More than a yard of tickets to the Proms!
The centrepiece of the concert was Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No. 3 which was first performed just after the composer’s death in 1976. Hearing a live chamber music performance again after so long was as emotional as it was therapeutic; this programme was chillingly appropriate in view of the pandemic we are enduring. Cellist Felix Hughes (no relation) introduced the quartet as written by Britten after unsuccessful surgery and when he must have been aware of his own mortality. It is a more contemporary exploration of the themes of illness and death than the well-known Mahler Symphony No. 9, that composer’s last completed symphony.
My photo today of Wembley Arena (née Empire Pool) where I saw Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band play in 1981; its once-proud and innovative construction is now submerged amongst the redevelopment of the Wembley Stadium area
An object that looks as mundane as a reel of recording tape can be the carrier for many rich and varied emotions
I decided not to listen live to this evening’s rather faux Last Night of the Proms 2020; rather, I chose to take the opportunity to take care transcribing a 2400 foot reel of quarter-inch Ampex 351 Double Play tape on my shelf which I had labelled No 49, “1975 Last Night of the Proms”.
Cormac Rigby introduced the 81st Last Night for BBC Radio 3 whilst “my colleague Richard Baker, the bravest man in the western hemisphere at the moment”, talked with the Promenaders and introduced the programme for BBC1 television. It was a warm evening and I know from my own experience as a promenader that the arena gets even hotter when the lights are on for television. Colour television in 1975 required far far more light than current television cameras so it must have been really hot and sweaty indeed. The ladies of the BBC Singers were, for the first time, dressed in colours, not black. Cormac Rigby describes the two Promenaders who laid a wreath around the bust of Henry Wood as dressed topped in white pith helmets and that they saluted Sir Henry’s bust afterwards in a sharply military fashion.
Arias and drinks on the lawn of the Walled Garden in aid of Chiswick House and Gardens.
My photograph shows the two singers, Milly Forrest and Lauren Joyanne Morris, as shining colour in the darkness and that’s how this evening felt: at last bringing the colour of live singing back to us still in the gloom of Covid.
There was great musical energy from the artistes and a pretty good setting. Even with the public health restrictions, it was so much better than anything online or recorded or broadcast where you don't get the shared experience of going to the concert venue or the communal response to the music: online is just not so human. But there’s still a long way to go. Meanwhile, we can hope the proceeds help to give encouragement to these local young artistes who have trained at London’s Royal College of Music, as well as some finance to the venue, Chiswick House.
Milly Forrest and Lauren Joyanne Morris’s programme was varied including opera arias and songs by Handel, Dvorak, Bizet and Humperdinck. Tom Lehrer’s satirical Poisoning Pigeons in the Park finally got an audience reaction beyond polite applause. Spacing the audience out, as currently required, does inhibit audience bonding and the audience’s rapport with the performers.
Radio 3 Outside Broadcast trucks at the Proms, 2018
No opportunity this year to queue outside the Albert Hall, to stand in the hall promenader to promenader, sweaty shoulder to sweaty shoulder, within spitting distance of the brass and avoiding eye contact with the string players. Ah, those summers of not so long ago. But we have instead a tasty season of BBC recordings from this iconic but acoustically challenging venue.
In presenting these my comments, we have to be aware of the various difficult circumstances of live concert sound balancing. Limitations of crewing, rig and rehearsal time, compatibility with television and so on. That our friends at Radio 3 manage so much is to be celebrated not nit-picked. Nonetheless, in scheduling a season from the archive (for reasons we well understand), it’s also an invitation to compare the styles of stereo sound we have enjoyed, especially as they are rebroadcast this year in glorious HD sound, in quick succession and within the same presentation format. Good to hear at least some of the original presentation, voices no longer on our radios.
But just to comment on the stereo sound. I’m listening on full-range speakers in my basement room which has extensive acoustic treatment and very low ambient noise, comparable to a sound studio control room.