Latest from the Proms

Haitink’s Mahler 9 the other night was one of the best Proms I’ve ever attended. Can’t remember when any concert left me completely unable to speak for an hour afterwards. My review is here.Opinions seemed mildly if bizarrely divided on this one. Richard Morrison in The Times shares my views on most of it, but Norman Lebrecht (no longer at the Evening Standard) was more interested in the smiling piccolo player than anything else and would like musicians to grin and dance while they play – bit of a weird concept for Mahler 9, I’d have thought, but there you go. Tom Service tells it like it is about the RAH acoustic – the single biggest problem with the Proms, of course.

I have to say I avoided last night’s concert like the proverbial plague. A Prom devoted to Cambridge?!? A night to bring back every loathsome memory of a place that was for my first 18 years held up by family and school as the apogee of all academic aspiration, yet that when I got there proved to be anything but? A place full of brilliant minds, too many of which were going to seed, a large proportion of those through excessive drink. A course that should have gone out with the Ark; a dysfunctional faculty where I saw the professor once in four years (and I mean ‘saw’ as in ‘in the corridor’). The eager young composers whose works were slaughtered for being the wrong kind of thing. All that po-faced choral smugness, the DIY conductors who learned on the job from chutspah rather than technique, the pompous ex-public-schoolboys dancing around the faculty declaring “Prokofiev’s rubbish!’ while photocopying their own body parts, the tenosynovitis – tension-related pianists’ arm-problems – which were diagnosed as ‘neurotic music student’ and sent home for a nice cup of tea, rather than being injected promptly and carefully with cortisone. The desperation over finding a piano to practise on (music students weren’t really supposed to play music). The cold, the wind, people in Dracula-style gowns throwing bread pellets at each other in ‘hall’ and bullying my friend over her Kent accent. Yes, we really wanted a Prom to celebrate all that. Again, I’m with Richard Morrison on this one (oh, and I had glandular fever too, like him. And a rash.) 

I’m sure it was a delightful concert if you like that sort of thing.

An autumn note

“For many, the end of this uneasy year cannot come quickly enough”

An ordinary killing

Ian Cobain’s book uses the killing of Millar McAllister to paint a meticulous portrait of the Troubles

Greater—not wiser

John Mullan elucidates the genius of Charles Dickens
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