At the Proms – No 37

Waiting for the concert to start

Sitting at the Albert Hall looking at the full ranks and rows of seats, of people sitting in silence, waiting for the first notes from the orchestra, it was unavoidable to think about the nature of crowds.

Recent evidence on the television news would suggest that even otherwise generally law abiding individuals can, at the sight of a broken shop window and other people staggering away weighed down by boxes of consumer durables, lose their moral compass and join in to take advantage to pick up their own new HD ready flat screen TV.  The plate glass was already all over the street, everyone was had nicked something, so why not?

What makes one collection of people behave violently and another congregate quietly?  Surely it’s not that we just copy what everyone around us is doing?  I have no idea; but recently it does feel as if there is a perilously narrow line between a frightening crowd and the enjoyment of an experience shared with a group of strangers.

Last week at the Albert Hall we were gathered to listen to the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Vassily Sinaisky play Bridge, Brahms, Holst and Elgar.

Being largely musically uneducated I have the advantage of arriving to listen to a concert with few preconceived notions; I’m unlikely to be comparing this performance/orchestra/soloist with any other.  I sit and watch the musicians and listen to the music.  It either speaks to me or it doesn’t.  It sticks in my head, hummable on the walk back to Knightsbridge tube station, or it doesn’t.

It was only when I searched online to check the spelling of the pianist’s name that I realised how controversial to the purists the programme had been.  Evidently the Brahms piano concerto was written for the violin (No3 in D major), and the transposition by Dejan Lazic, the Croatian composer and soloist, is not widely welcomed.

All this passed me by. Instead, I watched the performance.  My seat was at an angle and level that really only allowed me to see the heads of the musicians, so it was their faces on which I concentrated.  And what a theatrical performer Lazic is: hands flourishing high above his shoulders both before and after each great run at the keyboard, eyebrows raising and lowering as the pace accelerated and slowed down, and his mouth moving in time, dooby dooby do-ing along with the melody.

His energy and enthusiasm was infectious, so in the face of the purists disapproval, I would say that I enjoyed it.  I can’t really say the same about Julian Lloyd Webber’s contribution to the evening.  ‘Invocation’ by Holst is a 10 minute piece and the main question for me is why did he bother showing up, for just that.  The same thought must have occurred to him as he hadn’t bothered to change out of his jeans for the occasion.  I had no particular interest in seeing him; but as the dominant publicity for the evening was about him there may well have been others there disappointed by his fleeting appearance.

The final piece was Elgar’s ‘Enigma Variations’, music so profoundly enmeshed in our national sensibility that it feels like I have known it forever.  When the Albert Hall organ joined in for the final crescendo I could feel the music resonating in the floor under my feet, a strangely visceral experience.

But meanwhile I couldn’t stop myself wondering about the story of the soloist who has a 10 minute gig.  What does he do for the rest of the evening?  Does he get paid by the minute, or per performance?  Does he have to keep it short because he’s now passed playing anything longer?  Why, when his little encore piece was played exclusively by plucking at the strings of the cello did he hold the bow all the time?  Why did he bring the cello back on stage for his curtain call, clumsily batting it around the heads of the orchestra members in his path, when he had no intention of playing it?

There’s always a story…..

Leave a comment

Do let me know what you think.......

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: