Books: Filling the gaping hole

Kane and Abel , originally uploaded by Thoroughly Good.

Painfully aware as I am that the Proms season is rapidly coming to an end, my attention has turned to finding things to occupy the time left when those nightly concerts come to an end. As I’m also feeling quite chuffed that I’ve got to the end of an 8 week period and remained committed to the cause without flinching both in terms of listening and writing, I figured I needed a similar challenge to sink my teeth into.

Reading the odd book seemed like the best route to take. After all, if my mind has been broadened listening to music I would otherwise dismiss at a moments notice, could I achieve the same reading books?

It’s hardly earth shattering stuff, is it? Reading. Everyone does it.

I have a bit of a problem with reading, however. I’ve lost count of the number of books I’ve started only to get distracted mid-way through. The book is cast-aside. Suddenly the appeal it had is lost. The book is abandoned. The TV gets switched on.

I don’t normally have the problem when I’m holiday. In fact, I’ll power through two or three books on holiday and return from my trip filled with a smug sense of self-satisfaction, accompanied with a new resolve to get reading more. I can never manage to keep it up.

In recent weeks however, I’ve noticed a change. Ahead of my 12 day holiday to Turkey later this month, I’ve embarked on a bit of pre-holiday training. All this really means is indulging in a bit of pre-holiday activities like going out for meals, going to the cinema, shopping, packing bags or this year – as it seems – getting some reading in early.

Here’s the shocker, however. I figured I’d set the bar low. Baby steps first of all. What I’m after here is that sense of achievement before I go on holiday. I want to have read a book before I go on holiday so that I can capitalise on it when I’m sunning myself by the pool.

How far did I set the bar? All the way down as low as Jeffery Archer’s Kane and Abel.

I know. Awful isn’t it. Me having a degree qualification as well .. in the arts (just to make things even worse).

So, should be you be interested in tracking my progress, then be sure to come back to the Books category on the Thoroughly Good Blog.

Prom 72: Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Haitink / Shostakovich 4

Prom 72, originally uploaded by Thoroughly Good.

“It’s one of the highlights of the season,” said one Prommer in the Lanson Arena Bar shortly before the concert. At least, I think that’s what she said. The quote may not be word for word, but you get the picture I’m sure.

“Bernard Haitink, Murray Perrahia, Mozart twenty-four and Shostakovich four,” she continued.

Amid the predictable cries of elitism on my part, I have to confess that I love the shorthand way of referring to concert works. I’ve always loved the shorthand. Why bother wasting precious time saying the word “symphony” or “concerto” when those you’re talking to know exactly what you’re referring to by virtue of having read the programme before the conversation began.

Pretensions aside (and I’m full of them) and the first half underway, I was relieved to hear that my previous concerns about any prevalence of misjudged applause during my favourite piano concerto on my self-nominated official birthday had been allayed.

Bernard Haitink, on the other hand, did have some concerns about extended coughing in between movements and a door slamming in between movements from the side the choir seats. This seemed obvious by the way he held his conductor’s baton and refused to continue until a suitably sombre silence had again descended over the auditorium.

I don’t think I would have seen all of this had me and significant other Simon not been occupying seats one and two in the Grand Tier box number three, overlooking the stage. These were purchased seats I might add.

Lots of people reckon they know where the best place is to listen to concerts in the Royal Albert Hall and to a certain extent I find it difficult not to agree that promming in the first three rows of the arena offers the best for sound, especially in loud works.

But nothing prepared me for the seats in the Grand Tier. During Shostakovich’s predictably highly orchestrated and cinematic lesser-known symphony, we got to see a 100 strong band working in teams. Shostakovich’s string writing would drag my eyes to the violins and then my ears would distract me over the percussion section whenever an unexpected crash or snare drum roll was inserted.

This was the work which Shostakovich “withdrew” from performance after the “writers” at Pravda denounced his opera Lady Macbeth as “muddle rather than music”. It was his fifth symphony which was penned as a result and, although powerful, engaging and ultimately as satisfying to listen to as the fifth is to play, I’m a shameless convert to his fourth symphony based solely on one listen.

That’s powerful for me, considering I knew nothing of the fourth symphony before Prom 72 and engaged with the work as a result of getting a fresh visual perspective on orchestral playing. Hurrah for seats in the Grand Tier. Now all I have to do is find enough disposable income to afford a seat there every single night.

Listen to the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 24 via the BBC iPlayer
Listen to the Shostakovich Symphony No. 4 via the BBC iPlayer

Prom 71: Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Haitink / Mahler 6



Prom 71, originally uploaded by Thoroughly Good.

I callously shunned the arena and its occupants last night in favour of a hard to resist invitation to join a friend in the stalls. Quite apart from the obvious advantage of being able to sit down and thus save my back from the inevitable agony resulting from listening to 85 minutes of Mahler’s 6th symphony, I hadn’t seen my friend for a long time. It was a nice way to catch up.

Quite unexpectedly, the evening also provided me with an opportunity to hang around backstage at the Royal Albert Hall. The last time I’d done that was during the shoot for the first video. It was weird descending the steps to the basement and seeing the surroundings again after a couple of months. Just as I’d thought, the corridors were teeming with musicians. There was a buzz about the place. It was one very special moment.

I explained to my friend what an odd effect coming to the Royal Albert Hall for repeat visits over a short amount of time had. There comes a point when the grandeur of the place doesn’t so much become less, more that everywhere up there feels like’s home. It’s like the feeling you get when you’ve worked in the same office for a significant amount of time. Without even realising it, those repeat visits make the place you’re visiting nothing more than an extension of your bedroom or kitchen or front room.

It’s a lovely feeling. I feel part of the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Albert Hall feels a part of me. Weird, given that I’m just a member of the audience who, from time to time, gets the chance to swan around in places in and around the hall at times when most wouldn’t.

To sum up Mahler’s sixth symphony in a blog posting is, frankly, impossible. His orchestrations would make for an entire blog given that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra occupied most of the stage itself.

It’s a massive work and one which, if I was completely honest, I wished I’d known thoroughly before I set foot in the hall. That said, there was one moment in the closing bars of the final movement which took me completely by surprise. Not the seemingly loud thwack from the band in itself, more the distance the people in the row in front of me jumped when they heard it.

I didn’t, of course. I’m far too cool for that, even if I didn’t know the work that well.