Wednesday, 17 July 2013
The Music Lovers
It's a grand building is the RAH, a fitting tribute, along with the Albert Memorial, to that grand cultural German Prince Albert. The RAH has at least 3 bars on each level as well as expensively decked out restaurants, charging prices appropriate to an address in Kensington Gore.
I, as did an army of music lovers, made my way from South Kensington tube station via the Victorian underpass, leaving the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert (V&A) behind as I emerged by Imperial College. The walls of the tunnel leading from the station were bedecked with posters out of which stared the face of "Ziggy Stardust." The V & A's hottest ticket is the David Bowie exhibition. 40 years on the music still excites.
This was to be my first Prom: the last time I was at the RAH was for something completely different - The Moody Blues. Then we were packed in like sardines, kids, mums and grandmums altogether as the Blues reprised songs of a life time away. The most recent song we heard that night was "Autumn" from "War of the Worlds" released 35 years ago!
Tonight would be different. This was a proper concert with proper musicians playing proper adult music which us intellectuals can appreciate. The concert was to consist of two works. The main event was Mahler's 5th. I know very little about Mahler, although I suspect I may have seen one of those Ken Russell biopics of the great man sometime in the 1960's or 70's. You know the sort of thing, lots of thrashing about, naked bodies and trains and tunnels. All extremely edifying for a young intellectual in the making.
The other piece was something called Tanzsuite mit Deutschlandlied by Helmut Lachenmann. This was to be its UK premiere, which I thought surprising it having been written over 30 years ago.
I arrived in good time and headed for one of the bars, well the first I came across actually. It being the RAH they only had two beers, both on tap: an English and Japanese beer. I plumped for the Japanese offering but had some difficulty in getting it as my Japanese accent was a bit off. But after four attempts and "I'll have a pint of the Jap stuff", pointing vigorously at the pump, I was served. That and the modest tuna and sweetcorn sandwich with mayo, left a £10 note denuded.
I made my way to the seat in the dress circle, and waited impatiently for the concert to kick off. Actually "T mit D" came as quite a surprise, especially as to my untrained, but intellectual, ear the whole thing sounded much like an extremely slow car crash, interspersed with the bowel movements of a constipated raccoon. This torture lasted for 37 minutes and by the end I knew why it hadn't graced a concert hall in the UK before. The composer even had the nerve to put in an appearance, bowing and responding to the cheers from the passionate, if misguided, concert goers in the pit.
The less misguided concert goers had sensibly passed on "T mit D", spending those lost forever 37 mins in one of the many bars in the old RAH, or else having an extra helping of pudding in one of the luxurious eating venues there. Certainly after the intermission those returning to their seats were joined by a large number of newcomers. And so onto Mahler's 5th.
Mahler does have his followers I grant you. Aficionados who can hum along to a snatch of any of his tunes. The guy sitting next to me was one such creature. He and his mate had given "T mit D' a miss but as the first rousing chord of the 5th was struck, he was off. Eyes closed, head bowed, arms crossed he was there with Mr M. I swear he knew the score by heart; as did the conductor, fortunately, since he appeared to have left his copy backstage.
To be honest, I'm o.k. with Mozart, Beethoven and some Brahms and Listz, but as we approach the end of the 19th and the early 20th century, you lose me. I re-surface circa 1956 and "Heartbreak Hotel", and can find my own way home from there. Mahler may well have been inspired in part by Mrs M, when putting pen to paper for the 5th, but to my mind he'd have done much better buying her a new bed or shower cap as a way of showing his love and affection for the lovely gal.
It just didn't get started. Just when you thought he'd hit upon a half decent tune, he'd drop it and go wandering off somewhere else. He did that so many times that I got rather annoyed. I'm afraid Mahler reminded me of an old man making love, just when he was about to climax his stamina would give out, or else he'd forget what he was doing. When finally he arrived at the crescendo, it was all rather rushed and a bit messy.
I was, I know, in the minority. The audience loved it, especially my Mahler mate next to me, who I suspected was a symphonic orchestra groupie, who would dash round to the backstage door to get the autograph of the second violinist from the left as you look at the stage.
For me, I'm afraid it's Ziggy Stardust with a dash of Knights in White Satin in future. Mahler's for the birds.