Sunday, 9 August 2009

Notes on the Proms - Part I

Every year I try to catch as much of the BBC proms as I possibly can. For those who don't know, this an annual classical music festival with daily performances going on for two months over summer.

This year, as ever, I have been continually impressed by the pieces that have been presented, with influences from America and Japan and performances from a wide variety of orchestras, soloist and singers. It is a joy to listen to.

There is however, an aspect of the Proms which I am less happy with. This usually manifests itself in the Last Night of the Proms where the whole thing takes on a kind of pantomime persona to appease those members of the general public who wouldn't normally find classical music an accessible art form. While I can't argue with the motivation behind such a display, I find it somewhat distasteful to attempt to attract a larger audience with this facade of popular classical music. I know this sounds snobbish, but I really fail to see the logic in trying to draw people in with the promise of loud raucous and simplistic pieces when the rest of the festival hardly reflects this. On the other hand, it's a bit of fun and people enjoy it so who am I to complain?

This year I came across another example of this pantomime affair, the Children's Prom! Now in this case I really can't complain about it being a bit dumbed down for the audience and fully respect what the organisers are trying to do. They could however, have chosen to do with better music than they did! The first three pieces were inspired by the Big Bang, a storm, and a volcano and of course all contained loud noises and plenty of energy; they were perfect for children. They were unfortunately also all pretty much exactly the same! Formless, loud, cacophonous messes, symbolising the harsh and chaotic form of nature, the only variation I could pick out from these pieces was the types of percussion used to annoy the parents of the on looking children. This was a piece that perhaps needed to be written and some important points to make, but it only really needed to be written once, and certainly only performed once. Let us not forget, children don't have the longest attention spans and if you can say the same thing in one word that you can in three, you should use the one word.

The day was saved in the end when David Attenborough took to the stage and was simply himself, awesome! And then finally they played some real music, including a piece by Drum N Bass artist Goldie which I found pleasantly surprising. Still, I expect the kids loved it all.

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