An Evening at the Proms

Geoff mops his brow as he steps through the doorway and into the shade. Glancing down at his ticket, he remembers the invariable rule of the Royal Albert Hall: whichever door you enter, it’s diametrically opposite where you need to be.

Albert Hall

He heads from door 4 to 12, stopping off at the café for a Coke Zero.

All human life is there already: young people with rucksacks, alte kakker in Birkenstocks, middle-aged women with sunhats. Only one person seems to have dressed up for the occasion, and she’s got purple hair, a pierced nose and a tuxedo ripped in multiple places. When did people stop wearing smart clothes to concerts?

Sitting next to Geoff, a middle-aged woman nurses a large glass of rosé. Every two seconds she looks up at the entrance.

Her date finally turns up. Rosé woman comes to life, falling over herself to greet him. When the man sits down, she babbles constantly and paws his wrist.

Geoff gets to his seat in the Choir (West). The lights dim and tonight’s fare begins with a Brahms piano concerto. So far, so soporific thinks Geoff, despite the energetic pianist.

inside the Royal Albert Hall

Part two is Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass. It may not be a Mass, but it has everything else, Geoff reckons: choir and solo voices in some unidentifiable language, plus brass, wind, strings, drums galore and that massive organ which is almost in his right ear. Geoff studies the cellists. A fellow student once told him cellists were the raunchiest of the lot, as they were used to stroking a mighty instrument between parted thighs. He can well believe it.

According to the notes in Geoff’s lap, Janáček was keen on pan-Slavism, and his mighty work celebrates nationhood and peace.organ

That’s not something that Geoff can figure out from the music. There are noisy outbreaks from various instruments. Now the horns. Then the snare drums. Strings come in, and an exquisite harp.

Janáček, it’s also said, placed his nationalistic beliefs above the welfare of his own daughter. Geoff would have had words with him. Nothing on earth matters to him more than his son.

The conductor chops the air with his hands, then dangles his fingers like jelly fish. The orchestra hangs on every move of his digits. Then the organ erupts into a fantasia.

Nationhood and peace, muses Geoff. Chance would be a fine thing. The world could use a damn good conductor.


*For those not in the UK, the BBC Proms (or more exactly the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts) are an annual summer season of concerts in London, most of them held in the Royal Albert Hall.