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Prom 16: Inside the Royal Albert Hall

July 25, 2007

Inside the Royal Albert Hall at Prom 16

By the time the first violins began scurrying around the fingerboards of their instruments at the beginning of Prom 16, I had already concluded that the smell of body odour was indeed coming from me and not from the older looking man with the unnaturally large earlobes who sat in the seat directly in front of me.

I had also worked out where exactly the 5 Euro note I found in my wallet earlier which had made me all hot and sweaty in the first place had originated from. I made a note in my internal diary to pay a visit to the canteen at work and confront the lady who had issued me with it.

By the time the applause had finished ringing around the auditorium at the end of Beethoven’s Leonore Overture, the sweat had stopped pouring down my face and arms. I now felt as near human as I could do given the near hysterical panic which had ensued shortly before I had taken my seat inside the Royal Albert Hall.

It was only now I felt able to relax. Only now was I able to fully take in the sight before me. In my panic to buy any ticket just to get inside the Royal Albert Hall, the man behind at the box office had sold me a ticket at the back of the circle. Right at the back of the circle. A plush, padded seat high, high up in the Royal Albert Hall, quite literally within spitting distance of the gallery ticket holders the level above me who’d paid half the price I had for my last minute purchase.

It was up here I was able to stop for the first time in this Proms season and take in what I’ve seen in front of me for nearly seventeen years but never thought to share with anyone.

An orchestra sits on stage bathed in white light. If you didn’t have a programme you’d be unaware it was the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Crammed into nearly every available space in front of them from the bottom to the top of the Albert Hall are 5000 other people. Some standing, some sitting. All of them, like me, waiting expectantly to indulge themselves with the experience of hearing 150 musicians give a concert broadcast live on the internet and on radio.

When the music starts the effect on my senses takes me by surprise. Suddenly I’m aware of the distance the orchestra is away from me. From where I’m sitting I can hear a beautifully sonorous sound. A rounded and balanced sound. A perfect sound. The kind of sound I had forgotten existed.  It’s almost like I’d forgotten that the orchestral sound is one arrived at by the combined forces of real people. Real people who’ve spent years training and even more years working. And here they are in exactly the right setting. A barn in the middle of London, where everyone has come for the same reason: because of their love of music.

Even if you’re unfamiliar with or even averse to classical music, come to the Albert Hall to savour those rare moments when 5000 people listen to an orchestra erupt in fortissimos. Hold your breath when, perhaps out of nowhere, the entire band suddenly plays incredibly quiet. Watch as the heads of the people in the same row as you suddenly move forward as if craning their necks will help them hear better. Then, just as you’re getting used to the levels, a smartly dressed percussionist surrepticiously steps forward and strikes his tenor drum, catching everyone in the hall by surprise. 

All of this going on way, way down on the stage below. All of it an electrifying experience.

I can’t guarantee every Prom concert will deliver this kind of experience although I suspect it might to a greater or lesser degree.

What I’m describing here is my experience of listening to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra introduce me to the dramatic scoring of Aaron Copland’s Symphony No.3. Under the direction of it’s small but perfectly formed conductor Marin Alsop, it’s difficult not to see and listen to this band living and breathing as one being.

And, as I write, out of nothing, comes a melody I never expected to hear. It’s a melody known the world over. It is inextricably linked with Aaron Copland. It epitomises America and yet, as the gorgeous lady who sat next to me shouted to when the cheers went up at the end, Copland’s music is totally democractic. It’s a melody for everyone in the world. It’s instantly recognisable. It brings a smile to my face and a tear to my eye when the woodwind slip it under the radar as they did this evening.

If you’re to stand a chance of experiencing half of what I did listening to Aaron Copland’s Symphony No.3 then to tell you what that melody was would ruin everything. So, find a way of listening to the work yourself from beginning to end. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. 

And if you’re ever in London over the next few months, for God’s sake corroborate my posting by going to the Proms yourself.

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One Comment
  1. Thanks for the lovely description of the Proms. My husband waited in a virtual queue unitl 1:00 AM to purchase tickets for the first two nights at the Proms. I’ve always wanted to go to the Proms. Of course the Royal Albert has intrigued me ever since The Beatles set me wondering about how many holes fill it.

    We managed to get a seat in the very back row for opening night. I don’t care. Like you, I’m certain to fell the magic. Night two, we’ll be in the grand tier for Wagner, one of my favorite composers.

    We are traveling from California in July to visit the home of the Bournemouth Symphony to work on a possible release of an archived recording, my husband having recently complete the audio engineering for a Constantin Silvestri reissue. The fact your posting was about the Bournemouth Symphony made it even more delightful. I saw them in Bournemouth last fall; they were fabulous.

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