Thursday 12 August 2010

Prom Queen for a day

I went to my first Prom on Sunday night. No not an American prom with big dresses and etiquette I don't understand but a BBC Prom. These Proms, promenade concerts, are a summer series of recitals and performances of usually classical music culminating in the last night of the Proms: the much televised evening of an almost debauched level of flag waving and group singing which your head might tell you is silliness but which can make this lefty smile- even if it's just because surely singing at the top of your voice is much the best way to express a bit of nationalism if you want to do so. The first Prom was in 1895 and the season has been growing steadily ever since then.

I don't consider myself to be knowledgeable about classical music but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate it- and I appreciate it more and more as I get older. I was certainly visiting as something of a novice though- and partly for the experience of a Prom- to be one of those people outside the Royal Albert Hall every summer evening, to take part.

What I found was rather touching. There were people like me of course- also uninitiated, or perhaps going to accompany an enthusiast- and there is an impressive amount of information for newbies; a lovely programme with background on the Proms and the programme of the day, the composers chosen and why, the artists performing, the stories behind the compositions and how they related to each other.

There were also many seasoned Prommers, ripe for people watching. My favourites were the couple who chose not to stand but to lie down in the promenade (read standing) area, take their shoes off and make little pillows from their sweaters to enjoy the show in full comfort (and why not); the little girl who sat on her Daddy's shoulders for the whole of the first half in total silence seemingly gripped by Mozart despite being not more than four years old; the chaps down at the front who knew to shout 'heave. ho' when the grandest of grand pianos was carried in like a magnificent lady in a sedan chair.

If you are interested I saw the evening programme listed here. The pianist who played with the BBC orchestra for the Mozart concerto was Louis Lortie and he was a joy to watch- he has the face and the hands and fingers of a man consumed with love for what he does- how wonderful to find that thing and then to have the gift of being so very good at it. He made me wish again that I had taken those piano lessons my Father offered me.

I am very far from an expert but I thought the Messiaen was too much of a mixture of quiet peace and unsettling percussion- I understood he was trying to show Mozart's life was like that but I'd have preferred something less jarring for the man who gave us so much beauty; the Mozart delightful in every way; the Parry elegy for Brahms full of drama and with quite a filmic quality- and the Brahms was a a lovely surprise- again filled with action and somewhat soundtrack like, stirring, emotive, dark and impressive.

I don't know how well publicised the Proms are too tourists but as an example of something peculiarly British it would be hard to better. I loved being a visitor to that world for an evening. It is also another example of why, if the battle cry comes to save the BBC I will be there. The Proms might not be your thing but the coverage is exemplary and gives the opportunity to people to see and hear world class performance every night for very little (and if you can't get to London you can listen on Radio 3).

Proms memorabilia picture from the BBC website here.


Jayne said...

Rose, I love the Proms! Absolutely love them for the reasons you give - the music, the people watching, the sort of audio glimpse into another world. Usually each year I try to go to a few smaller proms and then the Last Night always coincides with my birthday - it is my dream to one day attend that night inside the Royal Albert Hall, but until then I can usually be found in the swigging Pimms in the park opposite. Glad you had a great time! :)

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh, this sounds so much more enjoyable that the American version!!

Marie said...

I keep meaning to go, every year and then never manage it. Rubbish Londoner that I am. But I love some classical music and when I was younger used to listen to the proms on Radio 3 with my family. Perhaps I should start with listening more to Radio 3 and move on from there...

JacquiG said...

I love the Last Night of the Proms! My Dad used to have the record of this and we would listen to it. Now, when I hear the traditional songs sang on the last night, I get emotional. Jerusalem can bring me to tears!

I was so excited to find out that the last night is being broadcast in some of the movie theatres here in Canada, and I'm really looking to attending. Even though I'll probably end up going on my own (son going to a wedding, husband, well it's not his thing), I simply don't want to miss it!

Wouldn't it be a wonderful experience to actually attend the Last Night at the Royal Albert Hall!!

Rose said...

Hi Jackie, lovely to hear from you- and I'm thrilled they screen the Proms in cinemas in Canada. Yes I agree Jerusalem brings a tear to my eye as well, the lyrics are actually very poignant, dark satanic mills and all. I hope you have a brilliant time watching! I'm sure you'll find nice people there! i am actually away that weekend but will raise a glass of Pimm's to you all from the west country.

Metropolitan Mum said...

How exciting! And next time you will have to post a picture of yourself with a detailed description of what you were wearing! MMx

Rose said...

MM- I am terrible with pictures- I don't like any of them but I shall send you one. I wore a long dark grey dress with silver sandals