Friday, September 12, 2003

Watty finally gets round to it:

Prom 54

A Saturday night, a programme of well-known favourites; what's not to like? Well, there's the pain in my legs, for one. I foolishly spent the day wandering round London, climbing the Wellington Arch - as previously noted - among other things, so I only have myself to blame, really. I think I mentioned here last year that it's hard to get something new out of the Mendellsohn violin concerto, and Gil Shaham certainly didn't do that; but he did have a great deal of fun with it, although as someone near me remarked at the interval, it would have been nice if he had shared his enjoyment with the rest of us - there certainly seemed to be a great rapport between soloist and conductor, almost to the exclusion of the audience. But it was fun, and the orchestra visibly enjoyed it.

Almost as much as they, and we, enjoyed the second half. Now I will admit to bias, as you probably know, when it comes to the works of Mahler, but I find it does lend me a somewhat over-critical ear with the symphonies I know well, like this one. I need have had no fears, though - Maris Janssons clearly loves it as well, and drew a superb performance from the Pittsburgh SO. What came across clearly for me was the irony and pastiche, particularly in the funeral march, and now I know what everyone means when they rave about the brass in US orchestras. When the horns (all eight of them) stood up to usher in the finale, it took the sound to a whole new level. It was also pretty damn loud from the front! Loved the encores, too - especially the knowing looks between conductor and audience...

Prom 56

I should have expected the queue, really. It still managed to take me by surprise, though - I turned up at 4, three and a half hours before the start, to find that it was not just down the steps, not just along Prince Consort Road, but halfway up Queens Gate on the way back up to Kensington Gore. I hurried to the end, and joined in the heated speculation. Clearly we were going to be towards the end of those who got in, but that didn't stop literally hundreds more people joining the queue. By the time it was moving, I could no longer see the end of it, so I only have an estimate of how many failed to get in. We shuffled forward, then picked up pace as the queue was processed remarkably quickly. All the way along Prince Consort Road, past the Beit Quad, past the new goods entrance, round the corner, up the steps - discussion now fevered; would we get in; how close would we come? Just up at the last remaining bit of building work, it all grinds to a halt. We stand, preparing ourselves for the bad news. After ten minutes or so, we're off again, shuffling more slowly now. Round the final corner - I can see the door - and down on to the roadway. Surely we're OK now? We stop again. Now the counting of heads starts. I'm number 37 each time they do it, so at least no-one's pushing in. Word reaches us. We have to wait until ten minutes to go, find out how many season ticket holders haven't come, and then that number can be admitted. 7:20 arrives, and the door opens again. The tension is almost unbearable now - come on, come on...

Suddenly, I'm in, with the highest numbered ticket I've ever had - 512 - and as I go down the stairs, I hear the door being closed. Only 6 people made it in behind me. Was it worth it.? Well, apart from the prat with the mobile phone, yes it was. Sir Simon and the Berlin Phil? Yes, of course it was. We had a Bartok piece for Celeste, strings and percussion which was enjoyable enough, but which I probably didn't pay enough attention to thanks to the stress of getting in, and the lack of time to organise myself once in. This was then followed by an incredibly early interval, while the entire stage was rearranged in preparation for the arrival of Tasmin Little in the Ligeti viloin concerto. Now, it's fair to say that this is not for everyone. Not by a long chalk, but I was mesmerised. The skill level required to perform it was outstanding, but Little appeared to have skill to spare as she wrung every conceivable sound out of her fiddle. The whole thing was enlivened for me by the sudden appearance of a chorus of ocarinas and slide whistles, faithfully reproduced by the soloist in her cadenza at the end. Startling stuff, and I should mention that my enjoyment was enormously enhanced by the superb programme notes (which can be seen here for a short time) - they really helped understanding of what I was hearing.

Which only left 'Rite of Spring', or 'the one with the mobile phone' as it may well come to be known. In case anyone missed it, the very first notes of the opening bassoon melody were accompanied by the Nokia ring tone. Sir Simon stopped, glared briefly at the offender, then began again. To me, the interruption added a real edge to the whole performance,and it sounded to me like no version of the 'Rite' I had heard before, but I imagine that the poor bassoonist, who may not even have heard the interruption, will have had better nights. Afterwards, a little 'Gymnopedie' "so that we can all drive home safely", preceded by a pointed remark about leaving the phone at home. An evening which could have been memorable for the wrong reasons was, in the end, memorable for the music. But that bloody mobile phone ran it close.

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