Yesterday was my first time at the BBC Proms. My sister is a serious violinist, so I thought it would be nice to take her to a good concert. We went to see Prom 26: Debussy, Dutilleux & Ravel. I’m sure everyone in the UK is familiar with the Proms – it’s probably the biggest classical music festival in the UK, this year running from 15th July – 10th September, with daily concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in South Kensington.
… and here are a few photos.
The concerts are very affordable; we had some cheap tickets for about £12, but you can just turn up on the day and get a standing ticket for £5. It turns out those are actually the best places, you stand right at the bottom near the orchestra. Earlier, my friends from college went for these cheap tickets for Prom 8: Dvořák and Smetana. They particularly loved Smetana’s Má Vlast, which made me really proud (of my country and my taste in music, I love it too), but actually I’ve only ever heard it on a CD and now I’m gutted I missed this opportunity to hear it live. The Royal Albert Hall, being so massive, is really well suited to the kind of elaborate music. I always preferred smaller chamber orchestra in the past, but having been to the Royal Albert Hall I now understand it’s simply a matter of space. With a big orchestra, you need a big room to fill … these pieces were written for fancy opera houses, not for your living room. The finale of Ravel’s Bolero sounded particularly awesome in this big space. So much energy, the whole orchestra was working so hard!
Since I raved so much about Smetana’s Má Vlast, I’m going to leave you with a YouTube of Vltava, one of the pieces from this great symphony. “Má Vlast” means “My Homeland” in Czech, and Vltava is the river that flows through Prague. The music describes the river, starting with its source, a quiet bubbling spring in the mountains in Southern Bohemia (the flute at the beginning) … and then the river starts to gain strength, more instruments join in, you can hear a bit of a whirlpool … and it just gets bigger and louder as the river gets closer towards Prague, then the whole orchestra joins in and the music is much grander, and so it keeps going until the end, flowing into the river Labe. I remember our music teacher in school explaining it to us with an illustrated map of Vltava, and if you listen out for the right bits, it all just makes perfect sense … it’s not just music inspired by a river, it’s actually a perfect description.