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Prom 40: Pierre Boulez / BBC Symphony Orchestra

August 17, 2008

Friday night was a special night at the Royal Albert Hall. In addition to the very real sense of excitement present on any Friday night gig, Prom 40 had the added benefit of sporting a very long promming queue and a packed auditorium – it’s always special when the Albert Hall is full for a Prom.

The capacity audience may have had something to do with the presence of Pierre Boulez. I knew of Boulez from seemingly interminable music history lectures at college and hours spent in the library trying to get my head around why it was that the music he had composed which I found so impenetrable was so important to 20th century compositional technique. I understand it now, obviously, but back then I wanted Boulez’ music to be more like Beethoven’s. It goes without saying I was spectacularly missing the point about Boulez when I was studying for my degree.

One of the prommers agreed with me in the bar pre-concert that it was undoubtedly the opportunity to see the 82 year old Boulez conduct the BBC Symph again which had attracted so many people to come on this particular evening. She also went some way to reassure me that contrary to the conclusion I had already jumped to, I would enjoy Janacek’s Sinfonietta.

She was absolutely right. The opening brass sequence was instantly recognisable and provided the perfect hook for me to discover some of the more unfamiliar parts of the work. Being on the second row also helped introduce me to some marvellous musical textures throughout the work, something I’ll be paying attention to in the radio mix when I listen back over the next few days.

But perhaps the most important thing about this particular concert was how I left the hall feeling like I was part of the promming clan. Don’t get me wrong – there isn’t some kind of weird initiation ceremony – this was purely and simply to do with engaging in conversation with one or two familiar faces I’d seen repeatedly over the past few weeks. There’s a very special feeling to be had there and one which makes the Royal Albert Hall more than just a venue which hosts a series of concerts all summer long.

The nicest moment came shortly before the beginning of the first half, however, when one prommer stood behind observing my attempts to pictures of myself with my SLR offered to take a picture of me with the orchestra in the background. A very nice gesture on his part and one I hope I look back on at the end of this year’s season with the same warm, fuzzy feeling I do now.

Prom 40 on BBC iPlayer
Prom 40 (Part 1 – Audio) – Janacek Sinfonietta
Prom 40 (Part 2 – Audio)
Prom 40 (TV Broadcast)

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