the case that this is how the Blog Networks application on Facebook works, then please accept my apologies for the relatively constant bombardment of news feed updates this morning. It’s not that I think I’m really important or have something stunning to impart with the world. I just rather like writing and do get quite swept away by it all.

On blogging and creativity

I took a night off from the Proms again last night and took myself off to a party somewhere close by to us in South East London.

A small glass of red wine and a few olives after arrival and soon the conversation started flowing between the party guests sat in the cosy back garden of a house in Deptford.

Now I come to look back on the handful of conversations I had, two strike me as important.

One was with a would-be journalist who didn’t understand quite how useful blogging was in terms of writing. When I explained what I regarded was it’s usefulness she still wasn’t convinced.

Strictly speaking, a journalist is only a journalist when they receive money for their writing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that blogging isn’t useful or valuable or creative. After all, there’s no point in writing things if people aren’t reading it (no matter how many times I try to convince myself otherwise, I do want people to consume what I create). I tried to maintain my usual charming air at all times, naturally.

At the end other end of the scale was a comment made by another party guest, a comment I honed in on almost as soon as I heard it.

The comment was something to do with how there is potential value in everything no matter how lacking in apparent quality there might be.

Inevitably, I started thinking about me and the stuff I like making and the way I look on things. After all the world does revolve around me, doesn’t it?

People do keep banging on about how things have to meet certain visual and written standards before they can be regarded as serious or engaging enough. The message is clear: if you don’t write or film or record or make things in a particular way then you’re not professional in your outlook and you can’t be taken seriously.

At least, that’s how it seems sometimes. It’s not quite as severe as that day to day, but the gentleman’s comment about seeing value in everything prompted an almost immediate response. “I can buy into that view,” I said not really fully understanding the gentleman’s point.

It turned out his comment originated from his Christian faith. Evil can’t be condoned, but we should always strive to create good from evil. Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that the past few months have in some respects been very difficult – and more so, this weekend – that the man’s words seemed instantly understandable and equally reassuring.

Unlike the relative cycnicism about blogging I’d heard earlier and regardless of my present state of mind, I know I’d prefer to see value in everything, and promote such a view wherever and whenever possible. That’s what Thoroughly Good is all about – minus the religious bit, obviously.

Prom 40: Pierre Boulez / BBC Symphony Orchestra

Friday night was a special night at the Royal Albert Hall. In addition to the very real sense of excitement present on any Friday night gig, Prom 40 had the added benefit of sporting a very long promming queue and a packed auditorium – it’s always special when the Albert Hall is full for a Prom.

The capacity audience may have had something to do with the presence of Pierre Boulez. I knew of Boulez from seemingly interminable music history lectures at college and hours spent in the library trying to get my head around why it was that the music he had composed which I found so impenetrable was so important to 20th century compositional technique. I understand it now, obviously, but back then I wanted Boulez’ music to be more like Beethoven’s. It goes without saying I was spectacularly missing the point about Boulez when I was studying for my degree.

One of the prommers agreed with me in the bar pre-concert that it was undoubtedly the opportunity to see the 82 year old Boulez conduct the BBC Symph again which had attracted so many people to come on this particular evening. She also went some way to reassure me that contrary to the conclusion I had already jumped to, I would enjoy Janacek’s Sinfonietta.

She was absolutely right. The opening brass sequence was instantly recognisable and provided the perfect hook for me to discover some of the more unfamiliar parts of the work. Being on the second row also helped introduce me to some marvellous musical textures throughout the work, something I’ll be paying attention to in the radio mix when I listen back over the next few days.

But perhaps the most important thing about this particular concert was how I left the hall feeling like I was part of the promming clan. Don’t get me wrong – there isn’t some kind of weird initiation ceremony – this was purely and simply to do with engaging in conversation with one or two familiar faces I’d seen repeatedly over the past few weeks. There’s a very special feeling to be had there and one which makes the Royal Albert Hall more than just a venue which hosts a series of concerts all summer long.

The nicest moment came shortly before the beginning of the first half, however, when one prommer stood behind observing my attempts to pictures of myself with my SLR offered to take a picture of me with the orchestra in the background. A very nice gesture on his part and one I hope I look back on at the end of this year’s season with the same warm, fuzzy feeling I do now.

Prom 40 on BBC iPlayer
Prom 40 (Part 1 – Audio) – Janacek Sinfonietta
Prom 40 (Part 2 – Audio)
Prom 40 (TV Broadcast)

Prom 40: Boulez / BBC Symphony Orchestra

Friday night was a special night at the Royal Albert Hall. In addition to the very real sense of excitement present on any Friday night gig, Prom 40 had the added benefit of sporting a very long promming queue and a packed auditorium – it’s always special when the Albert Hall is full for a Prom.

The capacity audience may have had something to do with the presence of Pierre Boulez. I knew of Boulez from seemingly interminable music history lectures at college and hours spent in the library trying to get my head around why it was that the music he had composed which I found so impenetrable was so important to 20th century compositional technique. I understand it now, obviously, but back then I wanted Boulez’ music to be more like Beethoven’s. It goes without saying I was spectacularly missing the point about Boulez when I was studying for my degree.

One of the prommers agreed with me in the bar pre-concert that it was undoubtedly the opportunity to see the 82 year old Boulez conduct the BBC Symph again which had attracted so many people to come on this particular evening. She also went some way to reassure me that contrary to the conclusion I had already jumped to, I would enjoy Janacek’s Sinfonietta.

She was absolutely right. The opening brass sequence was instantly recognisable and provided the perfect hook for me to discover some of the more unfamiliar parts of the work. Being on the second row also helped introduce me to some marvellous musical textures throughout the work, something I’ll be paying attention to in the radio mix when I listen back over the next few days.

But perhaps the most important thing about this particular concert was how I left the hall feeling like I was part of the promming clan. Don’t get me wrong – there isn’t some kind of weird initiation ceremony – this was purely and simply to do with engaging in conversation with one or two familiar faces I’d seen repeatedly over the past few weeks. There’s a very special feeling to be had there and one which makes the Royal Albert Hall more than just a venue which hosts a series of concerts all summer long.

The nicest moment came shortly before the beginning of the first half, however, when one prommer stood behind observing my attempts to pictures of myself with my SLR offered to take a picture of me with the orchestra in the background. A very nice gesture on his part and one I hope I look back on at the end of this year’s season with the same warm, fuzzy feeling I do now.

Prom 40 on BBC iPlayer
Prom 40 (Part 1 – Audio) – Janacek Sinfonietta
Prom 40 (Part 2 – Audio)
Prom 40 (TV Broadcast)