Last week a friend of mine asked me to Proms. Prom? As in a high school prom? But didn’t you graduate from high school some ten years ago? Yes, I did and no, not that kind of prom. Unlike the North American tradition, where “prom” refers to the end-of-the-year formal dance of high school seniors, “Proms” here is best known as The BBC Proms, a eight-week summer classical music festival.
Each year the BBC Proms takes place at the beautiful Royal Albert Hall in South Kensington. This iconic building was completed in 1871 in memory of Prince Albert, which drew much of its architectural inspiration from the ancient Roman amphitheatres. It is a stunning rotunda building complete with comfortable red velvet seats and lines of fiberglass acoustic discs lit blue hanging from the ceiling to diffuse the acoustical problems resulting from the glass dome. The term “prom” is short for promenade concerts, but today promming refers to the use of standing areas in the Royal Albert Hall where concert-goers (or prommers) can purchase discounted day of tickets for a mere £5. This is my third summer in London, and yet, I have never attended Proms until this past Tuesday evening.
My German-born friend selected Tuesday night’s performance as nod to one of the most illustrious contemporary German composers, Gustav Mahler. Tuesday night featured the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with Manfred Honeck as the Conductor and German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. The concert started with Prelude to Wagner’s ethereal sixth opera, Lohengrin; followed by violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter playing Wolfgang Rihm’s Time Chant, a rather difficult piece to listen to due to the long stretches on violin. Closing the evening was Mahler’s Fifth Symphony No. 5, a 73 minute piece of work in five movements. It started with high drama of a funeral march and ended with a beautiful piece Adagietto, written for his beloved wife Alma. The packed audience gave a rousing applause at the conclusion of the evening, and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was more than delighted to play two encores for the audience.
This annual summer concert series is not to be missed by any classical music lover. It was a lovely evening catching up with my friend and exchanging travel stories about our respective trips to San Francisco.