Ligeti: Poème symphonique
Berio Sequenza V
Jonathan Harvey: Mortuos plango, vivos voco
Louis Andriessen: De snelheid
John Cage: 4’33
I went to the Royal Albert Hall the other night for the late night Prom. May have got there a little too early and despite having to dash over to the park to find the toilet I was still third in the queue for an arena promming ticket! At one point a lady from the venue came out and gave us all a raffle ticket to mark our place in the queue but no one ever asked to see them so I wasn’t sure what the point was. Shortly afterwards a load of people who were at the earlier Prom came out for the interval and started having picnics on the wall next to me!
After the first prom finished there were more people joining the queue and to my surprise people who were at the first prom were given preference over those of us who had waited in the queue. Either way I still got ticket number 26 and when we were allowed into the arena found it quite easy to get very near the front.
While we waited I noticed that behind the orchestra position on the choir seats sat 100 metronomes stretched across the whole width of the stage. As we sat several members of the orchestra sat on the stage near the metronomes and suddenly without warning they started them going and left the stage. People around me continued to talk as the metronomes clicked frenetically away. It was only after a while that the house lights dimmed and the audience began to focus on what was happening (apart from one woman whose voice could be heard loudly from the area of the circle). Slowly the metronomes started to run out of steam and one by one they dropped out until only two next to each other remained clicking in a melancholic duet slighly out of time with each other . You could have heard a pin drop as the last metronome ticked slowly to a stop, the silence in the room held for an eternity until the audience broke into applause.
Afterwards there was an example of Proms humour as the applause died away someone clapped mimicking the metronomes. This was then imitated by others but was suddenly halted by the first blare of a trombone as Byron Fulcher appeared at the top of the steps to the left of the stage dressed in a clown outfit complete with white face and red nose! He played Berio’s Sequenza V very theatrically before collapsing on the floor at the end. Afterwards was my favourite piece of the night which Xenakis’ Phlegra – I first heard Xenakis on Radio 3 from the Proms a few years ago and fell in love with his music straight away so it was good to see a performance at such close quarters.
We were told that when the Xenakis piece finished we would be plunged into darkness for the next piece but sadly the RAH doesn’t do dark very well. It was a shame really as I would have liked to have heard Jonathan Harvey’s Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco in complete darkness with the way the 8 track recording spun around the room. Following an interview with composer Louis Andriessen there was a performance of his piece De Snelheid which I found the hardest of all the performances this evening – all of which, I later noted, that my wife would have asked “what the hell is that…” if she heard them!
The final billed performance was John Cage’s infamous silent piece 4’33” which I’d been looking forward to. I liked the ironic way the orchestra tuned up for it before sitting silent through each of the 3 movements, turning the pages at the end of each bit. The idea is that the performance space creates it’s own sounds and throughout you became aware of the small sounds that go on around you all the time but are usually drowned out. The shuffling of feet, people coughing, seats creaking and even the sound of your own movements all become the focus as the orchestra sits there in silence. I did wonder if Radio 3 had to turn off the system that would normally shut down the transmitters after such a lengthy period of dead air.
The final piece which wasn’t on the original bill was by Matthew Herbert and was called Encore Intervention – Small, smaller, smallest. A team of people had roamed around the hall during the performances recording bits on mobile phones to create a soundscape. The audience was meant to join in at a given point by sending themselves a text message but this sort of went wrong as I don’t think we all got the instructions so mobiles were going off left right and centre but to my mind this added to the whole composition.