Thursday, August 18, 2005

Prom tiddly prom prom

Headed off to London at 9.30am. Stopped in at Birmingham after 11am to collect a large framed photo/picture that I had bought on my previous trip. The gallery staff were standing outside when I arrived, and as we turned to go in they discovered they'd locked themselves out. Impatient to get back on the road, while they looked for strategies to recover keys etc I tested the door with my left arm a couple of times, and then opened it on the third try.
Got to my London storage locker after 1pm and dumped some excess clothing and books, and extracted my rear car seats. Showered quickly at my hotel and then, leaving my car near a suburban tube station, rode into the city for the afternoon. I was on the lookout for some particular items, but couldn't find what I was after. I found myself on Bond St ( Brand St or Designer Label Drive would be more appropriate) and popped into Chappells where I picked up some odd pieces of sheet music, should I ever find myself in front of a piano in the near future.
Walked the mile or so to the Royal Albert Hall to collect my ticket for that evening's Prom performance. My seat turned out to be immediately behind the second violins, so I had could almost read the score off their music-stands, and I was almost at eye-level with the conductor, James Judd.

The evening's performance began with a Maori welcome, part chant, part dance and lots of rubbing of nose parts between rather pudgy warrior(?), maidens and conductor. This was the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's first Proms appearance. It would have been nice if they'd done one of their Split Enz orchestral covers, but they opted for the safer choice of Douglas Lilburn's 3rd Symphony. A short, single-movement work from 1961, it was very much a piece of its time, with a Sibelius-like opening gesture, it moved quickly to a spritely set of cells with paired-instruments taking up melodic fragments around and across the orchestra, followed by several serial digressions away from the tonal centre. I was reminded of some of the later works of English symphonist Robert Simpson. Not a hugely attractive work, but it didn't overstay its welcome.

The second piece was dramatically different: a set of song selections from a youthful Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn . Although engaging presented by Samoan bass-baritone Jonatan Lemalu, they really sounded like orchestrally backed shaggy-hund stories.
After the intermission came the very popular Second Symphony of Sibelius, in its 41st Proms hearing. The conductor snapped the top of his baton off on his desk about a minute into the opening but luckily it just missed the first violins' front desk, and the orchestra pulled off a sound but not exceptional reading. Nevertheless this is a work that commands attention throughout its 45 minutes. Bridging Sibelius' early romanticism with the darker utterances of his remaining career, I feel it opens the gate for much of the 20th century's orchestral work. Unless you are writing neoclassical homage or mining Schumann for film scores there is a debt to Sibelius (and his shorter-lived contemporary, Mahler).

The show ended at 9.30 with a short Russian-sounding encore, but a combination of train delays and A41 and M1 roadwork kept me from my hotel until 11.30.

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