Thursday, September 08, 2005

BBC Prom: The Rite of Spring

Following Vinayak's recommendation, I experience the BBC Prom for the first time in my three-year London life. If you're uninitiated, this is a rare opportunity to catch the world's leading classical music performers just in front of you by paying just 4 quid (about 7.5 US dollars) on the day of the performance (see here for more detail about the Proms).

I like the idea of paying for a concert on the day of the performance. Concerts, either classical or popular, shouldn't be so big an event. If you want to listen to live music on the day of a performance, you should be able to do so.

And the reason I feel like going to the Prom is Stravinsky's The Rite Of Spring conducted by Zubin Mehta. This was the first piece of symphonic music that I found interesting. That was when I was a high school kid. I really didn't get what's called classical music at that time. It was either boring, sleepy, or hard to understand how to appreciate. But when I watched a broadcast of this highly-elaborate-but-never-boring piece of music, played by an orchestra (I forgot which orchestra it was) with conductor Mehta, on a satellite television in Japan, it blew my mind. What the hell is this music?

I still remember that moment. Almost 10 years on, here in London, I have an opportunity to listen LIVE to this tune conducted by the same guy who impressed me as a high school boy. After queuing for about 45 minutes to buy a 4-quid day ticket, I enter the Arena of the Royal Albert Hall. The stage is just 10m ahead from where I am. People are standing to watch and listen, just like an indie rock band's gig. This is what I like about UK. Classical music in Japan is always associated with "high society". This kind of event is almost impossible there. (Speaking of Japan, I see quite a few Japanese (and Chinese/Korean) people, mostly girls, at the concert hall, which is very rare for my usual kind of music events.)

The first tune, Haydn's Symphony no.103, is not too bad. I like the third and fourth movements. The second one, Berg's Wozzeck, is terrible, just boring.

During the interval, a man next to me starts talking about The Rite of Spring to his girlfriend, explaining how extraordinary it was at the time of its production (the early 20th century). Overhearing it, my expectation surges. For the first time in years, my heartbeat quickens because of an anticipation of the coming live music performance.

And it does live up to my expectation. Stravinsky is a genious composer. The contrast of quietness and loudness, one instrument after another claiming its presence in waves, and very progressive patterns of rhythms continuously coming in an unexpected way. I realise the reason I like this music is not so different from why I love drum & bass. But I admit it's more than drum & bass. With a panoramic sound of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in front, I can't think of any other form of musical experience that's more luxurious than this.

As I'm a layman when it comes to classical music, I can't tell how much Zubin Mehta contributes to this wonderful experience. But I guess his interpretation of The Rite of Spring is quite close to my taste. My late grandfather, a big classical music fan, didn't like Zubin Mehta. So when I told him about my crush on The Rite of Spring, he lent me a CD of this tune conducted by someone else, and I didn't like it as much.

I feel I'm lucky to live in London today.

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