Prom 62: Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra / Davis

I fear I’m beginning to flag just a bit when it comes to promming. I’m still as committed as I was to begin with (even if some other people I know may question this given my comparatively poor attendance – Prom 62 brings my personal best to 23, I think) but having stood for three hours at the concert in a packed arena my back is telling me what my thighs and feet have been feeling for ages. I’m getting tired.

This might be why I spent a great deal of time concentrating on other things during the Beethoven Violin Concerto. At first I was struck by how people weren’t coughing that much. I started trying to work out what the reason might be. Was it that the audience – a full house – were on the whole quite a healthy bunch? Had people watched the video? Had they taken notes ? Was the message getting through?

(Self-obsesion is a nasty trait. I must do more to stamp it out.)

I suspect the real reason was that Beethoven’s Violin Concerto is unusual in its’ dynamic range. Orchestra and soloist have to get to grips with what might at first seems like a fairly straightforward score. But factor in the pianissimos daubed all over the score and the idea of breathing let alone coughing during the performance is would guarantee embarrassment. There was no way anyone wanted to disturb the atmosphere in this one and risk drawing attention to any ills or stubborn medical conditions.

Personally, I want to listen to this back if only to give the entire concert a second go. Assessing why everyone was so unusually quiet had taken up quite a lot of my attention not to mention the sight of one man in front of me in the arena who’d missed a loop with his belt when he dressed himself in the morning. This and a definite case of broken wind emanating from the second row (I was on the fourth row, I hasten to add) towards the end of the first movement of Sibelius’ second symphony made this evening’s concert quite an arduous task.

Still, some others rather liked it and at least there’s iPlayer and a modest sound system at home to go some way to recreate the experience.

Prom 33: Sibelius, Berkeley, MacRae & Elgar

Tonight’s Proms experience kicked off in the Elgar restaurant. I ordered the goats cheese and tomato cheescake, followed by the crispy chicken in a broth, finished off with a cheese plate and washed down by a couple of glasses of red wine. The Elgar restaurant at the Royal Albert Hall comes highly recommended for one of those special indulgences in the company of friends.

Inside the auditorium, the smaller audience didn’t dent my enthusiasm and commitment to the performance. There was something special about the idea that those of us who sat or stood really wanted to be there and as a result really wanted the BBC Symphony Orchestra to know they had all our collective support. 

The Sibelius – a short orchestral piece entitled Night Rides and Sunshine – was a revelation. It was really refreshing to hear something other than Finlandia. The constant rythmic feature in the strings depicting “the ride” was infectious, “the dawn” beautiful.

As the programme ran on, I became increasingly more worried. I know absolutely nothing of Michael Berkeley or his music (clearly, I don’t pay close enough attention to the schedules as Berkeley presents Private Passions on Radio 3 – I really ought to have put two and two together). Tonight’s premiere from him depicted his take on “Dawn” and despite what many might regard as a relatively unconventional compositional style in comparison to Sieblius at least, this new work was totally engaging.

By far the most challenging and thought-provoking was Gaudete from Stuart MacRae. The sound from the band was arresting, the vocals from Susan Anderson eery in places. The fact that I had to follow the words in the programme is no shortcoming. The fact that I will have to listen to it again to get a deeper appreciation of the work isn’t a failure either. Sometimes these things take a few repeat listens before I get the gist.

What was invigorating was how the live performance stoked conversation amongst our group as we queued to get a drink. Not only that, I felt bold enough to go up to a few people, crowbar their way into their conversations and find out what they thought. And no … I won’t be telling what they said – listen to the work yourself and make up your own mind.

The evening was rounded off with a performance of Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Everyone knows it and everyone was, undoubtedly sticking around for it too. The BBC Symph didn’t dissapoint either. Much respect to the organist in the finale whose thunderous chords brought a well-known work in the most appropriate of settings to a rousing conclusion.

Listen to the Sibelius, Berkeley and McRae on iPlayer (Proms 33: Part One) and the Enigma Variations (Proms 33: Part Two).