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Proms 2009: Prom 48 – Tristan und Isolde \ West Eastern Divan Orchestra \ Daniel Barenboim

August 21, 2009

“What are you doing here?” asked by someone with a familiar face as I headed towards the exit. “Business or pleasure?”

I hesitated before answering. That in itself probably gave the game away.

I’d worked hard all day. Domestic arrangements had changed this afternoon ahead of a busy weekend of plans focussing on celebrating a friend’s 40th. My original plan to attend both early evening and late night Proms had already been curtailed to only the evening Prom. It was vitally important this evening’s experience was a pleasurable one. Now with the interval bell tolling, it was looking increasingly likely I wasn’t going to make it to the end of the concert and I’d been caught making my escape.

The truth is this evening is now the third occasion I’ve visited the Royal Albert Hall and been forced to acknowledge a palpable feeling of not wanting to be there. To most well-balanced individuals that will no doubt sound like absolute piffle. After all, if I’ve made the decision to attend a concert in a season I advocate with my predictable (and probably tiresome) withering enthusiasm, then surely wild horses wouldn’t drag me away from it.

What I’ve noticed in recent weeks is this: my live concert experience is frequently subject to the feelings I bring to the concert hall. Sometimes the music will transport me. Sometimes I’ll leave the venue trying to recall exactly what it was I was concerned about before I went in.

Other times I’ll hear the orchestra tune up, applaud the conductor’s arrival on stage and find myself screwing my nose up. If it continues past five minutes into the performance I’ll almost certainly be lost. I’ll obsess about nothing else but the things running through my mind the moments before that all important announcement we hear in the auditorium. This I consider to be a failing on my part to stop obsessing about otherwise insignificant things. It is no way a judgement on anything going on or not going on on-stage.

So it was during the Lizst Les Preludes played by West Eastern Divan Orchestra and nearly all the way through the Prelude from Tristan und Isolde with it’s agonisingly beautiful and academically challenging opening chord.

Memories come flooding back of the hours I spent during my A-Level music studies,preparing for the question I knew would come up in the exam I knew I wouldn’t be able to answer. Just what was the cast-iron correct analytical answer as to the make-up of that opening chord. And, if I couldn’t work it out and remember the answer before the final exam, would I be able to wing it sufficiently without the examiner seeing nothing but hastily scribbled panic-stricken doodles on my answer paper instead?

When I wasn’t thinking about that I was replaying the brief conversation I’d started up with someone I’d spied edging their way closer to the front of the arena. I should be more laid back about this. I should be considerably less territorial about this especially given the political problems the membership of the orchestra transcend.

Yet, hemmed into the arena on another capacity night I found it difficult not to say “I’m sorry, I’m being terribly charming about this, but you are pushing in and that really isn’t on.”

The response wasn’t as accommodating as I would have hoped although it was eventually followed up with a “I’ll stand behind you, then.” And whilst many would justifiably say ‘you got what you wanted so stand there and shutup Jon’, I did rather end up rather regretting even making the request in the first place. People who know me well know better than anyone that if I come to the arena having copped the needle I do find it rather difficult to uncop it, so to speak.

So I found myself in the arena in the interval noting how I hadn’t enjoyed myself .. again… and how I really need to shake the fug I’ve found myself suffering from repeatedly. If I don’t risk letting the feeling I fear I’m falling out of love with a season take hold. And if that happens I’m not only going to find myself feeling like I’ve done when I’m faced with having to finish a relationship but in so doing I’m overlooking the efforts of numerous performers who grace the Royal Albert Hall platform.

Maybe it’s just better if I listen on the radio. At least that way I’ll get to the end of a concert. I won’t upset anyone and no-one will upset me. Business can be pleasure all rolled into one. I might even stand a chance of doing what tonight’s soon-to-be-defunct London Paper horoscope suggested might be a good idea.

  1. This entry reminds me strangely of the time I fell completely out of love with climbing, after a season getting scared and out of my depth in a hot and crowded Switzerland.

    I left the mountains alone for a bit, but went back to them with renewed passion the following year after a fantastic snowy spring week in Scotland with a few close friends. Sometimes you just need to recharge your mojo.

  2. It’s an interesting thought Chris… I can’t help thinking (perhaps unreasonably) that in needing to recharge my mojo I have rather failed in letting it run out of juice ..

  3. Andy permalink

    I was at the same concert, my first time at the Proms and in the arena. I utterly hated the the arena. I felt hemmed in and some of the people in the arena were incredibly rude in terms of pushing in and general attitude. For me personally, the arena didn’t allow me to have any personal space. Without that, I found it impossible to connect with the music. The first half was fabulous musically but the experience as a whole wasn’t one I can say I enjoyed as I should.

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