A Night at the Proms

Early in September my wife and I went to a Promenade Concert in the Albert Hall. It was a sell out event because Daniel Barenboim was conducting a German orchestra playing Mozart's 'Coronation' concerto followed by Bruckner's Sixth Symphony. The evening was hot and humid. Our seats way up on the sixth floor at the back were cramped and vertigo inducing; we could hardly see the orchestra. So at the interval I decided to do what I have not done before which was to walk up a further three flights of stairs to the gallery at the very top of the Albert Hall where at least you can walk around and the view could not be any worse. What an experience!

At first I was aware of the smell - picnic supper mixed with body odour. Then I saw I was among a vast crowd completely surrounding the circular gallery, both at the front by the rails and at the back windowless wall. The crowd  brought to mind  exhausted pilgrims  who were gazing down from the mountain top on to the promised land below. Promenaders lay on the floor, propped themselves up against the front and the back walls, wandered around picking their way over supine bodies. Only a few had the rail to lean on and they were crammed together so that they were sideways on.

Not many could see the orchestra but that did not matter. Under the flying saucer like dishes hanging  just under the ceiling that  obviously were there for acoustic purposes, the sound  was terrific; absolutely clear and undimmed without any reverberation off the ceiling. And music is an aural not a visual experience, unless you watch an orchestra on TV where the close  - ups pick out the intense concentration of music making. 

I wedged myself at the back stretching out my legs. In front of me a young couple lay on their backs, legs crossed at the ankle, motionless like the medieval tombs of knights and their ladies  in churches. In front of them stood an old man. He was hunched and bent and raised one heel off the floor as if his foot was too painful to bear pressure; he had nothing to hold onto.  His elderly wife was propped against the rail more lying than sitting. Neither moved; their faces showed rapt concentration for the whole hour. While the sticky heat rose from the thousands of bodies below and the prospect of exiting down nine flights of stairs before cramming on to the late night underground got nearer and nearer, they were aware only of the music. I felt a warm kinship with the other pilgrims. We were suffering for Bruckner and Barenboim, united in the Proms Experience.