the lone random clapper

Music Prom 50! With twenty-two proms to go I feel like I've reached The Mall and I can see Buckingham Palace in my sights. I mentioned to a friend the other day that I was listening to all the Proms (in the hopes that I could get some suggestions for further listening from him) and he wondered why I would listen to some of the music -- presumably the concerts featuring music I wouldn't really like. I understand what he means -- I'm far more selective with my film diet (which has fallen behind in the past month or so, my backlog has grown so huge there isn't enough time in a decade to watch it all).

I was idly listening to Radio 3 on Sunday lunchtime and Jeremy Sams was joined in the studio by a review for a well known classical music magazine who's name isn't listed in the Radio Times. In her job she has to listen to huge piles of new releases, everything in fact including the music she doesn't really enjoy. She said she's having a disagreement with Prokofiev at the moment and lists the national anthem as her least favourite tune of all time (and then they played a full orchestral version to prove the point). But the point is that in her job, because she has to endure and enjoy everything she's in an enviable position of being able to work out what she does or doesn't like and to make discoveries.

A few years ago, I had my own musical crisis. I was standing in the Vinyl Exchange in Manchester, looking at the racks and I couldn't for the life of me work out what kind of music I actually enjoyed (and stop me if I feel like I've posted this story before). Somewhere along the line, in the midst of college then unemployment then vague employment to commuting employment, I'd lost track of what it was that made me heart and feet thump. So I did what anyone should do in that situation -- began listening to as much music as I could. I worked my way through my cd collection, borrowed discs from libraries, bought a hell of a lot. I did a world music course at the university and stocked up on rough guides to the music of everywhere from Cape Verde to Russia and I eventually realised what kind of music I actually liked. Anything but country (except the odd crossover), most dance or techno and rap. I realised I had a far wider taste than I thought, that my problem wasn't that I didn't know what I liked. It was that I liked everything, but that I had a fear that if I bought a cd I just wouldn't like it. If you see what I mean.

The dark spot in that little exercise was classical music, being one of the massive genres and like jazz (which I suspect I also have a slightly mainstream appreciation of), encompassing a rather large array of sub genres. But the Proms are filling in that blank. By listening to every Albert Hall prom (with a couple on the side) I'm genuinely learning which composers I love, like or loath. I'll keep you in suspense as to which is which when I do my final Proms post, mostly because with twenty-odd Proms to go I don't feel like I can give a definitive answer. All I'll say is that it was particularly difficult last week, a few moments of 'Panic' if you will, but that the odd burst of Bach, Copland and Elgar pulled me back from the brink. But like the reviewer from the music magazine who's name I've managed to miss, unless I hear all of this stuff I'll never know if I like it.

I have confirmed something in this past couple of Proms though -- as far as my musical taste buds go, actual opera -- bad! Symphonies derived from opera -- good! Well, alright I've only heard four of the former and as many of the latter. But in Prom 49, I was bowled over by Thomas Ades's Overture/Waltz/Finale from Powder Her Face, and not at all after the BBC Four expert who I think said it was about fellatio (thereby immediately booking herself on the panel of ITV's Loose Women) but generally underwhelmed by Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle. The themes were wondrous and strange as was the narrative but it all left me strangely cold. Am I wrong to feel that without the warbling of Bluebeard and his wife I would have been moved some more -- that their contribution created a barrier for me. I think this requires further study.

No such barrier tonight during Prom 50 though -- John Adams Doctor Atom Symphony was a tour-de-force and yes, derived from an opera about Oppenheimer, inventor of the atomic bomb. But you could hear still the narrative as it shifted through the movements, from the b-movie tinged opening to the shocking conclusion. As I listened I was taken back to my bright old second college days, during my Science in Entertainment Media lectures hearing about how science was communicated in the 50s and 60s, all of the images of what were then space age rockets and scientists. Although the piece wasn't written then, its sometimes fragmented rhythms seemed to capture the time at least through the prism of historical expectation. I'd heard that John Adams' music was inaccessible but this sounded about as accessible as contemporary music can be without becoming pastiche.

Before this descends into a ramble and not the crisp bit of reflection I intended when I started writing this three quarters of an hour ago, I just wanted to include some props (which is a word I've never used before -- it doesn't sound like one of mine does it -- props -- no shan't be using that again) to Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra who banged out their Prom with ten times more passion than some of the orchestras I've heard since July, making Shostakovich's Symphony No 10 this big, loud impressive world beater of work which even managed to turn the head of one of the BBC Four experts so seemed to be less impressed with Shostakovich in general. Pity about the lone random clapper at the end of the Bernstein during the second half. At the moment when Dudamel required some silence for effect. The more the promenaders shushed the clap happy random clapper, the more they clapped. Spoiled the effect (a bit).

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:52 pm

    Wow, you have been going to every single one? Do you have a press pass? It's nonetheless impressive. Looking forward to your final post to summarise it all.