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)

Prom 41: Oh dear God

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I was tired tonight. I had a rare work-spurt early this morning. My tiredness was understandable.So, when I arrived home earlier than usual, I figured I’d relax, have a bath, maybe a beer, maybe even a beer before my bath and then, finally settle down to tonight’s Prom live on BBC 4. It would be my early-week treat, if such a term exists.

I plumped the cushions and cracked open beer number one just as American jazz pianist Marcus Roberts and two other chappies strolled onto the Royal Albert Hall ahead of a new performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

Oooh, I thought, that will be nice.

And they were .. very nice. They were .. very good. They were .. clearly able to deliver astonishing moments of clarity in the kind of jazz improvisation which does (I’m sorry to confess) always leave absolutely deflated.

To be fair, Gershwin’s cartoon music is well-known. It’s almost supermarket music, it’s so well-known. Consequently if you’re used to the “traditional” recordings of it, any new intrepretations with big drum sequences, alternative rhythms and groovy solo double bass lines is always going to be a little challenging.

But I can confirm that this was a performance which left me feeling a little disappointed. I am open minded and I did want to enjoy it, but the thing is it really didn’t push any of the right buttons for me.

Interesting though. And I almost certainly would have tripped up the principal clarinettist of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on his way in to the Royal Albert Hall this evening if only to get an opportunity to play the solo he had this evening.

Prom 33: Surprising and interesting

A busy night doing some work, fielding a couple of phone calls and launching Bob Martin’s Flea Bomb in an effort to rid the office (finally) of those pesky fleas who insist on biting into my ankles whenever I’m near the PC.

We ended up watching tonight’s Prom on BBC Four. Really quite enjoyed it.

I’m a big fan of Britten as I think I might have mentioned before although I’ll admit I probably haven’t listened to as much of his stuff as perhaps I should have done.

The Sinfonia da Requiem was poignant in it’s message, the BBC Philharmonic were impressive and the conductor Gianandrea Noseda  clearly very hot.

Prom 31: It’s probably quite important I post this

During this evening’s LIVE Prom concert from the Royal Albert Hall *, the gorgeously fluffy and terribly well-informed and sickening-good-at-presenting Suzie Klein invited members of the TV audience to submit their comments on tonight’s performance of Elgar’s Enigma Variations and suggest what Elgar’s “Enigma” might have meant.

Self-indulgent, hippocritical and fundamentally naiive as I am, I did submit to her invitation with relatively little resistance.

The email is sent. The variations are barely over. So, just for the sake of honesty I figure it might be fun to include what I sent here .. .and then see whether the comment gets read out.

In the unlikely event that it actually get’s read out I will, of course, report back later.

Sent to: proms@bbc.co.uk

There’s no doubt that Elgar was a businessman and this is illustrated in no small part by the title assigned to the set of variations which Elgar is immediately associated with.

The title of “Enigma Variations” are just that. The idea of a man who must surely have had a good eye for marketing. What better way to keep this nostalgic and stereotypical portrait of the English countryside than by keeping people guessing about what each of its’ consituent parts really means.

To sum up all of the work in a nifty, difficult-to-forget title and then associate it with what is instantly recognisable English music is an illustration of someone who could well have wanted to secure his place in history. If there’s a sliver of a possibility that this is what Elgar intended then well done him.

Well done too to the members of the RPO who, under the direction of a conductor brought in at the last minute, pulled off a deeply impressive performance of what is the trickiest variation of all, the one we all recognise instantly and pay the closest attention to.

* Oh yes, it’s live. The brochure says a 7.30 start and the TV schedules say the BBC Four relay starts at 7.30pm too. This is terribly exciting.