Proms 2009: Prom 28 – Mozart Bassoon Concerto Karen Geoghegan BBC Philharmonic



One of the benefits of not staying to the end of a reasonably long Prom concert is the much sought-after opportunity to take advantage of an otherwise quiet Exhibition Road and fairly empty tube train home. It makes the trip home after a concert less of an ordeal, especially when the temperature is high and having a bath has creeped up my personal list of priorities.

Of course, such a move on any Prommer’s part is fraught with risk. What will other people think? Will I lose credibility by making my escape at the time the charity fundraisers make their customary end-of-interval announcement (they’ve raised over £20,000 through collections on the door – God only knows what it will be come the end of the season) ?

I wasn’t really up for hearing Mahler’s 6th symphony this evening. I didn’t have the stamina. My feet were already throbbing during the Stravinsky ballet which opened this evening’s concert given by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and the thought of standing in the fourth row of the arena for 85 minutes to hear the symphony wasn’t a strong enough pull. That’s not to say it’s not worth listening to. It’s just I want to go home and have a bath and see my significant other and listen to the Archers and go to bed. Yes, at 36 years old my life really is that quaint. I quite like that.

And anyway, I did venture to the arena bar feeling quite smug. I reckoned I’d heard the real star of the show already. Karen Geoghegan (I can’t pronounce her surname – just listen to the pitiful attempts in both of this evening’s AudioBoos) delivered a spirited performance of Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto, filling the hall with her perky tone and keeping at least one member of the attentive arena audience gripped.

I can’t provide proof of a consensus, but there was a noticeable turning of heads amongst the Prommers and a number of smiles on the nodding heads I noticed who made me think I wasn’t alone in my enthusiasm.

So should I feel that guilty about leaving early? I did seek some kind of weird permission from my cohorts in the arena bar in between gassing with @rfenwick, even if I quickly realised seeking such permission was both weird and unnecessary.

Definitely worth a listen. The Mahler too – when I get around to it.

Proms 2009: Prom 26 – Mendelssohn Symphony No.1 Violin Concerto Isabelle Faust BBC NOW

Helen Roberts, sub-principal viola from BBC National Orchestra of Wales
talks BBC Training Orchestra, Beethoven and orchestral management skills
during the interval of Prom 26. (Thanks to @petergregson for his sterling efforts)

Last night’s concert at the Royal Albert Hall featuring the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under the direction of conductor Thierry Fischer (and Isabelle Faust playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto) was a strange affair.

Not because of anything untoward going on on stage nor in the arena (excepting the fact that it was unexpectedly hot and my ear infection seemed to have finally and resolutely taken hold of me making the live performance experience a bewildering one).

Nor was my experience listening Mendelssohn’s first symphony for the first time. In case you’re interested in the back-story, I had been concerned I wouldn’t enjoy it. Everytime I’ve seen Mendelssohn on the programme I’ve assumed “That’ll be nice. Mendelssohn’s nice. You always know where you are with Mendelssohn.” Then I heard the Reformation Symphony and found myself squirming a bit. After the Hymn of Praise the other night, the Reformation was disappointing. Would I feel the same way about the first symphony ? As it turned out,  I didn’t.

Mendelssohn’s first symphony reminded me a lot of the scurring string symphonies the composer rattled off in his teenage years. When I started thinking about those string symphonies that’s when I started casting my mind back to the first time I heard them.

The English String Orchestra in October 1997. That’s where I heard them first, I thought, when I was working for them as an orchestral manager type person. I started flicking through images of the 6 months I spent there, thinking about the instrumentalists, the soloists, the conductors and the various venues we played in.

Then, as I stared at the stage from the fourth row, conscious of my ear infection and the increasing heat, my eyes stop at the front desk of the violas. Helen Roberts, principal viola of the English String Orchestra was playing second viola in tonight’s orchestra.

I couldn’t help myself. I may not have seen her for fourteen years, but in these situations I nearly always have to find the person and say hello. The fact I had a video camera in my bag was just an added bonus. Many thanks to @petergregson for his sterling if unexpected camera duties.

Listen to the first half of Prom 26 here with all it’s Mendelssohn loveliness.

Proms 2009: Prom 1 – Poulenc BBC Symphony Labeque

Poulenc Double Concerto  
BBC Symphony Orchestra  
Katia & Marielle Labeque



Listen to the swift audio review here


Those of us who queue for hours for the First Night of the Proms (I got to the Royal Albert Hall at 3pm, but I’m at pains to point out there were plenty of others starter out earlier) do so for one simple reason: we yearn for something to sweep us off our feet. Something to wow us. Something to make us clap like mad things.

