Fighting your way out of a tourist-encrusted South Kensington tube station in time for an 11.30 a.m. concert at the Royal Albert Hall was always going to be a strain, so a Relaxed Prom was attractive, an abridged version of the previous night’s show, presented by Carrie and David Grant, possibly best-known as vocal coaches and judges on Pop Idol and Fame Academy, who introduced the music. The BBC Phil members were colour-coded, nicely repeated in the programme with a short explanation of the four groups (or “teams” as Ben Gernon called them), and the programme notes, written in a family-friendly way by David Threasher, gave insights for those dipping their toes into classical music for the first time.
Good intentions aside, however laudable this may have looked on paper, this is a concert that failed because it didn’t know who its audience was. The “family” mentioned in the blurb clearly wasn’t the family present here: not a family with young, highly charged children at the start of the summer holidays; not a family with youngsters who have learning difficulties – for this kind of family you need a different kind of concert; one full of visual stimulation and short pieces that engage a particular sensibility.
With a low-to-medium rumble of audience noise throughout, it was probably wise of BBC Radio 3 to not broadcast this Prom. Unusually the amplified orchestra helped to hear what was being played, though any comment on balance must be aimed at the chap at the back twiddling the knobs.
Above comments aside, there was some good music here for those with ears to hear it – and there were some that did: wide-eyes children who sat or stood just behind the conductor who may grow up to grace the Albert Hall stage themselves. Selections from Swan Lake were chosen to tell a story. A no-nonsense account of the Act One Waltz belied the gentle solos that were to follow, from Gjorgi Dmicevski (leader) and cellist Maria Zachariadou. Ending with the Spanish Dance and Mazurka this was a performance that got the job done, and stylishly too.
Before the Rachmaninov Carrie and David split the audience into four and we all sang a major chord. Why? It occupied the time taken to bring the piano to the front of the platform. As before, Juan Pérez Floristán replaced Alexander Gavrylyuk for Paganini Rhapsody; his dextrous fingers kept the music light and airy, and brass, strident when needed but never too much, complemented bullish strings. Variation XVIII, frequently saccharine sweet, was matter-of-fact and much the better for it.
Leaving the Hall I reflected upon the noise that had just been within it. We have all grown used to there being silence during a performance with the audience listening intently. Here twenty-three minutes of Rachmaninov was too much. To Mozart, having people talking while music was playing was normal. With the growth of ‘bite-sized’ listening, via iTunes, Spotify and the like, the way we consume music is inevitably changing – maybe things are turning full-circle.
- These works were also included in Prom 23 (including a greater selection of numbers from Swan Lake), which was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)
- BBC Proms www.bbc.co.uk/proms