This weekend I was in for a little family trip to London. With Ryanair now flying from Bremen, at least getting there isn’t outrageously expensive. And it is rather quick as well. A nice and – if I may say so – Ryanair untypical thing about Bremen is that they are actually flying from Bremen’s proper airport rather than some very distant outlandish one. With Bremen’s airport being just a twenty minute tram ride away, that’s rather convenient. I shall indulge in more comments on cheapo flying soon.
After getting to Stansted and on the coach to London (which was the easyBus one, that arrived close to our hotel but which I wouldn’t really recommend as their bus is more a minibus and not particularly comfortable) and checking into the hotel, we were off to see Prom 71 at Royal Albert Hall.
I’ve only been to two Proms concerts before (incidentally seeing Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto both times). The first time was ten or so years ago and we got fancy seats with my parents. I wasn’t too impressed by that as I thought the music was rather quiet, distant, and hardly more interesting on CD. The other time, I went there with Dave a few years back and we did the proper queueing and standing thing with a place quite far at the front. Which was excellent.
And thus, this time we were in for queueing as well. And as I couldn’t really find out when to start queueing to be sure we would get in and have a good place, we arrived there rather early, being among the first hundred people to queue. And it’s just wonderful how well organised and friendly the queueing is, just as legends about the UK will tell you. Not only was the queue very relaxed with people sitting on the steps behind Royal Albert Hall in with comfortable distances between them, but they managed to be friendly and politely queueing at the same time.
At some stage we even got little paper tickets with a number for our place in the queue, so we could temporarily leave to get some snacks. When doing that I had to venture through the neighbouring streets which seem to suffer from inhabitants with far too much money and the urge to sponsor the German automobile industry. According to the people we spoke to, a couple of whom had been to every single Proms concert that week, it had been a very exciting week with many famous orchestras coming by.
And while not quite being the Vienna Philharmonics, seing the Boston Symphony Orchestra with James Levine was rather good as well. They first played a UK premiere the short Three Illusions Elliot Carter who is almost a hundred years old but composes very ‘modern’ music. This bit of modernness isn’t really my cup of tea I think. While there were a number of ‘new’ sounds in the piece which really set it apart from ‘classical’ pieces, I thought that in total it sounded a bit too engineered or mechanical to be nice. Without doubt it’s clever and perhaps I might start liking it when listening to it repeatedly (after all, that worked for Schoenberg as well), but it’s not my type of music for the time being.
Quite amazingly, as a guy we chatted to told us, Elliot Carter is old enough to have been around when some of Bartók’s pieces were premiered many decades ago which takes us to the second piece that night, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra (the one which I simply couldn’t buy at the iTMS earlier on – I might add some further bitching about hat later). That was better. Although I had the impression that the conductor wasn’t just in rather bad shape (overweight, needing a chair to lean on and seeming easily exhausted) but also didn’t do too much that could be seen from behind him. The orchestra still managed to play things all right, though.
After the interval, the concert continued with Brahms’ (amusingly many composer names start with B, dont’t they?) first symphony which not only is quite a good piece but also gave us more of the conductor action to be seen which I didn’t see in the first half. And, obviously it’s just great to stand fairly close to the stage when you have some violin solos being played.
While I didn’t find a review of that concert in the Sunday paper, the audience seemed enthusiastic and we got some encores as well with the conductor going off and back on stage and shaking his first violinist’s hand many many times before. [Guardian, random Google result, I hoped I could find a review in the Sun, just for kicks, but apparently the cultural coverage begins at TV and ends with film.)
While standing there, in the middle, fairly far to the front we were also told how the regular Prommers with the season tickets can be fairly territorial about ‘their’ places. In fact, there was an orange plastic bag on the ground just next to our place and several people pointed out to us that this place was taken (looks like British classics enthusiasts are copying German beach chair occupation strategies there, ha!). Apparently taken by a guy who attends every single cocert. Which is cool. Or which would have been cool if he hadn’t smelled like he and his clothes hadn’t been washed since the beginning of the Proms season…
After the concert we had another mediocre meal (not that I’d expect much else in the UK) and a somewhat silly trip back to the hotel consisting of two single-stop tube rides (needlessly, I might add, just that it would have required looking at a real city map rather than just the tube plan to figure that out).