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The Conductor Dances - The Titfield Thunderbolt
Heisenberg might have stayed here
qatsi
qatsi
The Conductor Dances
I'll admit to being a little nervous yesterday afternoon as I headed towards Reading station: I was travelling on my own, Al-Qaeda hadn't yet targetted the main railway network, they hadn't targetted the afternoon rush-hour and Thursday had become "bomb day". Of course I needn't have worried. But I wasn't reassured by the presence of armed police at Reading station (frankly, that lot weren't going to shoot anyone in the head and presumably they wouldn't shoot a suicide bomber in the torso either); nor by the lack of visible armed police at Paddington (plenty of "community" officers in high-visibility anoraks, and presumably a number of plain-clothes armed police around, too).

Passing through Hyde Park, I decided to fill an hour or so at the Science Museum. As I meandered, I reflected on the UK's Black Arrow space programme; saw the original atomic clock for generating the BBC's pips; Babbage's Difference Engine No. 1; and a Cray-1 supercomputer that was decommissioned from AWE Aldermaston in 1990. Negotiating between floors was challenging, as the staircases were poorly labelled, but I also visited the sections on Timekeeping, and King George III's Collection of Scientific Instruments, before finally tracking down Foucault's Pendulum (which could not be traced from the index pages of any of their interactive terminals - though I noted that a number of these suffered from the Blue Screen of Death).

For the concert, I acquired ticket number 12 and consequently a space at the front row of the arena, which filled out quite well, though with more comfortable personal spacing than for Wagner 10 days ago. The Chairman Dances is probably my favourite piece by John Adams. One of this year's Prom themes is Fairy Tales, and this piece is a curious combo of fairy tale and realpolitik, an offshoot from the opera Nixon in China (which I think would make an excellent Prom in its own right). Marin Alsop certainly enjoyed the piece too, dancing along on the rostrum as she directed the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

The central work was a UK premiere of John Corigliano's concerto The Red Violin. Some themes, in particular the chaconne of the first movement, come from the film of the same name. Joshua Bell was up to the challenge, though his bow did lose a number of strings during the 40-minute performance. The piece was reminiscent of Shostakovich in terms of its brooding bass sections, its fortissimo outbursts and some of its lyricism; but in other sections it was clearly from a different hand. The audience was enthusiastic (applauding between movements, tush and pish), and as a listener I found the work much more satisfying than Corigliano's Clarinet Concerto, which I saw performed last year.

Dispensing with a conductor's score, in the second half of the concert, Marin Alsop conducted excerpts from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet with passion, her breathing frequently audible to those at the front. It seemed as though she was stabbing Tybalt to death herself with her baton at one point. I'd hoped for an encore -perhaps the romance from Shostakovich's The Gadfly, which would have led to Joshua Bell's return to the stage - but it was clear there was no more music on the orchestra's stands, and she had to take the leader by the hand and lead the orchestra off the stage while the applause was still ringing. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra may be ambivalent about their appointment of her as Music Director, but their gain will certainly be Bournemouth's loss.

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