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Prom 11 – 23

August 4, 2008

“You’re really into the Proms, arent you?” asked a colleague when she saw me reach for my Proms brochure to confirm my availability for a post-work drink this week.

“Yes,” I replied, I am. It’s my own personal diary for the summer. Everything is built around what ever is going on in the Royal Albert Hall.

Now I think about it more, I realise the priority is attending as many concerts as I possibly can. For some reason – lost on me at the present time – I  think that if I can’t actually be there in person then my committment to the season is less than it should be.

Shamefully, I got along to only one concert this week. Prom 15 saw me an unexpected recipient of a ticket to a very hot Loggia Box in the hall to hear Nicholas Daniel and the BBC Symphony Orchestra tackle Elliot Carter’s Oboe Concerto – a work I’m in no particular hurry to hear again – and Beethoven Five.

Janine Jansen undoubtedly sparkled in her performance of Bruch’s Violin Concerto and clearly wowed the audience in the hall. Ultimatel, however, ultimately anyone was going to find it difficult to overwhelm me with this concerto. It’s one of “those” works which is played out on radio stations way too often. I’ve yet to be reacquainted with it’s inner joy.

Other gigs of note: Dr Who Prom (Prom 13) – I think I’m right in saying there were dancing Cybermen on stage although I’ll wait to see it on BBC One later in the season before I judge exactly how nimble they were.

Wayne Marshall’s organ recital (Prom 22) provided the perfect backdrop for a spot of Sunday afternoon baking and confirmed in my mind that I absolutely don’t have a problem with Messiaen. In fact, I might even go as far as to say I may possibly have become a fan of organ music. Beethoven 1 (Prom 23) from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra was also a real winner for me too.

But it was the first Stockhausen gig on Saturday night (Prom 20) which was the real big draw for me. Gruppen featured three separate orchestras dotted around the Royal Albert Hall in the arena and on stage, each playing to a different time signature, each directed by a conductor who clearly had a seemingly tough job keeping things together as far as I could see.

Me and sometime Proms-widow Simon chose to escape to the gallery for the second piece Klang. Simon was tired standing on his feet for half and hour and I was intrigued to hear what the mix would sound like at the top of the hall. I hadn’t heard Klang before that night nor had any real idea what effect the gargantuan soundscape would have on me.

As the weird and wonderful electronic sounds boomed out from the speakers I found myself transported to another dimension. There was something ominous from the beginning of the performance. Unexpected and imposing. The stage was plunged into darkness. Only houselights and the lights from the mixing desk in the middle of the arena. This was a view of the Royal Albert Hall I hadn’t seen before.

The growing cacophany of sound made it seem as the Royal Albert Hall was finally answering back for all those years of concert performances it never enjoyed. Electronic sound combined with the imposing Victorian interior and the sight of prommers laid strewn about the gallery made for an eery experience. An experience brought about solely by sound and light (or lack of it). 

I read blogs where people speak of the Stockhausen Day as a real highlight of this year’s season. Perhaps it is a little early to say, but out of a series of 12 concerts, it will be the 13th hour from Klang by Karlheinz Stockhausen (Prom 20) which will ultimately stick in my mind the most.

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