I went to one of Henry Wood’s famous Promenade concerts on Tuesday, for the first time in three years. That sounds a little disgraceful for someone who is not only a music-lover but also a professional composer, but what with doing musicals and one-man shows and occasional choir tours this seems to be genuinely the first summer in three years that I’m actually able to make it to the Albert Hall for what is, after all, a mere two months of concerts. Also I had a bad experience with a Shostakovich symphony the last time I went, which left quite deep scars.
Anyway – so delightful was the experience on Tuesday that I even went round and queued again for a second ride, which turned out to be even better than the first (the Tallis scholars on blistering form).
What struck me, not for the first time, is how the Proms manage such an odd combination of high culture and unashamedly tacky. Obviously the high culture comes in the form of world-class musicians singing in a nice (if acoustically-challenged) London concert venue, and it’s marvellous that impoverished freelancers such as myself can, thanks to Sir Henry, get to experience them for a fiver. Obviously at such prices it’s no wonder that some of the people who manage to sneak in bring with them a level of tackiness, but almost as if they feel the need to pander to such people the organisers of the Proms have obviously thought, “hang on, we should probably stretch some blue LED rope lights along the back of the stage in case these common people feel out of their depth in a genuine concert hall”. So suddenly the Albert Hall looks like it’s trying to simultaneously pull off culture and gay bar chique.
It’s also worth mentioning that the conductor’s stand is shaped like a coffin. I suspect that Henry Wood himself is inside.
Still – it’s a shame that they’ve got rid of the water feature. Obviously I don’t know at what stage in the last three years that disappeared, but when I last visited the Proms, a trickling fountain sat in the middle of the auditorium. (They turned it off during the music, but if you got to the front of their queue you could often bag a place to sit on the edge if you didn’t feel inclined to stand through The Dream of Gerontius.) And in case that started to look almost tasteful, the organisers would always ensure that there was a fine collection of inflatable sea life on display as well. Plus, as I remember, a snake coiling round the fountain itself.
I can’t help feeling that the Tallis scholars would have been even more magical with it still there.