The Proms: No Mud Doesn’t Equal No Fun

Don’t be fooled into believing that the essence of the Proms can be found in its bombastic Last Night. The 91 concerts that precede it in this year’s season reveals a music festival with the widest range of music, performed to the highest standards.

Though the festival is mainly centred on the performance of classical music, this in itself varies from staples of the repertoire to premiers of new works. With a season spanning two months, there’s something to suit everyone’s taste.

But with such a large number of concerts on offer, some are bound to be better than others. Obviously the orchestra, conductor and soloist should be taken into account when making a decision on which concerts to go to, but what is often forgotten is the music being performed itself. The Royal Albert Hall has the advantage of being able to hold large audiences, but not all music is suited to this. While I’m all for more performances of Mozart symphonies, the small chamber orchestras they require are simply not brought out to their best advantage in the massive concert-hall. The same can even apply to Beethoven, even though his symphonies are practically guaranteed a place in each year’s season. As with chamber and solo works also, these works were written for more intimate settings. Unfortunately, their subtlety will inevitably get swallowed up by the gaping space of the hall.

first_night_of_the_proms

The best music to listen to in the Royal Albert Hall then, is those that can fill it, or even better, use the space to their advantage. Last year’s performance of Ralph Vaughan-Williams’ ‘Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’ by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, is such an example. William’s score divides the string orchestra into two: a string ‘quartet’ made up of ten players, and the larger string ensemble. In this concert, the quartet was placed high in the gallery, while the main body of the ensemble remained on stage.  The result was something rather ethereal and entirely beautiful, with the quartet sounding as though they’re from another world.

2013 marks the 119th year of the Proms and more importantly the anniversaries for Wagner, Verdi and Britten. All three dominate the season’s programme. Wagner in particular is worth getting a ticket for. Ticket’s for the Proms are cheaper than most classical music concerts, and considerably less than opera tickets. Buying standing or ‘promming’ tickets on the day costs only £5. This season then is a rare opportunity to see a Wagner opera for the same prices as a couple of pints.  His operas feature prominently, with Daniel Barenboim conducting the four operas from the Ring Cycle, as well as performances of Tristan und Isolde, Tannhäuser, and Parsifal. Any of these are certainly worth seeing considering how much cheaper they are when compared to opera house tickets.

The advantages of buying ‘promming’ tickets can’t be emphasised enough. Although it means you can’t book ticket in advance, it also makes it possible to go to a very popular concert after the tickets have sold out – as long as you’re willing to queue on the day. The gallery arguably has some of the best acoustics in the hall, and the atmosphere of the arena is usually electric. Maybe your feet will hurt after a while, but to get the full experience of the Proms, ‘promming’ is a must.

For a more detailed programme of this year’s season, go to the BBC Proms website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/proms). The prices of advanced tickets range from £7.50 to £95. Standing tickets are available for the Arena and Gallery for £5 on the day. Tickets go on sale from 9am on Saturday 11 May via the BBC Proms website, by telephone on 0845 401 5040 or in person at the Royal Albert Hall.

Originally published by the Oxford Student, June 2013. http://oxfordstudent.com/2013/05/26/the-proms-no-mud-doesnt-equal-no-fun/

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