Sunday, 21 September 2008

How many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall

Completely by coincidence, we found ourselves at the Royal Albert Hall twice in two weeks. The first visit was for one of the BBC Proms series - Prom 73 to be exact, which included a Vaughan Williams piece inspired by Antarctica, a percussion piece by Iannis Xenakis, and finally the full Planets Suite by Holst.

We didn't have a terribly auspicious start to that evening as I was about one minute late for the first piece. This being a proper classical music venue with humourless ushers (appalled at my gall in not being seated 20 minutes before the conductor walked on), I was not allowed in until the end of the first movement. Of course we were seated right in the middle of the cramped front row of one of the balconies, and as the usher was reluctant to have me push past the audience members already seated, I decided to wait until the first interval and miss the Williams. Meanwhile The Boyfriend had not even left work yet. Surely it is not possible to make it anywhere by 6.30pm on a weekday in London?

But we made it inside for the second piece, and what a piece it was. I won't go on too much, but I think the word 'experimental' would be the most fitting way to describe it, and one man in the audience felt so strongly about it that he obviously couldn't control his urge to scream "Nooo!!!!" several times, right in the middle of the second movement (there were six). There is a review here if you're really interested (and another very positive one here). And I actually quite enjoyed it, although The Planets was another level of excellent.

My previous impressions of the Albert Hall were almost entirely composed of hazy childhood memories of a book called The Great Jelly of London, in which the hall is used as the world's largest jelly mould. (I looked online for illustrations to pilfer but the book seems to be out of print and not well represented. A worn, second-hand copy seems to be going here for £85 so Mum and Dad, I hope your copy hasn't been thrown out/given away!) I was able to (mis)appropriate this quote though:

"Slowly, majestically, as the children cheered, the whole shell of the Albert Hall was lifted higher and higher till everyone could see the splendid orange jelly wobbling and gleaming in the sun. It came out perfectly. Hardly any of it stuck to the Albert Hall. You could see exactly where the organ had been."

(You can see the organ in the photo above - the pale blue section at the back.)

Anyway, the most interesting part of the trip (aside from the music, of course of course!) was contemplating the unusual measures implemented to deal with the terrible acoustics the Hall's unique shape results in. Hanging from the ceiling are these sort of up-side down flying saucer-like white things, which are made to look even more alien by being lit in different colours throughout the performance.

The second visit was rather different in tone and target market. Surrounded by serious, black-clad thirty-somethings clutching glasses of red wine, we saw Echo and the Bunnymen - one of The Boyfriend's favourite bands. This was something of a comeback/reunion show, with the band performing every song from what seems to be their most-loved album, Ocean Rain. This time our tickets were for the standing area aaallll the way at the top of the Hall, so while we would have liked to have been a bit closer, the spectacle from up there was pretty amazing.

Not being a diehard fan (although the title song was awesome) I spent a bit of time taking illicit photos around the back of the Hall. The lighting from the stage often hit the back wall, reflecting the audience in constantly moving and changing coloured patterns. The rest of the photos from both trips are up on flickr at the end of the Around London set here.

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