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Proms 2009: Prom 67 – Janacek \ McCabe \ Dvorak \ BBC NOW \ David Pyatt \ Jac van Steen

September 7, 2009

What’s emerging as an annual tradition, is the setting aside of one night during the Proms season where I abandon the arena and settle myself down in one of those “seats” in the stalls nearby. This in part is because it’s quite possibly the only way my significant other considers a trip to the Albert Hall palatable and also, frankly, I reckon its rather nice to indulge just once a season.

Like last year, we made our trip to the stalls in the company of lovely Chris and Pam to hear the BBC National Orchestra of Wales play a programme of Janacek, John McCabe and Dvorak. The seats were good, the view fantastic and (on the whole) the acoustics nowhere near as bad as one or two of those hardcore fans on the front row of the arena might lead you to believe.

On paper this appeared as a fairly standard programme, ticking all the right boxes, following all the usual conventions applied to constructing a concert. Take a London premiere of a concerto by a composer most of the Saturday night late in the season won’t have heard of and sandwich that between a piece of ballet music and a hugely well-known symphonic work.

It fitted the bill as far as I could see. Ladies bedecked in Jaegar jackets accompanied by their husbands in appropriately sober blazer and ties clapped politely at the suite from Janacek’s Cunning Little Vixen. It was ballet music – ballet music always seems to start strong and then peter out – it needs dancers no matter how masterly the music is.

There was considerably more enthusiasm for David Pyatt’s rendition of John McCabe’s Horn Concerto. Whilst the solo line may not have been the most striking piece of concerto writing, McCabe’s skill at orchestration was undeniable, something obvious from the glorious setting of a marimba solo in the first few bars of the work. The complete picture was something damp, inviting, cool and refreshing. This in itself was a good thing given the work was subtitled “Rainforest IV”.

Any doubts about about conductor Jac van Steen’s enthusiasm during the Janacek in the first half (he might have been – being sat in the stalls I can’t be absolutely sure) were laid to rest during the Dvorak Symphony No.9. It appeared as though this was his moment conducting his favourite work. And it paid off too in what turned out to be a really engaging performance.

Would I sit in the stalls again? Possibly. There’s a great view of the stage and the arena (I observed the activities of one rather bemused member of the audience relinquish her second row position walk briskly to the back of the arena, stare intently at a man and then descend the steps out of the auditorium, as well as the movements of Radio 3 social media elf @samaraginsberg.)

I would however avoid the summer punch available in the Coda Restaurant in the event I find myself eating pre-concert there again. The £9 per glass price tag should really have given the game away as to its dangerous effects. It was this (and the last glass of shiraz I had afterwards) which almost certainly led to a serious misjudgement over volume on my part. A comment I thought I was whispering along the lines of “I hate it when BBC staff where their lanyards in public spaces – it’s so smug and overbearing. I’m proud of working for the corporation but I wouldn’t do that” almost certainly persuaded the person in question to remove his pass from around his neck. I certainly didn’t see it dangling when he vacated the restaurant.

One Comment
  1. Chris permalink

    There are few sights more expressive than the look on your face when someone coughs loudly in the quiet bits. Recrimination mixed with bitter satire. Interestingly, the coughs sounded deafening during the Largo and really bit into the atmosphere in the hall, whereas listening on I-play-it-again they’re barely discernable.

    I too thought that the Janacek was a little disappointing although our significant others disagreed; but once we’d sampled the Cadbury’s Marimba the concert was a treat.

    You wouldn’t have the summer punch again? It was definitely moister than the chicken main course!!

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