I attended the pre-Prom talk as I thought it might be interesting to hear more about the evening's concert. Whilst I did learn some things - such as the difference between a standard and rotary trumpet, or the fact that "no-one" would today perform the post-horn solo on Mahler's indicated instrument (surely a challenge for Sir Roger Norrington there) - it turned out to have been dumbed down somewhat and was presented by someone with the personality usually associated with children's TV presenters. As the concert consisted of Mahler's enormous third symphony, this seemed a programme unlikely to appeal to anyone without a decent concentration span.
The hall was filled but the arena was not packed, so it was quite comfortable from that point of view. "It's my first time", said a lady next to me. I said something encouraging, whilst wondering how she had picked this concert to come to, as, in the nicest possible way, I wouldn't have suggested this one to a beginner.
The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra were conducted by the splendid Donald Runnicles, who would pass in the street for an ageing rocker as much as for a classical maestro. The orchestra used antiphonal seating, which I thought worked very well indeed. At the front of the arena, it is very easy to be swamped by the cellos with the conventional arrangement. Mahler's Symphony No. 3 is not one of his works I know best, having come to it relatively late, but it is certainly worth making the effort, and I thought it was a strong performance. In particular, the off-stage parts were very effective, and Karen Cargill's singing of the text from Also sprach Zarathustra in the fourth movement was beautiful - a striking movement that shares obvious similarities with Urlicht in the second symphony, but also has an intensity and impressionistic air. Indeed, the whole work is like a resumeé for Mahler, with obvious links to most of his symphonies, both previous to this one and to those yet to come. The final movement is Mahler's first slow symphonic finale, and it points very directly to his ninth and tenth symphonies in this respect - an exception to Edward Saïd's notion of "late style" as this belongs, chronologically, to Mahler's early period. Unlike the ninth, however, the ending is sublimely upbeat. The applause began too soon (and let's not even discuss the applause between movements), but it didn't spoil the performance.