Review: BBC Proms – The 6 Music Prom

Photo Credit: Annie Shipton

The 6 Music Prom
(Royal Albert Hall. 12th August 2013. Review by Alyn Shipton)

All over the printed programme there were bold claims that “this is not a crossover concert”. But, of course, that is exactly what it was, with the eclectic mix of a typical night on 6 Music (The Stranglers, Cerys Matthews and Laura Marling) juxtaposed with the contemporary end of the classical field: the London Sinfonietta playing Xenakis, Varèse, Berio and — maybe the one musician who genuinely bestrode Radios 3 and 6 — Steve Martland. And you may ask, why should this even get a look in on LondonJazz, when the only remotely jazzy track of the evening was Cerys Matthews’ inventive version of “Blueberry Hill”?

The answer is to do with improvisation. This was a pretty bold piece of improvisation between the two networks on the BBC that care less about ratings than they do about the quality of their music. Poor Radio 3 presenter Tom Service got a bit of heckling from Stranglers fans as he tried to explain what the evening was about, but his heartfelt plea for us to go along with it drew huge applause. Following the Stranglers’ explosive opening with “No More Heroes” the crowd was stunned by Varèse’s “Ionisations”. 13 percussionists playing for all they were worth with sirens and bells, and creating a remarkable musical landscape as effective now as it was in the 1930s.

Anna Stephany.Photo credit: BBC /Chris Christodoulou

Cerys Matthews got the Promenader crowd bopping (courtesy of a song in medieval Welsh) but the selfsame moshpit was tamed to reverential silence by Anna Stéphany’s emotionally charged reading of Berio’s “O King”, vocal fragments gradually coalescing into the final half sung, half spoken “Mar-Tin Lu-Ther King”.

And that was really what this Prom was about. Listening, and listening intently, to music that was by turns familiar and strange. The classical Prom audience enthused over the popular elements, while the Stranglers, Matthews and Marling fans were wowed — by and large — by the classical end of the repertoire. I’ve never been to a Prom where quite so many flushed tubby men in tee shirts squeezed past the crowd to get to the loo while the concert was actually going on, but that apart, it was about sharing musical experiences across genres, and doing so in a spirit of enthusiasm and cooperation.

The 2013 jazz Prom is yet to come, with Django Bates on 28 August, but as Steve Lamacq promised a repeat 6 Music and Radio 3 collaboration next year as this event ended, let’s hope that the jazzier end of both stations’ output can worm its way more firmly into the mix for 2014.

Categories: miscellaneous

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