Music · Sport

Week 101: BBC Proms Weekend 8

The working week would be somewhat abbreviated, but I still managed to get a bit done. I now had data in a format that would be useful for generating some plots about the indirect detection rates. I spent the first few days of the week ironing out a few bugs, before having to chase through the code to check the units and dimensions of all of the data.

On Tuesday evening, Joanna and Danny invited Annika, Jacqueline, Kevin, Margaret and I around for a video game night. They had moved back into the centre of town instead of out on the fringes, and we were now all within walking distance again. After some issues setting up, we managed to all log in and multiplayer together. Some, notably Annika and Kevin, were remarkably adept at play, I was happily average, Jacqueline did well as a novice, and Margaret stayed back and watched. I couldn’t stay too late, as I had an early tennis game booked the next morning, but the rest of them stayed up and socialised until well into the early hours of the morning.

On Thursday, Jacqueline and I would resume our Proms journey for the summer. We had already been to five proms earlier in the month, and we now had weekend passes for several more. However, our weekend passes were due to start on Friday, and I really wanted to go to Prom 64, on Thursday night. On the schedule was Verdi’s Requiem, so we headed down a day early to make the most of the weekend.

We headed together by train to Liverpool Street Station, in the City of London. Unlike weekends past, this time we would travel around London predominately on the Tube, rather than our bikes. Jacqueline would be jetting off to Amsterdam for a conference at the end of the weekend, and did not want to have to deal with her luggage on a bike.

Our first journey was a trip to South Kensington to get queue tickets for the concert. Turning up at or just past nine o’clock means that you get given a raffle ticket with your place in the queue, and you can go away and do other things until an hour before the performance. Jacqueline headed back across town to her London lab. I didn’t have any work to do in London, nor anywhere to do it, so I opted instead to tick off some more real tennis courts. My first goal was Leamington, three quarters of the way to Birmingham, but only just over an hour on a rather comfortable train and cheap too. It wasn’t too much of a hassle to get the tube around to Marylebone and take the train up through the Chilterns.

Once I arrived in Leamington, it was short walk across the River Leam to the real tennis courts in the middle of the town. There is quite a storied history of the club here; back in the nineteenth century, its members invented and first played lawn tennis as we know it today. The club was also the last in the UK to admit women, now only New York is gentlemen only. They have made some effort over the last decade to improve their image, though progress is slow. On the day I was there, they were renovating the men’s changing rooms, so I was told to use the ladies instead. That also meant that over the course of my matches, there was constant hammering and noise coming from the renovations. Ben, the pro there was rather friendly, however, though I struggled with the court, the penthouses half a foot lower than at Cambridge.

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Having played my two matches, it was time to head back into London, arriving back into Marylebone with plenty of time to spare to get back around to the South Kensington, where I met up with Jacqueline again. After getting a few snacks, we headed back up to the Royal Albert Hall and queued up for the Requiem.

Owing to our early arrival in the queue in the morning, we were in the second row for the performance. Put simply, it was electrifying. The original mezzo had woken up sick, and they had managed to draft in a high-profile replacement by the performance, who had performed the work in Nottingham a few months ago, and she slotted in perfectly. Jacqueline was most impressed by the performance of the soprano. But in the Verdi Requiem there is no sensation like the impressive intro of the Dies irae, with the screaming choir, booming drum and rapid strings. After the performance, we went to Soho for dinner before hopping on a tube up to Camden, where we would be staying with Jolee, one of Jacqueline’s friends from Canada.

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Our second day of our second weekend began the same way that many other proms days begin: with the morning pilgrimage to the Royal Albert Hall to collect a low-numbered queue ticket. Jacqueline again headed out for work, and I again headed out to another real tennis court. I took a train from Paddington out to Reading, and then down to Crowthorne. Today’s court was at Wellington College, and is the newest court in the world, opening only two years ago. It forms part of a larger sports complex at the elite independent school. Nonetheless, the club was open and friendly. I only had one match scheduled, which went over about an hour and a half, ending an even two sets all. It marked the twentieth court I had played on in the UK over the past twelve months, with only seven more eluding me.

