First night of The BBC Proms: Boring start, superb middle, lovely ending

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First night of The BBC Proms: Boring start, superb middle, lovely ending

July 18, 2017 - 19:59
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The BBC Proms. Arguably one of the highlights of my year, heralding eight weeks of musical ear massage for me and I’m sure, for so many others. So what makes the Proms so attractive?

The BBC Proms

By Andy Simon @AndySimon55

The BBC Proms. Arguably one of the highlights of my year, heralding eight weeks of musical ear massage for me and I’m sure, for so many others. So what makes the Proms so attractive?

Well; I was brought up on all that classical stuff when I was knee high to a grasshopper. Mum would often spoon feed me with masterpieces from Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven, Shubert, Rachmaninov and a whole host of other classic composers in between all the musicals, Andy Williams, Jim Reeves, Doris Day, and Cliff Richard and his shadows records.

She sometimes chucked in a few Beatles hits too!

So it comes as no surprise to me to be looking forward to this years prom, the 123rd promenade concert held as always at the Royal Albert Hall, London. 

And the first night is usually one of the best.
But not on this occasion.

The season opened with the premiere of St John's Dance, by British composer, Tom Coult. This five-minute piece; which to me seemed to go on for an eternity, was apparently inspired by a bizarre social activity from medieval Europe, known as dancing mania.

And according to Proms presenter Katie Derham, it finds "groups of peasants" if you will, dancing "in a trance-like state for days or even weeks on end, often until they collapsed".

Sounds like a medieval booze bender to me.

Coult's composition for me at least, was a noisy, crazy cacophony of meaningless sounds. Or put in his own words: "A relentless series of dances often spiralling out of control with two or more heard simultaneously."

Damn thing bored me to tears! 

Now I'm all for new music but for me, it's like getting those first impressions whenever you're meeting someone for the very first time. I simply wasn't getting any, other than the boredom.

Sorry Tom. Well... you can't like everything I suppose.
The next piece however was right up my musical alley.

Beethoven's Piano Concerto No3 in C Minor certainly got the thumbs up from my very greatful earholes. This particular piece funny enough I heard recently on a neighbours stereo. I recognized the 2nd movement coming from his open window.

Small world eh?

Now Beethoven was only 21 years old when he knocked that one out. Mind you; being as deaf as a post you couldn't exactly do anything else but knock! What a genius old Ludwig was.

Anyway... back to the first night.

As an encore, Pianist Igor Levit went and surprised the entire Proms audience and myself included with an improvised version of the EU Anthem. The 30-year-old Russian born genius played Beethoven's Ode To Joy (from Symphony No9) as an unscripted encore and wearing an EU flag on his lapel.

He offered no explanation whatsoever afterwards however; it is apparently known that Levit is a strong proponent of the European Union to which he has often described it as "a project of unity and peace". He has even (again apparently) openly challenged European politicians to stand up to what he regards as the "angry, dangerous" rhetoric of President Trump?

Politics. It's getting everywhere these days.

Anyway; after the rather lengthy I thought interval which featured various backstage interviews and general chit-chat, came the final piece of the evening from composer John Adams.

John Adams' Harmonium is described as an intricate tapestry of sound, bright vocal threads, driving brass and percussion rhythms. 

A nice composition and at times, kept reminding me of JRR Tolkien's Rivendell in Lord Of The Rings, especially during those beautifully gentle harmonies. 

Personally speaking, human voices raised in song is one of the greatest sounds you could ever hear. There's pretty much nothing out there to beat it, except perhaps, the sound of children's laughter.

Have to admit though; I had not heard much of Adams' music up until last Friday night, so as they say, "I'm all ears for a bit more."

It has been 90 years since the BBC took over the Proms primarily to save it from going bankrupt, and personally speaking, I think auntie beeb is doing a good job.

Although I'm not certain Sir Henry would have approved of politically influenced encores? These are the times eh?

But in spite of that, the BBC Proms is wonderful. Quite simply it's an eight week festival of food for the lug-holes. Personally; I like to tune in (digitally of course) to BBC Radio 3 armed with a modest set of Sennheisers, close my eyes and just lose myself in that wonderful stereo sin-bin of sound.

It's at times like those that you begin to think, "Who gives an airborne fart if Corbyn becomes Prime Minister, if Brexit is just one big hoax, if Kim-Jong-Un blows us all to bits,  if Phil Mitchell stops breathing in EastEnders, or if indeed, Kevin O'Sullivan or Henrietta Knight, actually publish this review?"

Who cares!?

All you care about is to just simply listen to long established classic masterpieces from long established classical composers that will still be played a thousand years from now. And of course; the BBC's iPlayer service comes into its own, with various ways to catch up on those proms you may have missed.

So that's me all set up for the next eight weeks. 

You won't get much sense out of me until it's all over for another year, which most likely to some who follow me on Twitter, will be a welcome relief. 

And on a final note, I can't really end this review without a quick thank you to the one person who (now sadly long departed) encouraged me to listen to the proms in the first place.

Cheers Mum! I hope you're enjoying the new proms season, from wherever you are, way up there.

The BBC Proms season continues for the next eight weeks, and you can easily watch and listen via the BBC's iPlayer service.


Thanks for reading.