More on promming


The Royal School of Music auditorium is very fine, with vast organ pipes.  For the BBC, however, a forty-foot wide plastic hoarding had been added:


The organ pipes rose up behind this the oddly out-of-key (con)temporary background.  It felt as if a corporate event had been inserted into a cathedral. 

Charming though they were, the speakers seemed artificial, too, as their main goal wasn’t ours: they were making a programme which purported to be a recording of a talk, but in fact making the recording was manifestly dominant.  Odd.  The effect reminded me of the commonplace that taking photographs distances the photographer from the event they are photographing – but in this case a more extreme distance.  I will hear radio audiences differently in future.

There was no rush for places as we filed in– one helpful guideline exploded.  The Albert Hall (if you’ve never been there) is a grandly beautiful space, yet with a sense of intimacy, I think because the seating looks very close, and low-raked.  This can’t be quite true, though, as I once sat in the gods there, and they did feel pretty high up in the air.  In the middle of the Arena was a circular pond with a little fountain and artificial flowers: a celebration of naff.  Prommers had responded to this by adding a toy elephant and a rubber duck to the pond – ironizing by exaggeration.  Surprisingly, there were a few chairs set around the pond – of course, it would mean not being in the front row – a quick decision, and I felt lucky to get one.  Prommers set up their little camps: a pullover on the floor, or a bag, marking out their personal territory.  I met the some Season ticket holders – even more Blyton-esque than the queue.  These folk wore casual, workmanlike clothes and were in the course of attending dozens, even scores (he he) of concerts.  They were musically very well informed indeed.  Although there was that indefinable whiff of the in-group, there was also a strong sense of welcome.  An excessively friendly young man with BO and a slightly Aspergers manner sat on my left.  He was down from the North, and (very credibly) camping out for the duration of the proms – he was kindly, and keen to inform me about the protocols of promming.  A couple standing nearby told me about their beekeeping in slightly superior tones, until I dropped a couple of key phrases (‘hive collapse’, ‘my friend who keeps bees in Warwickshire’) at which they warmed considerably.  And just there – over there, to my right – was the eagle-man from the queue, looking squiffy and scruffy.  Oh dear.

The BBC Scottish Symphony orchestra was conducted by Donald Runnicles, a Brian Cox lookalike with flowing white locks. 

Here is Runnicles as Brian Cox:

And here is Cox as Donald Runnicles (though Runnicles generally looks more cheerful):


First, came the John Foulds ‘Dynamic Triptych’: very pleasant, even impressive (or dynamic) in places.  Some folk rocked slightly on their feet, some stood firm, closed their eyes perhaps in a state of bliss?  Then came the wonderful Vaughan Williams ‘Serenade to Music’ (which I confess I didn’t know before) with a tiny group of maybe sixteen singers, all fabulous soloists.  The words alone would have endeared it to me, but the performance was incomparable.

 Just for my own delight, here are the words for the Vaughan Williams, from ‘The Merchant of Venice’.

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here we will sit, and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.
Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There’s not the smallest orb that thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.
Come, ho, and wake Diana with a hymn:
With sweetest touches pierce your mistress’ ear,
And draw her home with music.
I am never merry when I hear sweet music.
The reason is, your spirits are attentive:
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is mov’d with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted.
Music! Hark!
It is the music of the house.
Methinks it sounds much sweeter than by day.
Silence bestows that virtue on it.
How many things by season season’d are
To their right praise and true perfection!
Peace, ho! The moon sleeps with Endymion,
And would not be awak’d.
Soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.

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