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I caught a train back to London via Reading, and once again met up with Jacqueline at South Kensington. We grabbed some snacks, because there would be two rather unique Proms over the course of the evening. The first, featured to familiar early twentieth century works bookending the performance: Ravel’s La Valse and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. But the middle performance was perhaps the more captivating: Berio’s Sinfonia. For this piece, the orchestra is joined by eight amplified voices, which echo whispers or shout words. There is a lot of dissonance in the music and eeriness to the work as a whole. Some of it sounded like someone was playing with presets on a synthesiser, with various contrasting poetic quotes in French or English, or other vocal sounds with orchestra hits in the background. The third movement, differed, with familiar musical works playing in the background and one of the singers recounting a poem in English, and the other seven echoing or rebutting him. Then, the piece broke the fourth wall and became self-aware as a piece of music. It was all rather strange, but really worked in the chamber that is the Royal Albert Hall.

After Prom 65, we exited the theatre then lined up for the next, Prom 65a. This was a completely different affair. This prom featured Senegalese popular music star Youssou N’Dour, performing a selection of Senegalese and African style music, with their band featuring a saxophonist, several guitarists, a few drummers and Youssou singing his music. The style was a blend of jazz, rock, and Latin-American known as Mbalax. It was all very upbeat, rhythmic and catchy. Some of the pieces were in French, others in English, and a few in the Senegalese Serer language. The audience quickly got into it, at least, those of them who weren’t die-hard white-haired white regular prommers who preferred violins and trumpets. Soon enough, everyone was dancing away. With our feet still tapping, we headed back up to Camden for the night.

Our Prom weekend continued on Saturday, opting for a little bit of a sleep in before trekking back to the Royal Albert Hall for our queue tickets. Today, Jacqueline didn’t need to go to her London lab, so we instead headed to Piccadilly Circus to meet with Jolee for brunch. We went to a restaurant with the rather strange combination of fried duck with waffles. Jacqueline headed out with Jolee to help her move out of her apartment, while I had the afternoon to myself in London.

After a bit of thought, I decided to head out to visit the Lawn Tennis museum at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon. It took a tube ride and a bus to get out there, but when I arrived I immediately got the impression that this was a hallowed place in sport. The museum, which recounts the history of Lawn Tennis, the Championships and the Grand Slam opens. They had a good selection of exhibits on the evolution of clothing and racquets, with clips and movies showing how the style of play has evolved over the last hundred years or so. My ticket included a trip into Centre Court, the largest of the courts at the Club. I joined up with the six others on the brief tour which took us into the arena and the row of seats along the edge of the court. The grass was already recovering from the recent Championships, and would continue to be monitored until next year. I remarked on how compact it all felt, and amazed at the fact that the massive facilities were only used for a few weeks every year.

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My time at Wimbledon complete, I took a bus and tube back to South Kensington where I met up with Jacqueline again. We headed up to the Royal Albert Hall for Prom 66. This prom was a much more traditional arrangement, with an overture, a concerto and a symphony. The concert was performed by the Berlin Philharmonic, one of the most famous orchestras in the world. I wasn’t too impressed by Schmidt’s symphony, but was quite amazed by the young Chinese female pianist who played Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, which was so well received that the audience demanded two encores, and would have continued had the concert master not intervened. We headed back up to Camden to finish the day.

It was the last day our Proms weekend. Jacqueline needed to head to the airport and couldn’t come to the two proms on today. She was heading to conference in Amsterdam, so these would both be Proms attended alone. I headed out to the Royal Albert Hall to pick up a decent queue ticket. As the first prom of the day was a matinee, I decided not to venture too far, heading through Hyde Park in search of some snacks, before settling down on the edge of Round Pond. There, there was a regatta of remote controlled sail boats. They were racing around a course, and it was simply relaxing to sit and watch them navigate the gentle breeze across the artificial lake.

Prom 67 started in the early afternoon, and featured the Boston Symphony Orchestra. There was just one piece played, Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. I generally enjoy the journey that the Mahler Symphonies go on, featuring an epic six movements over around 100 minutes of continuous performance. The highlight movement was the fifth, which featured an alto soloist and two choirs, which surrounded the Royal Albert Hall in a beautiful noise.

After the show, I went outside to relax on the steps of the Royal Albert Hall before it came time to queue for the final prom of the weekend. The Berlin Philharmonic were back for their second Prom of the summer. The most notable piece here being Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, which the orchestra blitzed through at a rapid pace, keeping an intense energy and broad excitement throughout. Even the slow movements seemed a little rushed, but it kind of worked. Prom weekend now over, having now been to eleven over the summer. There would still be two to come, but they would have to wait until another weekend. For now, went back to Liverpool Street to take the late night train back up to Cambridge.

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