Monday, 23 August 2010

Pick-of-the-Proms, and romantic comedies...

There were seven concerts I wanted to go to in this year’s BBC Proms season. Two were sold out by the time I came to book, and one clashed with a previous arrangement. I was able to get tickets for the other four, though. As an experiment, I had seats in different parts of the hall for each concert; this was interesting, and useful, though of course putting what I’ve learned into use next year will still depend on availability of seats.

My first Prom was “Meistersinger”. I like “Meistersinger” although it is five hours plus of bum-numbing Wagner; because it has buckets of thrilling music, because unlike most of his work it has a happy ending, and because I have played in the overture (& I still know the triangle part!). I had a seat to the side of the gallery, with a fair view and pretty good sound, and despite the heat it was a good afternoon.

My second Prom was number 32; Tchaikovsky, Janacek and Berlioz. I went with my stepmother Jane and we sat in the choir stalls. The sound is surprisingly good from here, though of course it is off-balance. Jane is used to this, as she plays regularly in an orchestra herself. I’m less adapted to it, as I haven't done so for years, but I also have a less-sensitive ear. We were right above the percussion section, with a splendid view of them and of everyone else except Maxim Rysanov. Recommended if you like watching the conductor (which I like to do occasionally) and don’t mind being blown out of your seat when the timpani let rip (not a problem for someone whose Dad was a timpanist), and of course provided you don’t have a crush on a string soloist.

Third Prom was Lugansky playing the Rachmaninov “Rhapsody”, reviewed last week. For this I was right at the back centre of the gallery. Seats here sell out ahead of the sides of the gallery, but my feeling was that the sound was worse - small and a bit muzzy - and the view awful. The back of the gallery is great, sound-wise, in the Festival Hall and the Barbican Hall, and even in Canterbury Cathedral (most of which has bl**dy lousy acoustics). Not so at the Royal Albert Hall. I have a bit of an “I-love-you” thing about Nikolai Lugansky and I’m sorry I wasn’t a scrap closer to him; it’s amazing just how far away the gallery is from the stage, in that huge building. It’s like trying to see the action from the back row of the Colosseum (NB not the Coliseum – where the cheap seats have surprisingly good sightlines).

My fourth and final Prom was on Friday, and it was easily the best. Of course, it was my favourite orchestra and my favourite maestro, so there is a remote possibility I was prejudiced... I’d splashed out on a seat in the side stalls for this. For me, that gave the best of both worlds; close enough to give me crisp, clear sound and a really good view, but far enough back that I wasn’t swamped by one section of the orchestra. It was a terrific concert.

It’s available on BBC iPlayer, at least for the next few days; sadly iPlayer slots only seem to last a week. The four pieces were well-matched; the Mosolov thrillingly hot stuff, the Pärt symphony haunting, tensely meditative and melancholy, the Ravel a jazzy treat. The final piece, Scriabin’s “Poem of Ecstasy”, which I didn't know before, absolutely blew me away. And Esa-Pekka Salonen was simply wonderful. Do have a look and a listen if you have the time (you can fast forward, in a rough-and-ready manner, to get through the applause and the talking-head presenter). I know I am a creature of crushes, and very boring it must get listening to me rave about them, but honestly; watch the Maestro, and marvel. Now that is one brilliant guy, and a damned attractive one too. And it is corking good music.

I had a constructive weekend afterwards. I got several small irritating jobs done - like retuning my television, which I’ve been meaning to do for months, and mending the handle of my nail scissors. I did a lot of gardening, bought my spring bulbs and made another batch of jam (strawberry and blackberry – oh yes, it’s good!). But I slept badly and had weird dreams on both Friday and Saturday night. On Friday it made sense; I was hyped-up after the concert, fizzing with energy after the magnificence of the Scriabin, and couldn’t shake the mental image of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s honey-and-silver hair and elvish smile, and his marvellous energy.

But Saturday puzzles me; I’d had a good, busy day, spent plenty of time outdoors in the fresh air, and had a very nice supper of home-cooked fasoladha and roasted squash with feta cheese. Then I dreamed that someone I was at college with had gone to live on the island of Hvar in Croatia and got in trouble. I woke up and said to myself “It’s just a dream”, got back to sleep – and had the same dream again. Creepy.

Last night I really wanted a relaxed, no-need-to-think evening. I cooked a dead-simple supper of pasta, veg and tuna, and sat down and watched tele. So I’m a slob. I ended up with a film called “Sweet Home Alabama”, which I’d heard was a good straightforward romantic comedy. It starred Reese Witherspoon, who is such a delight in the first “Legally Blonde” film (& is so badly let-down in the second by a truly dire plot and script). It didn’t look too intellectually taxing, which was fine, as I wanted fun, not intellect. I have plenty of opera and classic French art movies on dvd if I want to be intellectual.

But it just didn’t work for me. I didn’t really like any of the characters. I felt the heroine was silly, shallow and mean, and so was the husband she had fled from. There was no explanation of why their marriage hadn’t worked, beyond a nasty story about him throwing up at the wedding. I have no doubt that that would be vile, and infuriating – but grounds for separation? Not among grown-ups, I hope. The man who wants to marry the heroine seemed far too old-fashionedly decent and nice to be in love with her. It just – didn’t work. I gave up about halfway through, so I may have missed the moment when suddenly it all came together. But I don’t want to have to sit with a film for over an hour without a single character getting my sympathy.

It’s funny what works and what doesn’t, in films, tv, fiction, you name it. I guess it’s partly a matter of taste. Comedy is such a personal thing, too; and romantic comedy must be particularly hard to write and to play. I loved “Legally Blonde”, I enjoyed “Maid in Manhattan” and “Pretty Woman” – and the latter is about as air-headed a fantasy as they come – and “While you were Sleeping”, and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, and “Practical Magic” and “Hitch” and “Mystic Pizza” and “Moonstruck” and “Groundhog Day”… So I know I am perfectly capable of sitting down with a chocolate box Girls’ Night-type movie and enjoying it for exactly what it is. I just wish I’d had one last night.

At least I slept okay afterwards; and no bad dreams. But no lovely orchestral ones, either.

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