Thursday, July 25, 2002

Watty promenades:

The first Proms report of the season - not sure if I'll keep this up in this much detail (and don't get too excited, I'll only be going to five or six of them at most...)

Firstly, how pleasant it was to have company in the queue - I've been Promming alone for so long now that I'm still slightly surprised to find that the time passes much quicker if one is deep in conversation. Thos joined the queue busily apologising for being somewhat under the weather; without being unkind, it has to be said that he did look quite pale, but not in a 'pale and interesting' way. The estimable PaulWay arrived shortly after, and we shuffled to the back of the queue - there seems to be a new policy of selling the tickets in the queue, which prevents queue-jumping, but makes meeting people in the queue slightly more difficult than it used to be - and passed the time most pleasantly. Thos' constitution wasn't, as he had feared, up to the task of standing all evening, and he did the sensible thing by abandoning us as we started to go in.

Whereupon the first surprise. The refurbishments to the RAH have been going on for several years now, and for us poor Prommers, have all seemed to be hidden. This year, however, one descends into the arena corridor to be met, not with the old dingy passageway, but a new, sumptuous, clean, bright foyer - the bar areas have been opened up to encompass the corridor, giving a feeling of space and even airiness; even the toilets have been upgraded. A huge improvement. I'll say now, however, that there is no sign whatsoever of the much vaunted air cooling system - perhaps it would have been even hotter and stickier without it; who knows - I certainly didn't notice any difference.
The magic of emerging into the arena for the first time in a season does not fade with familiarity; it fills me with joy to see it again - the sheer redness of the place; the scale of it - I always get a craving to leap up on the stage and declaim some Shakespeare or something; it must be an inspiring venue to perform in.

The Prom itself was excellent - I had not heard the Barcelona orchestra before, and they seemed a young and enthusiastic bunch - just right for, especially, the second half of the programme. The Gerhard concerto was as challenging as it promised to be - there was a certain amount of fidgeting visible in the arena - but I rather enjoyed its turbulent river of sound, and the percussion section, in particular, seemed to be enjoying themselves. Viktoria Mullova was the soloist in the Mendelssohn, and I thought she handled it pretty well - she gave off an air of casual competence verging on boredom in the early passages, but she seemed to brighten as time wore on, and the andante and finale were just the right side of exuberant for me. I don't think I heard anything new in such a well-known work, but I don't think I expected to. The second half was full of Hispanic passion, and flowed wonderfully; the Five Negro Songs were treated to a mezzo with just the right amount of warmth in her tone, and a joyful bounce in her performance where appropriate; and the Three-cornered Hat was played with the joy and flourish of an orchestra which knows and loves a work well. Had we not been standing up for several hours, we might well have danced the finale. There was even a little bit of Zarzuela as an encore - don't ask me what it was, though...

Right about now, Paul will be experiencing his first taste of post-Prom legs; that feeling that the lower leg will never be the same again; but it wears off. Promise. We strolled through the park and grabbed a quick meal in Paddington before I scarpered for the train - a terrific evening's entertainment, and the promise of more to come.

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