Today I did the Brunel talk to the Ealing U3A. Having grown up in Ealing I experienced a particular thrill going back there. The ‘Empire of Ealing’, my father used to call the place, and I must admit that although it has changed very greatly since my youth, there is something special about Ealing that sets it aside from many London boroughs.
It is home, of course, to the famous Ealing Studios, and was home also, 200 years ago, to Spencer Perceval, the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated. A grateful nation awarded his widow the enormous sum of £50,000, and his daughters continued to live in Ealing, at Pitshanger Manor in Walpole Park, until the last one died in 1898 or 1899. Lady Byron, Lord Byron’s widow, ran a famous school in Ealing for disadvantaged boys. There was also Dr Nicholas’ school, whose famous old boys included Cardinal Newman and Thomas Huxley.
Ealing of course has a Brunel connection. His Great Western Railway goes right through the centre, and the Wharnecliff Viaduct at Hanwell is one of the best viaducts on the GWR.
The talk went very well, and my theories relating to the legend that Brunel aligned the Box Tunnel such that the sun shines through it on his birthday, were received with some amusement.
Long Live the Empire of Ealing!
Bruckner’s eighth symphony at the Proms on Friday night was a triumph. Definitely the most exciting symphonic experience I have had for years. Lorin Maazel conducted the Vienna Philharmonic, the orchestra that gave the work its original premier. The sound balance was perfect, with the brass not overpowering the rest of the orchestra as can happen with Bruckner. We had wonderful seats, 20 feet from the viola players, so it felt like we were right inside the orchestra. During the finale, I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck; now that’s something that doesn’t happen very often at concerts.
However, a new and ghastly phenomenon exhibited itself at this Prom – people fiddling with mobile ‘phones during the performance. This prompted a letter from me to the Daily Telegraph which they declined to publish, so I reproduce it here:
I have attended several truly memorable Promenade Concerts this year, but I have to report a very unwelcome new distraction. Added to the coughers, the fidgeters, and the shufflers of programmes, are the persons unable to stop fiddling with mobile ‘phones during the performances. What part of the announcement, ‘Please turn off all mobile ‘phones’ are they unable to comprehend? One of these menaces, with a garish colour screen, within one’s line of sight makes it impossible to enjoy the music. Action is needed to suppress this modern scourge.
I spoke to one woman about it during the interval. She had been flicking the screen of her mobile 'phone during the first half. She promised not to do it during the Bruckner, but I do find myself wondering what on earth people want to come to a concert for, if they then sit there fiddling with their ‘phones when they’re bored with the music.
I have been so mesmerized with Wagner at this year’s Proms, that I was quite unprepared for yesterday’s splendid offering of Beethoven and Bruckner.
First, there was a wonderful rendering of Beethoven’s second piano concerto. Christian Ihle Hadland, no lightweight himself, nevertheless brought a delightfully light touch to the piece, full of musicality and elegance. I have seen a young pianist belt out the Emperor concerto at the Proms with as much subtlety as a road accident, to such an extent that I felt sure the Steinway needed to be rebuilt afterwards. But this was quite different, and reminded me that gentle and subtle is good. The conductor, Vasily Petrenko, who looked about nineteen years old on the podium, controlled the Oslo Philharmonic with humour and authority; his facial expressions directed to various parts of the orchestra were often all that was necessary to achieve his wishes.
Since the concert started with the piano concerto, and the piano was prepared, the prommers were denied the opportunity to yell ‘Heave!’ from those in the arena, answered by a ‘Ho!’ from the gallery as the piano lid was lifted. Instead, they broke into wild applause when the young concert leader, Elise Båtnes, played the ‘A’ on the piano for the orchestra to tune to. Whether or not she was prepared for the reception, she certainly entered into the spirit, waving her violin in the air, hugely amused.
The Bruckner, though, was the highlight of the evening for me. I am very familiar with his fourth symphony, ‘The Romantic’, but this was the first time I had heard it in concert. It did not disappoint. Poor old Bruckner! If one is to believe Wikipedia, he proposed, unsuccessfully, to a number of young girls but never married. He was an accomplished organist; a simple provincial man, described by Mahler as ‘half simpleton, half God’. After listening to the eighth symphony at a Prom years ago, Bernard Levin wrote in The Times the following day, ‘Bury me to Bruckner!’
The symphony was magnificent, with its strong brass, counterpointed sometimes with quite lilting almost dance-like music from the strings. When I was at Essex University, Gordon Crosse, an English composer, was in residence; during a group discussion on Mahler, I asked him about Bruckner. He was totally dismissive, talking about endless scales, arpeggios and repetitions. Well, sorry Gordon, but Bruckner is quite magnificent in the concert hall, particularly with the enthusiastic Prommers.
It was a most enjoyable concert, tainted only by around a dozen of the audience who seemed incapable of stifling coughs etc. Several people near me did successfully stifle coughs and sneezes so it can be done. There were a few occasions when I could have quite cheerfully strangled the coughers, particularly during the quiet passages in the Beethoven.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs