The BBC Proms

As a warm up to our day at the Olympic stadium, we went to see the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. I must confess, I’m not much of a fan of classical music, although I do know a tune or two. So if my following thoughts seem a little ignorant, please forgive me. It’s just that I am utterly ignorant. We were in for a night of Wagner. I know little of Wagner, other than that Hitler really liked the chap. Which isn’t an auspicious start. But then Hitler did like German Shepherds, and they are marvellous dogs. So maybe Hitler wasn’t all bad, really. Just misunderstood, perhaps…

The first thing that occurred to me having taken our seats, was how very Mexican it all was. Not Germanic at all, in any sense. The orchestra and choir came in and took their seats. The crowd hushed. And we waited. And finally, a violinist and the conductor waddled in. Late. And everyone applauded. Only in Mexico is such tardiness so acceptable. The Nazi party would, surely, have had the two of them shot at dawn.

The Albert Hall is a fabulous venue. And the acoustics are wonderful. If someone so much as coughs on the other side of the building, you hear it as if the person sat next you had spluttered right in your ear. I think this became apparent to the whole audience, who would then stifle coughs until a gap in the music. At which point there would be a chorus of choking and coughing. Don’t go in flu season.

I see a marketing ploy for either Marlboro or a cough medicine company here. ‘Wagner at the Proms – sponsored by EasyWheeze’. Another obvious business opportunity that has currently been missed is for an A4 sized Kindle. What musician wouldn’t prefer to simple reach out with a violin bow to turn an electronic page, rather than lean uncomfortably forward to manually flick a paper leaf over by hand?

Back to the conductor. What does he do actually? I would imagine his job should be as simple as saying ‘go’, and then sitting back in a comfy chair and enjoying the performance with the rest of us. I don’t see what his purpose is. Look, I’ve done karaoke. Alone, in my bedroom – which is where all karaoke should be done. The song starts and I know just where to blurt out ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ or ‘Here Comes the Sun’. No conductor needed.

If professional musicians don’t know the songs they’re playing, then what the deuce?! And then, to cap it all off, at the end of the performance the conductor kicks off a twenty minute celebration of self back slapping, bowing, hand kissing and more bowing. If self-loathing has an opposite, here it is. I actually find it a little creepy and sleazy. Face the audience, take a bow, enjoy your two minute ovation, then bugger off. Please.

Anyway, having displaying my shocking level of musical ignorance, let me just say that we had a wonderful evening. Nice seats in a fabulous venue. We paid £15 p/p in advance, although you can get a spot on the floor for a fiver if you just turn up on the night. No dress code either, which is great for old scruffs like me. There’s something about the Albert Hall for everyone to love.  It’s very much the Belles Artes of London. Although the toilets in Belles Artes are better. This may sound a strange thing to say, but if you’ve had the opportunity to use them, you’ll know what I mean. You feel like you should polish the porcelain after peeing in Belles Artes.

4 thoughts on “The BBC Proms

  1. The Albert Hall is an amazing venue. I have enjoyed many a concert there.

    I am never certain when you are putting us on (dry British wit and all that), but the post is a marvel of first night at the concert.

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    1. You lack of certainty is appreciated. Wit is a work of art, and it’s nice to know I succeed sometimes! 🙂

      Needless to say, not everything I wrote should be taken too seriously…

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  2. Conducting is a very complex job requiring some major musical skills – the arrangements, instrumentation, entries and exists levels and balance are all the responsibility of the conductor. Much of the conductors work is done before the performance.

    I recall recording a large (many piece) orchestra – perhaps 70 plus players doing a very complex work. We were listening to a playback – the conductor sitting next to me remarked about a particular player missing a note. I thought, ‘how can he tell that?’ I solo’d the microphone in the area of that musician and played that segment several time before, sure enough, the player had missed a note or come in late or something. I was amazed – very impressive. These folks hear the music in their heads like reading to yourself while looking at a complex score. Very bright folks indeed! Hardly just a guy waving a baton – trust me on this.

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    1. I was fairly certain that there’s more to it than meets the eye! I did also imagine you would be ‘correcting’ me. But for the life of me, he still looks like a guy with a serious perspiration problem, waving a stick about 🙂

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