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.