Prom 62: Webern, Bruch, Albéniz, Rimsky-Korsakov
In the past I’ve seen (and, in fact, being on the receiving end of – but that’s another story) political protests outside orchestra concerts, but until now, never seen a concert being disrupted from inside. I think we can safely assume you don’t come to this blog looking for astute political analysis; I know enough about international politics to know how little I know, and not to get into online discussions about it. So here’s a report of what I observed at Thursday’s prom.
Right in the middle of the Webern, a group of a dozen or so in the Choir area (quite near me) suddenly stood up and started shouting, and attempted to sing Ode to Joy (with their own lyrics, which were indistinct). It utterly ruined the piece, of which I happen to be very fond. Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic didn’t bat an eyelid and carried on playing. The people in the row behind the protesters poked them and asked them to sit down and be quiet, to no avail. Security staff watched for a while, then decided to take action and moved in on the area, gently ushering them out.
As the introduction to the Bruch started, another group up in the Circle started yelling. The orchestra kept going for a little while, but then, as it was clear nobody could hear a note, stopped and waited for security to move this batch of protesters out before restarting. Meanwhile, several thousand people in the audience who had paid hard-earned money to come to hear Gil Shaham play the violin weren’t impressed at being prevented from hearing him, or the disrespect shown to his and the orchestra’s performance, and started yelling back ‘out, out’. They then gave the orchestra a supportive round of applause.
Amusingly, when the Arena prommers did their charity collection chant during the interval, a few over-hyped people started calling ‘get out’ and ‘go away’ at them, not realising that it was a completely different (and music-positive) group.
In both pieces in the second half, the moment the conductor’s arms were seen to raise, more shouting started, from various locations, followed by the irritated groan of several thousand very pissed-off orchestral music fans. Mehta, with an expression of wry amusement, lifted and lowered his hands a few times, accompanied by quickly-cut-off yells. It was not possible to make out any words, apart from the odd ‘Palestine’. Some were waving Palestine flags, but then some Arena prommers whipped out Israel flags and waved them back, with jeers. The rest of the audience booed them (both camps, I think). However, once it had died down, the actual music was left uninterrupted.
There has been some argument over whether the BBC was right or wrong to pull the live broadcast off the air. I’m inclined to think it was a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. I don’t really understand what last night’s behaviour was intended to achieve for the protesters, as the overall effect came across as shambolic and hysterical (which is odd, since they’d carefully advance-bought all these tickets in various bits of the hall).
And the music? The first half of Webern’s Passacaglia sounded very good – rhythmically precise and clearly-defined without being at all mechanical, and taken at a pacey tempo. I’ve written before about how important the Bruch violin concerto in Gm is to me, and when I hear it performed, unless something is wrong, I’m able to completely immerse in it. Obviously on this occasion something was wrong at the start, and it was difficult to sink into the music when not knowing if it was going to be vandalised at any minute, but it’s a tribute to the musicians that I soon forgot all about the situation and was able to be swept away as usual.
I’ve never much liked composers pastiching the folk traditions of other countries, particularly Debussy, Ravel, or – in this case – Rimsky-Korsakov partaking in the fashion for all things Spanish, and the Capriccio Espagnol, while an impressive technical showpiece for almost every part of the orchestra, was less musically effective than the ‘authentic’ Albéniz, which had some real fire to it. Stand-out instruments for me were cors both Anglais and French. Sitting in Choir East, we had something of a percussion masterclass from the large team of players directly below. It’s always fun seeing a couple of blokes belting the hell out of a set of tubular bells, one thumping the timps, and another flying round the xylophone. The down side is that it also means being near the bastarding triangle, and having to stick a finger in my ear to stop it setting my teeth on edge. I swear, I find the noise more irritating than a mobile phone going off, and when I am King of London I will outlaw the things.