Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The First Night of the Proms

Guess what I am back!! I know shocking isn’t it? But before you get too engrossed a little public service announcement – DraMattics is moving website, to a brand new much more exciting (hopefully) blog and layout. All the old posts, and this brand new one are there already so click now and head over to:

If you’ve signed up to the e-mail alerts I am afraid you will need to resign up on the new website else you won’t get them. The next couple of posts will appear on both websites to give you a chance to move over, but then after that I shall not be updating this site. So please abandon ship now into the life raft of the new website!!
Next up I need to apologise for my lack of blogging, over recent months, it’s been a busy stressful time. Incidentally if anyone knows what a mid-life crisis feels like please do get in touch. But I appear to be back in my right mind, so it’s on with the blogging:
I am a slut, I am. I’ve betrayed you. I have. I’ve been blogging to other people behind your back. I’m sorry but I had to say it. The secret was killing me. I hope you can forgive me and we can move on. Ok so you want to know the sordid details of my betrayal before you judge, well read on…
The other week a link appeared in my Twitter feed (look at me modern technology – down with the kids), from The Royal Albert Hall inviting bloggers who’d never been to the BBC Proms to win free tickets to the event simply by blogging about the experience. To be honest I wasn’t really sure about whether I was that bothered about the Proms, but knowing that I communicate far better through blogging than actually talking to real human beings I thought why not give it a go. The entry conditions were so simple, that even a lazy a**e like me who keeps putting off blogging, actually managed to get round to doing it. All I had to do was send two lines on why I should go to the Proms and an article I’d previously written. So I e-mailed with a line basically saying “I don’t think the Proms are for me”, and my article on how awful it is being single at a wedding.
Don’t laugh, I’ve even got to be a best man this year.  
Reasoning I’d almost certainly scared off the organisers, I was surprised as you to find out that I’d actually won. Yes I had to go to the Proms and review one of their performances for the Royal Albert Hall website. Like a proper journalist(ish). In fact my blog was so popular with the massive Royal Albert Hall community, that I’ve got a whole two likes and no comments. So there you go my new bloggees don’t love me so I’ve come crawling back. But if you want to laugh in the non-event of my new found blogger fame-dom, then check out this link:
Or alternatively, you may want to read the full uncut, director’s edition of my blog (apparently my submission was too long – really? Me blog for too long?), then read on. Enjoy…
My name is Matt and I’m a Prom Virgin. If from that sentence your first thought is that this is a diary of an 18-year old American girl, trying to get off with a guy called Chad at the end of school dance, then I’m afraid you’ve got the wrong idea. I am of course referring to having never been to the celebration of classical music that is the annual BBC Proms.
I’m not really sure why I haven’t been to the Proms before, I guess I’ve just never thought they’d be for me. I imagine the Proms is a bit like Opera, but with less Viking horns, less people singing about wanting Cornettos, and no one who looks like they’re going to try and persuade me to Go Compare my car insurance. And without wishing to be rude, I always imagine that people who go to the Proms are quite posh, called Giles, wear burgundy cardigans and watch The Antiques Roadshow. And despite having a slightly unnatural love of all things Fiona Bruce, I’ve never really seen myself falling into that category. However having recently surprised myself about how enthusiastic a Union Flag waiver I can be at the Olympics, I thought why not see if I can carry on my nationalistic arm flapping at the Proms. This is where we come to our first snag, Union Flag waving only occurs at The Last Night of the Proms. Turn up any other night doing that, and whilst I’m sure you may not get turned away you will look like an over enthusiastic member of the BNP. I clearly had a lot to learn, so it was time to head to the Royal Albert Hall and see what the Proms were really like.
I was worried that turning up to my first Prom would make me feel a bit like a fish out of water. I’m the kind of person who if invited to a posh do, feels distinctly awkward. It’s as if my invitation was an accident and I spend the entire event panicking that I will break something expensive. The good news on this front is that there is no dress code for the Proms, the majority of the audience was on the smart side of casual, and I certainly didn’t stick out like a sore thumb in t-shirt and jeans. Saying that you can go too casual. If you are lucky enough to own your very own fluorescent lime green mankini, the Proms may not be the night for it. The other reassuring sign, about the level of class allowed in, was that on entering the Royal Albert Hall I found they actually sold those large bags of Cadbury’s Giant Chocolate Buttons at the kiosk – a tiny part of me had worried it would be pheasant and truffles all the way!!
Even the most architecturally snobby person, can’t fail to be impressed by the interior of the Royal Albert Hall, I have been before, but the grand roof and impressive stage still take your breath away. There’s a variety of seating options from high up in the rafters, where you need binoculars to see what’s going on, all the way down to the excellent stall seats (where I was lucky enough to be sat) through to possibly the politest mosh pit in the world. Yes standing tickets are available for the Proms, though if you are worried I think it’s unlikely any of the orchestra are likely to be crowd surfing anytime soon! And the good news with standing room tickets is that you won’t be alone if you choose to sit or even lie down during the Prom, though there were a large number of audience members who commendably manage the herculean task of standing through the whole event.