No disrespect to the BBC Symph for their performance of Stravinsky’s Fireworks (try harder next time Stravinsky – yes, we know it was one of your early works but really, we can handle more than a mere 4 minutes – nor soprano Aylish Tynan whose all too small contribution in Chabrier’s Ode to Musique still managed to confirm in my mind that she’s someone with a mischievous glint in her eye and a voice I could easily fall in love with (assuming I haven’t already). Looking forward to hearing her in the Proms Chamber Music gig on Sunday 30 August at 1.00pm.

Stephen Hough did well too – don’t get me wrong – delivering a valiant performance of Tchaikovsky’s third piano concerto. 

Katia and Marielle Labeque did give me the highpoint with a performance of Poulenc’s Double Piano Concerto.

Was it the sisters shameless enthusiasm or their vibrant red and purple outfits set off with their uncompromising high heels which helped deliver that moment?

Their technical proficiency was undeniable, so too their innate musicality. They looked good on stage and were good on stage. 

It seems a terrible crime to be sat in the crush bar at the Royal Albert Hall writing this while the rest of the audience dutifully sits through the performances of Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody, Elgar’s In the South and Bruckner’s Psalm 150.

If I promise to listen on the radio or watch it in HD when I get home, do you suppose the soloists, chorus, orchestra and conductor Jiri Belohlavek (not to mention Proms Director Roger Wright and Radio 3 Interactive Editor Roland Taylor) will forgive me? I do hope so. If they don’t, they have my mobile number. 


Katia and Marielle Labeque play the piano. Yes they do.

Shortly after I came out, a disingenuous lesbian acquaintance of mine once took me to one side and informed me of the world as she saw it: lesbians and gay men don’t mix – don’t try.

She’s wrong of course. Wrong because gay men never make sweeping statements like that and so, neither should she. Wrong because she shouldn’t speak on behalf of all lesbians – as far as I understand plenty if not all are capable of speaking for themselves. And also wrong because there are plenty of examples to the contrary.

There’s no time to list the many examples, only the most pertinent.

Composer Francis Poulenc – himself a homosexual and not a particularly happy one – was at one stage in his composing life to benefit from the patronage of Princess Edmond de Polignac (Wianaretta Singer, heir to the sewing machine empire Singer). A lesbian herself, Singer was reported to have made it clear in hysterical terms to her then husband that consummating her marriage was not something high on her list of priorities. But once her marriage was annulled she took the money and poured into the arts. Good on her.

One such beneficiary was Poulenc who, commissioned in 1932, came up with the Double Piano Concerto which features in the First Night of the Proms.

I’ve cheated and taken a listen to it before the gig – in part because I literally can’t wait for the first night and also because I’m painfully aware I ought in part to sound reasonably knowledgeable about the subject material.

The First Night of the Proms is always the curtain raiser, with a usually “bitty” programme intended to welcome the passer-by into the fold and provide a taster for what’s coming up.

Whilst there’s no bone rattling awe-inspiring work like last year’s Strauss’ Festival Prelude to blow away the cobwebs during Friday’s first night, the high point of the evening will undoubtedly be the Labeque sister’s performance of Poulenc’s Double Concerto for piano. If it’s anything like their recent recording of the concerto, their performance should be a brilliant display.

Whilst @bbcproms has described rehearsals of the work akin to the smell of fresh paint (maybe there’s been some remedial work done on the interior at the Royal Albert Hall, who knows), there’s no doubt the concerto is a classic illustration of a composer writing to appeal to as wide an audience as possible in as short amount of time possible. There’s a sniff of a murder mystery in the opening movement the moment the pianists pound the keyboard in the opening bars. That murder mystery might as well be played out on a train what with all the chuntering in the piano line. Gripping and shamelessly entertaining.

The rest of the work is typically pastiche-like putting in the same stable as Benjamin Britten’s brilliant and sadly single piano concerto written ten years before. Whilst it might be unfair (and utterly pointless) to compare the two works, Poulenc’s effort may well have the edge for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on at the moment. I’m in no doubt however that having said this people will almost certainly be up in arms for making such a preposterous remark without due reverence to supporting evidence.

The rest of the programme – Tchaikovsky’s 3rd piano concerto, Stravinsky’s Firework piece (a fittingly 4 minutes of twinkling orchestration to open the programme) and Bruckner’s Psalm 150 will be big and broad and all encompassing. The perfect opener to seven weeks of pure indulgence.

Prom 41: Oh dear God


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.