August 13th, 2016


Prom 35

Both Proms by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Thomas Søndergård were appealing, with a mixture of familiar, curious and unfamiliar works, but I decided I couldn't justify going to both, and in the end I picked Thursday's concert. The day didn't begin too well, as I discovered Reading Borough Council had just steeply increased their parking charges, but this was balanced by a short queue and as we entered the Hall, as others disposed of luggage or headed for the small number of seats in the Arena, I was effectively second in line.

I didn't think I would know the first piece, Bartók's Dance Suite, and I was right, but it was difficult to be sure, because many of his works have similar sounding titles. It had the characteristic sound of the composer, combining folk rhythms from central Europe and north Africa, despite the fact that it was commissioned by the city of Budapest to mark the anniversary of that city's foundation. Next, a BBC commission: Malcolm Hayes' Violin Concerto, with soloist Tai Murray. This was an interesting work inspired by the landscape of the outer Hebrides, and as the programme notes observed, there were clear links to Sibelius' own concerto, and Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending. It was a virtuosic piece, and Murray was accomplished. It's the first time I have seen (live) a soloist use a tablet on a music stand, with a foot-pedal to "turn" the pages; it makes sense, though for a piano score the screen would be rather small.

The second half of the concert was a more familiar work, Dvořák's Symphony No. 7. It's comfort music, rather than challenging; just sit back (or stand up) and enjoy. The orchestral seating was conventional, and in a reasonably central position on the rail I was close to the cellos, who have prominent parts in this work, but there were also one or two occasions where I could see tunes playing between the first and second violins, so I wonder whether antiphonal seating was intended by the composer. At any rate, it was another successful performance.