Pleasures of the PromsDate: 22 July 2011
Ticket prices, with the additional restoration fee included, remain the biggest deterrent for potential West End audiences, though I see the newly announced production of Death and the Maiden starring Thandie Newton at the Comedy Theatre in October will be selling standing places for £10 each. Even better value is a £5 standing ticket at the BBC Proms, the best annual music festival in the world, now coming to the end of its first week in the Royal Albert Hall.
What a treat this was. The Sibelius Seventh Symphony was utterly magical, the Bartok Third Piano Concerto electrifying, the Sinfonietta of Janacek simply astonishing. The hall was packed, the concert relayed "live" on both BBC4 and Radio 3, the entire occasion vibrating through the nation, it seemed. And this happens every single night of the summer right through to the Last Night on 10 September.
There's a new handy bar by the main entrance of the Albert Hall that serves draught beer and decent sandwiches, and it was no surprise at all to find a couple of old friends testing it out. I joined them after a nightmare car journey -- six miles in seventy minutes -- through endless road works and diversions.
Suitably becalmed, I then joined Proms director Roger Wright's party which included Donald McLeod, presenter of This Week's Composer on Radio 3, so I was able to thank him for soothing the latter part of my trip with his excellent programme on Cavalli. Timothy West and Prunella Scales were on hand, too, Tim telling me that, in his youth, music boiled down to a choice between Sibelius and Humphrey Lyttelton. He chose Sibelius.
The point arose because I'd said that, while I loved Sibelius's music, I never sat down at home and listened to any of it. My CD box set of his symphonies still retains its cellophane wrapping, though I think that situation may change this weekend.
It's the physical thrill of the concert performance that suits the music so well. Pru agreed, saying that she loved watching all the different sections, the ensemble power of the playing, the visible effort and strain involved.
We floated home on a cloud of pure pleasure, through much clearer roads and in good time for the news headlines. No more live concerts for me till the Edinburgh Festival, but summer's official now the Proms have started.