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Prom 24: A 69 year old revelation

August 4, 2007

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It might seem to some like I’ve been a little tardy on reporting my Proms experiences this past week. There is a good reason for it. I’ve experienced a bit of a revelation this week in terms of listening and appreciating. It’s only now I’ve felt suitably inspired to write about a series of Proms events which have made my eyes pop out.

Prom 24 saw Benjamin Britten’s Piano Concerto performed at the Royal Albert Hall. It’s a work I really ought to have listened to before now especially given that the composer Benjamin Britten is another personal hero of mine.

You’d think too I would have made a point of going to the Albert Hall to see the concert, or if I couldn’t do that, listening to the live radio broadcast.

I failed to do either, once again asking me to question just how committed a Proms fan I really am. What I did end up doing was listening on the listen again service via the BBC website. It’s not the best way to listen to a concert but sometimes needs must.

I ended up listening to Prom 24 at work. I enjoyed the opener (Sieblius’ Tapiola) and got myself psyched up for Britten’s Piano Concerto. As it turned out, what with the phone ringing and people asking me to do bits of work (I mean, for goodness sake, I’m listening to a Prom .. please leave me alone) I found myself dipping in and out of the concerto, not really giving it the due attention I always feel such an event deserves.

As it was, I found myself enjoying the performance a huge amount, so much so that I ended up listening to the concerto itself four or five times whilst I was at work. I was the quietest I have ever been in the office. People all around me seemed a lot happier as a result.

The Piano Concerto was a revelation to me. I’m a fan of Britten’s music but I’m aware that quite a lot of people may well think his music is a bit “spikey” on a first listen. This was how I was expecting the Piano Concerto to be. And yet this work, written as a Proms commission in 1938 by Benjamin Britten when he was only 24 was fresh and exciting, fun and accessible. In fact, it was so much fun to listen to and so packed full of memorable melodies I began to wonder why the rest of his output didn’t turn out like that.

Excited as I was by my exciting discovery, I made a point of trying to listen to a decent recording of the work. Napster turned up only two recordings, one of which was conducted by Benjamin Britten himself. Both of them failed to excite me in anyway. The last few bars of the last movement (this was the key bit for me) were slow and drawn out. A dull end to what I had heard this week during a live recording as an incredibly exciting piece.

It got me thinking that had I heard Britten actually performing the work, or indeed heard the performance of him conducting it, I wonder whether I would have got as excited about it as I have done here.

As it turned out, Simon and I made yet another discovery on the TV hard drive last night. There, buried deep in between episodes of Heroes and House and various other things was a BBC Four at the Proms edition as yet unwatched. It turned out to be the very concert I had been thinking about all week.

Simon and I watched it. It was totally amazing. Stephen Osborne, the piano soloist, is the person who is fundamentally responsible for breathing new life into this piano concerto, in my opinion and that, strikes me as a very special Proms moment this year.

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