Sunday, 24 August 2008


It occurs to me that I haven't talked much about this year's Prom Concerts. We aren't going to as many as last year and have managed to miss two of the ones we were to attend, thanks to MIL's ulcer (all healed up now) and being far to knackered to drive into London for a 10pm concert (we listened to it instead on the radio).

Still, there are a few moments that have been blog-worthy, particularly the time when the man next to me asked if I always knitted at the Proms. "Yes," I said, wary that I might be about to get bollocked. "I saw you at the last concert we attended. We sat behind you. Did you enjoy the ...[insert forgotten composition here]...?". He then asked me about my sock, commenting "It isn't much bigger than last week!". OMG - I'm turning into one of the features of the Proms, the Knitting Lady!

Then there was the "Dead Cat" Prom, on Sunday 10th August. The program included two World Premiers:-
  • Sibelius Night Ride and Sunrise
  • Michael Berkeley Slow Dawn (World premier of this version)
  • Stuart MacRae Gaudete (BBC commission and world premier)
  • Elgar Enigma Variations (30 mins)
The Sibelius and the Berkeley were OK, not particularly memorable but not horrendous either. And the Elgar was a relief! ("Please Sir, play the Nimrod again!")

MacRae's Gaudete was music to slit your wrist by. There's no polite way to describe it. The soprano soloist sounded like a wounded cat mourning her lost territory. I can't blame the musicians - technically, it was a difficult piece and they acquitted themselves well. I'm not even sure I can blame the composer; his task was to take Ted Hughes' horribly depressing book of poems about death and turn it into classical music. Check out MacRae's programme notes.

Thank God for the Elgar. Helen had brought along her ?9-year old niece. If the concert had finished with Gaudete, the poor kid would have been left with nightmares.

The other memorable Prom was this Friday night's:-
  • Mahler Symphony No.5
  • Stockhausen Punkte (1952/1962/1993)
  • Schubert Ständchen, D921 orch. David Matthews
  • Bei dir allein, D866/2 orch. Manfred Trojahn
  • Nacht und Träume, D827 orch. Colin Matthews
  • Das Lied im Grünen, D917 orch. Detlev Glanert
  • Beethoven Overture 'Leonore' No.3
If you get the chance, do listen* to the Mahler! I know it's 74 minutes long, but it was beautiful. And it's not a minute too long - you are left wanting more. Mahler would have made a good film composer. There is a funny story about the fourth movement: in the fifties, it was used as the theme for a movie. One of the studio execs was so impressed, he ordered the producer to use "that Mahler guy" again!

The Stockhausen, on the other hand... Skip it. It is 27 minutes of discord, based on his theory of pointillism. I can't fault the musicians - it is a very difficult piece to play and, as far as I can tell, they did a good job. But it is a discordant mess without any themes on which to hang your musical hat.

To me, the Stockhausen is an example of what went wrong with 20th Century music. Somewhere in the middle of century, composers (and critics) turned their backs on melody - it was uncool and old-fashioned. Critics still do it: film theme-music and musicals are sneered at for being "populist", as if only unpopular music can be considered any good. The more obscure, the better as far as they are concerned. I'm sure the Dead Cat music got full marks from the critics.

We've heard three new pieces this year, the two above and Jason Yarde's Rhythm and Other Fascinations. Only the Yarde was memorable for the right reasons: he focused on melody and rhythm. Whilst you can hear his jazz influences, he's composed something new and fresh. I bet he was slated by the critics. If you get the chance, keep an ear out for it.

Tonight, we're going to another late night concert: Bach's cello suites 1, 2, and 3. I'll let you know if it is blog-worthy.

- Pam

* You have until Friday 29th August to listen to the concert via the BBC's "Listen Again" service. It's in 3 downloads. Skip part two to miss the Stockhausen.

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