#4

so i guess it’s about time i talked about the bbc proms. i’d put it off for a week because there was so much to say i didn’t know where to start and it seemed like such a daunting task. so i let it prove in my memory, so irrelevant details (isn’t it funny how meryl streep and most americans pronounce it deTAILS instead of DEtails?) would be lost, and only the slightly more impt bits would remain.

i went to see prom #4 last monday, and for a moment i was glad i did not see OMM perform rach 2 so my first experience with rach 2 live was with simon trpceski (sorry i can’t be bothered to type the accents in your name but it really is your fault for being macedonian) on the piano and the liverpool philharmonic with vasily petrenko conducting (a cute chap, very sprightly (compared to a certain now elephantine a**** p*****)). it was an interesting programme, namely

Schumann, orch. Mahler Manfred – overture
Rachmaninov Piano concerto no. 2 in C minor
Tchaikovsky Manfred

two manfreds in one performance, i must say i enjoyed the tchaikovsky better. the programme notes (£3 at the door) for the tchaikovsky were written by andrew huth, and were lazy but tongue-in-cheek. Manfred is of course Byron’s Manfred, and Huth describes the fourth movement as such:

Nothing in the first movement directly relates to Manfred’s involvement in the black arts: this is reserved for the finale, which recalls the demonic and orgiastic excitements of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Harold in Italy (though in Tchaikovsky’s case the demons are clearly Russian, and good at counterpoint).”

i felt real sympathy for the organist, who had to sit through the entire 50 minutes of it only to chime in in the last 3? 4? bars? of the final movement. he must have the patience of a saint.

the piano concerto was played beautifully if not for the abysmal acoustics of the albert hall. i told my professor and my pastor here about it and they told me the albert hall was used for absolutely anything and everything, including tennis and boxing. that was unknown to me. most of you will know that the albert hall was designed far too large than is acoustically pleasing in order to realise the monarch’s self-perception of grandeur provide the public with a large venue to carry out various cultural and entertainment activities for their enlightenment. i must say in that respect they have succeeded in keeping close to their aims, given standing tickets (for the best positions in the house) are £5 right before the concert and anyone who queues is almost definitely guaranteed a spot. the bbc proms would probably be the equivalent of the sso’s performances in the botanic gardens and at kranji stadium, only with a touch more class since the people who queue 3 hours before the concert are somewhat hardcore fans, there are no such things as crying babies or attending late. there is a huge buzz before the concert begins, unruly and if it were in singapore you typically wouldn’t think the audience would ever shut up, considering how many times they need to be told (even in adulthood) to keep it down (i am not describing them like the wildlife on national geographic by accident). but once the orchestra started tuning up and the conductor strode onto the stage, a subito tacet ensued after the applause. all waiting expectantly for greatness. knowing greatness when they see it.

and everything was pattering along pretty smoothly until the horns came in. then they were joined by the second orchestra up in the domed ceiling, playing back note for note about 1 second after each horn blast. a support act? so i got to experience the albert hall acoustics first hand, but i’ll be forgiving. after all, they did try installing those fibreglass discs in the ceiling to reduce the reverb time. and for most of the other instruments the delay is almost imperceptible. regretfully from where i was sitting (or perhaps anywhere in the concert hall) the orchestra completely drowned out simon trpceski. it totally screwed up the alla marcia part in the 1st mvt of rach 2, which was distressing to me because i paid for my ticket to hear those what, 16 bars. and when it came, he was so soft under the cloying strings and brass etc. a lot of the other piano parts were obscured too, made me wonder 2 things:
a) should simon trpceski maybe hit the gym?
b) do all recordings of rach 2 mess around with the balance of the piano against the orchestra to artificially bring out the piano? i’d never heard it so soft on CD before, yet it struck me that it could be a fault of the acoustics of the hall such that the piano could not project satisfactorily.

cute things.
1. whenever there’s a piano concerto or if a piano is brought out in the middle of the concert for the next piece, the audience members will collectively yell “HEAVE!” when the technicians lift the lid of the grand and “HO!” when the lid is set on the stand. that was the cutest little british thing i’ve seen yet. for that one minute we were all sailors aboard the royal albert yawl.
2. when the concert master plinked a single 440Hz A on the piano for the oboes and woodwinds to tune to the piano before the rach 2, everyone in the audience gave an uproarious round of applause and he delightedly turned around and bowed right and left for their acknowledgement of his clearly superlative pianistic gifts. he was the cutest little old man.

not-so-cute things:
the audience claps between mvts! this was interesting, first because i expected much better of them and second because i tried to see if it was mainly the prommers who paid £5 for standing tickets who were applauding or the lazy arses like me who paid more for guaranteed seats who were applauding. in singapore it is usually the case that the people who got the cheapest tickets either = people who don’t really care too much and are trying to inject some culture into their lives or really poor students who’d rather spend their money on branded shoes and bags instead of the enrichment of their soul. the people who paid more usually were the pedants, who had to have their acoustics just so and would not tolerate clapping between the movements. but in this case the people who were clapping between the movements were largely the people who bought costlier tickets. almost all the people who got the cheapest standing tickets were aware that those spots had the best acoustics in the whole house (however much better they can get) and who loved classical music so much they were willing to stand through the entire concert. all two hours of it, just for the better acoustics. whereas the people sitting around me in the circle and the boxes were like the spoiled rich kids who were trying to buy cultural awareness instead of prepossessing it.

nevertheless, i am looking forward to hilary hahn on tuesday. :)

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