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Proms 2009: Prom 30 – Grime \ Knussen \ Stravinsky Jeux de cartes

August 8, 2009

As Proms experiences go this season, Prom 30 was a little odd.

I’d wanted to go to the Royal Albert Hall to put right my embarrassing attendance rate (there are an increasing number of concerts where I’ve left during the interval). I was also interested in the bitty programme of unheard of names and works. Respighi I’d heard of and I’d heard of Oliver Knussen though none of his compositions. The UK premiere of a short piece of music by a composer I’d never heard of seemed tempting too. There was also something appealing about attending a concert I figured not many other people would go along to as well. The atmosphere is always a lot more relaxed when there are quite so many people in the hall.

At some point during the day however, I had this bizarre idea it might be interesting to get some audience reactions to contemporary music straight after it had been listened to. This ridiculous idea expanded to include a possible interview with one of the composers of the music and before I knew what I was proposing to myself, my Friday night jaunt to the Albert Hall had turned into work.

When I arrived at the Albert Hall the reality of such wild ideas did dawn on me. There’s a reason television programmes take a long time to organise … because they take a long time to organise. People need to be briefed on what they need to provide. Contributors need to be sourced. Interviewees need to be cajoled. And support staff need to be pinned down. It didn’t take long to realise that what had seemed like a brilliant idea at eleven o clock in the morning wasn’t standing on it’s own two feet some six hours later.

I spent a long time running around the Albert Hall looking for people to interview. I had one person in mind and was fairly certain I could find that person either in their seat or in one of the many bars in and around the Hall. My search was fruitless. When I did a final desperate sweep of the Albert Hall backstage bumping into a couple of smiling if bemused radio producers, I knew it was probably time to give up on the whole thing.

However, mid-way through Helen Grimes’ UK premiere of her work Virga and somewhere towards the end of Oliver Knussen’s Horn Concerto in the first half (there’s an interesting horn player’s view on the concerto available on ribruce’s blog), I realised there might be one way of salvaging the initial idea. The interview I had arranged before the concert with one season ticket holder in the queue still needed to be pursued. The tail end of which is included in this post to be going on with. (The rest takes just a little bit of doctoring, but be sure to keep an eye out for it in the next few days.)

As for the music … I’ve now (finally) consumed all of the concert across a variety of different platforms. The first half in the Royal Albert Hall arena on the night, the entire second half on the radio with a spattering of both on television.

Season ticket holder and game interviewee Scott was right about the Stravinsky ballet in the second half. It was indeed the best bit of the concert and put pay to my flippant conclusion that the problem with listening to Stravinsky ballet scores without the dancers is that they’re required. (Interestingly however, Jeu de cartes is quite possibly the only score alongside Firebird which doesn’t make me yearn for people leaping around on stage. I can’t put my finger on why as yet.)

Listening to the radio broadcast did mean I got to hear the brilliant contributions from conductor Oliver Knussen whose heads-up about the various references to different compositions scattered throughout Jeu de cartes made for a more intense listening experience, more satisfying perhaps than being in the arena. I’ve yet to hear the Beethoven Symphony No. 5 snippets Knussen signposted, but I’m certain a repeat listen will rectify that.


  • Thanks to @petergregson and Scott Cooper for their contributions in the snippet of interview above. Apologies for the aspect ratio issue in the video which makes for a slightly odd viewing experience.
  • Listen to Prom 30 on Radio 3 (first half / second half) or watch the adorable Suzy Klein aided and abetted by Mr Zeb Soanes in a purple striped shirt playing poker with Anthony Holden. Keep an eye out for a cracking interview with conductor and composer Oliver Knussen in the interval.
  • Horn player ribruce’s review on Martin Owen’s performance of Knussen’s Horn Concert
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