Out of all of the food and wine related posts that I wrote last year, I was surprised that this post on my experience of Promming was one of the most widely read. With this in mind I thought that a post summarising my highlights of the 2014 series would be worth writing (and will hopefully be as widely read!)
For those who are unaware, the BBC Proms are a series of classical music concerts performed (mostly) at London’s Royal Albert Hall (RAH), which has been running since 1895 when it was established by the Proms’ founding father, Sir Henry Wood. This year there were 76 main Prom concerts in total as well as a number of afternoon and late-night concerts. The Proms are noted for the fact that for every concert there are a large number of tickets available on the day for only £5 for standing areas on the arena floor or up in the gallery; the concept behind this is to make sure that all of the concerts are available to everyone regardless of financial means.
For me this was a wonderful season of concerts as it allowed me to fulfill two of my long-held ambitions. Before I come on to that, earlier in the season I saw two concerts which showcased the works of one of my favourite composers, Gustav Mahler. Firstly I saw the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Juanjo Mena performing Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, which is one of my all time favourite pieces. It starts with a fantastic trumpet fanfare and has some truly magnificent moments during the piece as it crescendos to a rousing finale. The fourth movement, for me, is one of the most achingly beautiful pieces of music that has ever been written. I also saw the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Donald Runnicles give a very moving performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.
But it was two other concerts (not featuring Mahler) that stood out for me. The first was when I saw Sir Simon Rattle (who was the patron of my youth orchestra in Birmingham) conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker in Stravinsky’s L’oiseau de feu (or the Firebird as it is more commonly known). I have always wanted to see the Berlin Phil play, they are rightly regarded as one of the best orchestras in the world (if not, the best). When I go to Berlin to visit my parents-in-law we always check to see if there are any tickets available for their concerts, but they are impossible to get hold of. They were performing a version of the piece that was different to the one that I was familiar with, seemingly extended at various junctures; the musicality and emotion on show, however, was truly wonderful. There were some incredible solos, notably from the principal Horn and the first Bassoon who both had tremendously difficult and nastily exposed sections which were executed with absolute aplomb and panache. The piece builds to a mammoth finale and the hall erupted into a tumult of applause on its ending. After the orchestra and Sir Simon had been given several rousing ovations it was very nice to see that the members of the orchestra showed their understanding of the Proms and its heritage by all turning to face the bust of Sir Henry Wood (who overlooks all of the concerts) to acknowledge him. This was truly an outstanding concert and a wonderful experience.
The event that the Proms is most famous for around the world is the legendary ‘Last Night of the Proms’. This event is always shown on primetime national television and broadcast around the world via the BBC. Tickets are extraordinarily difficult to get hold of and I have been trying for a number of years; you can imagine how pleased I was then when I got an email telling me that this year I had been successful in obtaining a ticket! The ‘Last Night’ is a number of things: firstly it is a celebration of music and the joy that it brings to people all around the world; secondly it is supposed to be a salute to Britishness as it features traditional British music such as Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, Arne’s ‘Rule, Britannia!’) and Parry’s ‘Jerusalem’; thirdly it’s a little bit silly, with party poppers and horns being sounded particularly during the second half of the concert. With this in mind I decided to borrow a Union Jack suit from my cousin (not sure why he had it, but thanks anyway Matt!) and rock up to the concert in style! It’s fair to say that I turned a few heads in this suit and I was asked to be in rather a lot of photos. The concert featured the BBC Symphony Orchestra and they were led by Sakari Oramo. Highlights from the music for me were: Janine Jansen’s dazzling performance of Ravel’s Tzigane, a piece which was fiendishly difficult from a technical perspective but had beautiful, melancholy melodies contrasting madly exuberant passages; also Roderick Williams’ impassioned and charismatic performance of Ol’ Man River from ‘Showboat’. I’m not normally one who subscribes to huge amounts of pomp, circumstance and jingoism, but the atmosphere in the hall was electric and it was really fun to get a bit carried away!
So there you have it, my highlights of a glorious 2014 BBC Proms season. Two items crossed off my Bucket List is a pretty good result. Now to get my tickets to see the Ashes at the MCG and to hike to Everest Base Camp…