Saturday, 1 August 2009


22/7/09, Royal Albert Hall (Prom)

Mixed programme to mark the 800th anniversary of Cambridge University (apparently). Vaughan Williams' The Wasps Overture and Five Mystical Songs; a new piece by Ryan Wigglesworth; choral pieces by Stanford, Jonathan Harvey and Judith Weir; Saint-Saens' Organ Symphony. The BBC Symphony joined by assorted Cambridge choirs, including (of course) King's and St John's.

I was late, thanks to work. Missed all the security brouhaha because the Prince of Wales was in the audience and walked in with no inspections. Missed the handing out of little flags with the Cambridge Uni crest on. Missed the National Anthem, arranged by Sir David Willcocks. Missed The Wasps. Went up the grand staircase and along the Circle corridor, and was accosted (as he came out of the gents) by Jo's boyfriend S, who said he was up in the Gallery. So I joined him up there.

Got a bird's eye view of the Wigglesworth, including umpteen types of percussion: classical music as theatre.

I thought it was a bit odd that S was in the gents during the performance... and that when I asked, him he didn't know what we were listening to. Not much of a musician, I thought; doesn't seem to take his concert-going very seriously. And was positively alarmed when the Wigglesworth finished, I slipped away to join D and as I did so a young woman, not Jo, marched smiling up to S.

Our seats were right on the very end of the Circle balcony, somewhere above the cellos. Not bad for £7. Listened to Five Mystical Soings: plangent, haunting, with the baritone Simon Keenlyside and a huge choir of surprisingly young people (I still hadn't clocked the Cambridge connection).

Then as the applause faded a brief trumpet fanfare rang out from above and behind us and we turned to see some young women unveiling a "Climate Rush" banner over the side of the Gallery. A very genteel protest. Rushed upstairs to confirm that it was indeed S's trumpet.

Second half might have been an anti-climax but wasn't. The Stanford, sung by a reduced choir, is a great late Victorian warhorse. For the other two choral pieces (sung unaccompanied) first John's director of music (Andrew Nethsingha) and then King's director (Stephen Cleobury) took over from Davies, with just the King's and John's combined choirs (complete with choirboys). The Harvey was a beautiful piece derived from plainsong. The Weir was grittier and less involving (I was uninvolved enough indeed to look over at the Royal Box, where HRH didn't seem to think much of it either since he was thumbing through his programme).

Davies returned for the Saint-Saens, which is a very silly but crazily uplifting piece of music, a glorious romp. Though why the BBC Symphony bothered to stay for much of the last movement beats me, since the Albert Hall organ is so powerful it drowned the orchestra entirely for much of the time.

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