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Prom 33: Sibelius, Berkeley, MacRae & Elgar

August 11, 2008

Tonight’s Proms experience kicked off in the Elgar restaurant. I ordered the goats cheese and tomato cheescake, followed by the crispy chicken in a broth, finished off with a cheese plate and washed down by a couple of glasses of red wine. The Elgar restaurant at the Royal Albert Hall comes highly recommended for one of those special indulgences in the company of friends.

Inside the auditorium, the smaller audience didn’t dent my enthusiasm and commitment to the performance. There was something special about the idea that those of us who sat or stood really wanted to be there and as a result really wanted the BBC Symphony Orchestra to know they had all our collective support. 

The Sibelius – a short orchestral piece entitled Night Rides and Sunshine – was a revelation. It was really refreshing to hear something other than Finlandia. The constant rythmic feature in the strings depicting “the ride” was infectious, “the dawn” beautiful.

As the programme ran on, I became increasingly more worried. I know absolutely nothing of Michael Berkeley or his music (clearly, I don’t pay close enough attention to the schedules as Berkeley presents Private Passions on Radio 3 – I really ought to have put two and two together). Tonight’s premiere from him depicted his take on “Dawn” and despite what many might regard as a relatively unconventional compositional style in comparison to Sieblius at least, this new work was totally engaging.

By far the most challenging and thought-provoking was Gaudete from Stuart MacRae. The sound from the band was arresting, the vocals from Susan Anderson eery in places. The fact that I had to follow the words in the programme is no shortcoming. The fact that I will have to listen to it again to get a deeper appreciation of the work isn’t a failure either. Sometimes these things take a few repeat listens before I get the gist.

What was invigorating was how the live performance stoked conversation amongst our group as we queued to get a drink. Not only that, I felt bold enough to go up to a few people, crowbar their way into their conversations and find out what they thought. And no … I won’t be telling what they said – listen to the work yourself and make up your own mind.

The evening was rounded off with a performance of Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Everyone knows it and everyone was, undoubtedly sticking around for it too. The BBC Symph didn’t dissapoint either. Much respect to the organist in the finale whose thunderous chords brought a well-known work in the most appropriate of settings to a rousing conclusion.

Listen to the Sibelius, Berkeley and McRae on iPlayer (Proms 33: Part One) and the Enigma Variations (Proms 33: Part Two).

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