Music · Travel

Week 46: BBC Proms Weekend 5

We arrived back from our Scotland adventure very late on Tuesday evening, and headed straight out to our respective beds. Exhausted and weary from the travel, I slept soundly and smoothly.

On Wednesday, I rode out to Parker’s Piece to meet Jacqueline again. She had a visitor from Canada, a former student who was in Europe for some piano competitions. She had just come from Vienna and had to spend a few days in London. We grabbed lunch at a pizza restaurant and chatted about how things were in Vancouver. Later, we found some pianos at Churchill college and she had a bit of a tinker around with them, much to our delight.

On Thursday, I decided to resolve an issue I had been having for the past while. The small pin in the power jack of my laptop had come loose, which meant that the laptop only charged when the power cable was perfectly balanced on the power cord. It was getting inconvenient and it needed to be replaced. I spend some time looking around at possible repair locations, and found one on the eastern side of Cambridge out near the airport. After a tennis game with Jacqueline in the morning, I hauled my bag on and rode out down the main road to the shop. They inspected it and said that they had the part in stock, and would fix it within a day. But the thing which stuck in my mind was that the guy who was serving me was also one of the waiters at Darwin College. It was very weird to see someone I knew well from one role serving a completely different one. Riding back to the centre of town, I opted to take a different route; I found some long grass and narrow dirt paths to get a bit of cyclocross-style riding in. Finally, I spent the afternoon at tennis again, playing a guy called Rob for the first time, which I won.

Tennis continued on Friday morning; following a scheduling mess, I played a game against Joe and then another against Paul, drawing both. I got a text telling me that my laptop was ready to be picked up, so I rode out the fun, off-road way, and then straight to the train station where I met Jacqueline. It was weekend number five of the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, and we had a pass to all four concerts.

We took the train to Liverpool Street Station, however on this trip to London, we decided to bring our bikes with us. This had the advantage of not having to hire the TfL bikes every time we wanted to go somewhere, and not having to worry about returning them after half an hour. We rode along the fantastically segregated East-West Cycle Superhighway along the north side of the Thames all the way to Fulham, the same apartment we had stayed at for the first weekend of the Proms. After dropping off our bags, we went straight to the Royal Albert Hall. We were now veterans of the queuing system, so we got in with little trouble. You have to get a raffle ticket from a guy which tells you where in the queue you have to stand when the doors open.

Prom 35 was a semi-staged production of the Broadway musical “Oklahoma!”. It was one of the longest proms we would go to, the run time approaching three hours. We had arena tickets, which meant that we were down the front in the standing room for the whole time. While it was annoying to stand, it was a great view of the actors. Normally in musicals, a limited orchestra sits in a pit in front of the stage, but this time, they sat at the back of the stage, and the actors performed and sang from the front; there was no hiding the music. Of the performers, perhaps the most exciting was Robert Fairchild playing Will Parker; he is a trained ballet dancer so his dance was incredible, and didn’t do too bad at singing. But the show was perhaps stolen by the character of Aunt Eller, who had a lot of wit and charm. We grabbed dinner after the show at Comptoir Libanais in South Kensington, a Lebanese restaurant with an excellent taste to price ratio.

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With the proms in the evening, we had the rest of the weekend to fill in London. On Saturday, we cycled back along the Thames to Potters Fields, a small park on the Southbank between Tower Bridge and the City Hall. There was a Latin American food festival, with lots of stalls selling various kinds of Mexican and South American foods: grills, burritos and much more. After a long detour to find an ATM near Borough Market, we satisfied ourselves with lunch and headed on through the Isle of Dogs and the Greenwich Foot Tunnel under the Thames out to North Greenwich. There was a community festival on; with jazz playing in the background and various stalls and activities around. We tried our hand at the table tennis, and walked through a few of the art exhibits, before sitting down on the deck chairs and enjoying the atmosphere.

We rode back into Soho in search of an early dinner. We went to a south-east Asian restaurant called Banana Tree for some satay and laksa. Then it was time for Prom 36, once again back at the Royal Albert Hall. This concert was about a pair of Unfinished Symphonies: one by Schubert and one by Mahler. The first only contained two movements, so when it stopped for the interval after only half an hour, I was left rather confused. The second was complete in length, but only in draft form and another composer came later to finish it off.

On Sunday, we went out to brunch in Chelsea before heading out to The Mall. A few weeks ago, we saw the end of the London-Surrey Classic bike race on the famous road. Today, as part of the athletics world championships, the World Championships Racewalking was being held on a two kilometre circuit up and down The Mall. There were four events on: the men’s and women’s 50km and 20km walks. We stayed around for a few hours watching the walkers come past, all the while streaming the race live to my phone via Eurosport so we could see what was happening on the rest of the course.

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After the race, we ventured out to Hyde Park to enjoy the warm summer’s day. We found a place to sit and relax, and were met later by Krittika and Kevin, who were also heading to the night’s Prom. We walked over together, lined up, and headed in.

Prom 37 was a double Rachmaninov. First, it was his Piano Concerto No 3, followed later by his Symphony No 2. The former was performed with Alexander Gavrylyuk, who managed a smiling grimace all throughout. The concert began with the Latvian Radio Choir slowly walking and singing their way through the Arena, parting the crowds and coming up close to us. For the second part, they sang down to us from up in the gallery. It was a intimate and emotive way of starting a concert.

Prom 38 followed a few hours after Prom 37. We grabbed some food from a nearby convenience store and got to near the front of the queue. That meant that we were right up close to the front of the performance. There were no instruments at all for Prom 38. Instead it was just the Lativan Radio Choir performing Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil. There were only a few dozen in the choir, and the arena wasn’t as packed as it otherwise sometimes is. Their voices were soft and soothing and it was an excellent way to end the Proms for the week.

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Finally, we headed out in search of a late dinner, eventually getting something from a pub with loud music, and heading back to Fulham, ready for Cambridge again in the morning.

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