Culture experience or no culture experience, I certainly couldn’t have managed that. A word of warning here if you are lucky enough to be sat in the stalls, be cautious that the chairs do revolve slightly to let people get past you. I didn’t realise this, and nearly had as Miranda-esque moment as I span off into a nearby Prom couple enjoying their ice creams.
The concert I’d been asked to review was Concert No. 69 (no sniggering at the back please), entitled “Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra – Messian & Mahler”. Call me a cultural philistine, but I’ll be honest I had no idea what any of that meant. I know!! What can I say; I was clearly off the day we did that at school. Saying that, it may well be worth doing a little bit of research prior to your visit to the Proms if you are a novice. Unless you’re happy to stump up for a programme there isn’t any information on what you are actually hearing. In fact bar an announcement regarding turning off mobile phones, nothing in the performance was actually spoken, which is a slightly odd experience in itself. We can only hope Jim Davidson decides to bring this format to his act sooner rather than later. I found that simply checking the BBC Radio 3 listings for the Proms, gave me a good enough brief guide to what I was going to be hearing. So if nothing else I’d suggest you head there. Obviously in the real world you may have had some input into choosing which Prom you go to, rather than having a random set of tickets land in your hand (like I did), but if a friend does take you along for example, I’d recommend taking five minute trip of Google to keep yourself informed (that five minutes doesn’t include time spent procrastinating and internet shopping, whilst your meant to be looking!).
If like me, your experience to date of live musical performances consists of watching odd episodes of The X Factor and an unloved VHS of the Spice Girls 1997 tour that you’re not quite sure why you own, then one of the striking things about the Proms is it isn’t a visual experience. Don’t get me wrong the sight of a full orchestra on the stage of Royal Albert Hall is certainly an impressive sight.  But once you’ve taken that in there’s no other on stage movement really, there’s certainly no dancing troupes and no epileptic-inducing pyrotechnic displays. Though it definitely was amusing to see one member of the orchestra produce a large mallet to sound one of the notes (I am not sure I was supposed to find that funny)! But whilst your eyes may not feel that taxed, your ears will be treated to a full audial spectacle. The music is amazing, and sounds brilliant in the domed hall. In fact you could be forgiven for just closing your eyes and allowing the music to wash over you, it’s evocative nature taking your imagination to any number of places. Though I am not totally convinced that, that’s the reason some of the more elderly Prom goers had their eyes closed!
Concert 69, performed by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, consisted of an initial 31 minute performance of Messiaen's 1964 memorial to the dead of the two world wars – an understandably somber piece. This was followed by an interval and then an 85 minute performance of Mahler's Sixth Symphony, a rousing piece of music (yes I did look this up, I am not that cultured). Each of these performances, is interspersed with a number of tiny breaks, where I wasn’t quite sure if you were supposed to clap or not. I felt I should, but wanted to wait for someone else to start instead – perhaps everyone in the hall was in fact waiting for someone else to start, and the orchestra just thought we were a really rude audience!! Either way these short breaks, are noticeably used for a good cough as everyone finally succumbs to that irresistible urge that annoyingly occurred about one second into the performance, where they desperately needed to cough up the contents of their throat. It sounds a bit like being in a hall of people trying to perform the world’s largest synchronized sickie phone-in to the office. As a newbie I’d be prepared for this, as it can be unintentionally funny, to the unwarned.
So after an evening of Prom-ing (is that even a word?), what did I think? Well visiting the Proms is definitely a great spectacle and an experience worth seeing and hearing at least once in your life. The musical performances are absolutely amazing. I was pleasantly surprised that the event didn’t feel as aloof as I’d perhaps unfairly expected. Personally, however, I think that this specific Prom possibly wasn’t the most accessible for a complete newcomer and to be honest the 85 minute second piece was a little too long for my tastes, interests and comfort of my bottom (Just a cultural note – I do appreciate that, that was the length of the piece and it can’t be abridged for the convenience of my posterior!). That said, I do think that choosing your first Prom appropriately is important. Perhaps using the guidance of a friend who knows more about it, or even starting with one of the more themed Proms, I believe would certainly lead to a good fun night out for a newcomer, and potentially engross you into the whole experience. I certainly think you have nothing to lose by giving it a go, and if they’ll let me in the Royal Albert Hall they certainly won’t throw you out for looking out of place. Who knows before long you could be attending every Prom in the next season, just promise me that you won’t eat too many of those Giant Chocolate Buttons!