I have no musical talent whatsoever. As a child I was encouraged to be well-rounded, so I took up the recorder, then the piano, then the violin, and finally the flute. After nine years of butchering everything from “Hot Cross Buns” to Bach, I finally bowed out. But while I was devoid of musical talent as a child, others more than made up for it. They still do. Last night at the Proms at Royal Albert Hall, the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester proved it.
I had never been to the Proms before. When I first moved to London, the only proms I knew about were the American high school dances that over-promised and under-delivered. But I soon learned that the British version of the Proms was an annual orchestral classical music concert series that mostly took place at Royal Albert Hall in London.
Back when they started in 1895, the Proms took place outdoors. They were called promenade concerts, a name that was subsequently shortened to Proms. Today the Proms take place every summer for eight weeks and feature daily concerts by classical music performers from all over the world.
Last night I went with a friend to the Proms at Royal Albert Hall for the first time. The packed space was a gorgeous covered amphitheater with opulent decor and red velvet seats. There was also a standing area in the middle for people—called Prommers, of course—to watch the concert.
The youth orchestra, which was directed by Sir Colin Davis, played three numbers. The first was Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, which, as a former ballet dancer, I loved. The symphony had a clear and direct form, simple formal structure, and rhythmic motifs running throughout. The music was lively and the musicians executed the score with energy and panache. It was my favorite of the three.
The second was Ravel’s Sheherazade, which included a song cycle that was based on three symbolist poems by Tristan Klingsor. Celebrated mezzo-soprano Susan Graham performed with the orchestra for this part of the Proms at Royal Albert Hall. Her voice was beautiful as it wafted through the theater and up to the ceiling.
Sheherazade had a unique style, borrowing elements from Eastern music and breaking away from Western traditions of tonality. The mood of the three songs was unified, and several themes wove throughout each one to form a comprehensive impressionistic work. It was a youthful piece, which was fitting for a youthful orchestra.
After a short intermission during which most people bought ice cream (I would love to understand the popular British tradition of eating ice cream at intermission), we returned to our seats and watched the third piece.
It was Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, op. 36. The piece was the composer’s attempt to express the idea that human destiny hinders happiness, and had a melancholy feel to it until the very end.
It started out as smooth as melted butter, but quickly gained momentum. Before long, horns were blaring, bases rocking, and bows flying furiously to keep up with the conductor’s pace. It was a grand performance, and well executed.
All of the excitement and energy made me work up an appetite. After the performance, my friend and I headed to Bibendum restaurant in London to take advantage of a special August deal of 26 pounds for three courses after 9:30pm.
There we discussed the evening’s concert and perused the program to see what else was on during the Proms at Royal Albert Hall. There are only a few weeks left before the grand finale, Proms in the Park, on September 10th. I might just have to get more tickets.