The traditional, once-a-summer 'too hot to Prom' Prom.
Actually, in spite of an ill-advised rush to get there, caused by speed restrictions on the railways (in turn, due to the heat melting the rails), this was not the hottest I have ever been at a Prom. In fact, the whole thing was surprisingly bearable. Don't get me wrong, it was hot enough for the sweat to have been running down my spine. But I've been there and felt sweat running down my legs...
Anyway. Whilst in the queue, just at the bit on the steps where the new air conditioning dumps all its excess heat, I was accosted by a woman from BBC Scotland who wondered if I would like to be part of her documentary on tonight's conductor. Sadly, I had only a vague idea who he was, so I passed, but it seemed that a number of people were here specifically to see him, which was intriguing. Once safely inside, I scoured the programme to find out what all the fuss was about. It turns out that Ilian Volkov is in his first season at the BBC Scottish SO, and is only 7 years old.
OK, he's 27, but I still feel old. I can handle the performers being that young, even the composer, but this is really taking it too far. Conductors should be distinguished and grey. Or just grey, in the case of Sir Simon. He's going to have to be good, I thought.
Fortunately, he was good. He lived up to the hype comfortably, and is clearly going to be a star. We started with a new piece by Judith Weir (who is a friend of the man I queued next to. That's why I like the Proms) called The Welcome Arrival of Rain, which was pleasant and lively, and has almost entirely disappeared from my memory already, I'm afraid. There then followed the Schumann cello concerto, courtesy of Heinrich Schiff. I expected to kind of like it, but without any huge expectations, but Herr Schiff had other ideas. He attacked it with gusto, and not a little perspiration, and really brought it shining to life. In the conditions, it was a remarkable performance, and one I shall remember fondly for some time. Which is something I never expected to say about a Schumann concerto, to be frank. There then followed a short French farce involving the presentation of flowers to the soloist, who had just left the stage. After a few red faces, the flowers were united with their intended recipient, who promptly gave them to the lady cellist he was passing. She, deep in conversation, was somewhat startled, to say the least.
The second half began as the first had ended, with rumblings in the audience thanks to the fountain being left on, and an extraordinary hiccup, just as silence fell, but quickly setled down to an impressive and highly satisfactory rendition of Shostakovich 10. Volkov handled the orchestra impeccably, producing the requisite fire and brimstone in the second movement, followed by the quiet longing of the third. By the end, I was entirely caught up in his version of Shostakovich's world, the repeated DSCH motif seeming to come at us from everywhere at once, and if the ending seemed a little abrupt, then I'm afraid that's the way it was written, and doesn't reflect on the conductor at all. Of whom we will hear a great deal more, I'm certain. I have more ruminations on the whole Prom experience, but they'll have to wait, I'm afraid. I have a holiday to attend to.