This is sort of how it went...
Yesterday night it was off into town to meet old school friend for the Proms. Veterans of all day queuing, we now buy tickets in advance and sit in seats and stuff. We don't rush to the bar in the interval; she brought chocs with her. Mind you the RAH has the worst catering of any venue I go to in London and always has. Years ago I cryptically suggested to my Austrian friend that she picked up any refreshments she fancied at S Ken station; she said she was fine. We arrive at the RAH and she's wondering about coffee and cake. You'll be lucky.
But I digress because the Proms is not about remembering concerts past or marvelling at how we queued for 8 hours to hear the CBSO and Rattle do Mahler 7 in about 1988. Nor is it about studying the Season Ticket Holders' queue wondering what going to a concert every night for weeks is like and whether they aren't just a little bonkers. Raspberry trouser alert, etc.
No, first it was to the RCM Concert Hall for the pre-concert talk, chat thingy. I have to make another digression here because I was a Junior at the College and so the Concert Hall holds another whole raft of memories. It's all posh now and they've taken loads of the pictures away. Where is Sir Adrian Boult with all the blurry violin bows in front of him? Where is RVW, a great expanse of grey suit? And the chairs are comfy and just like primary school, it's small. But lots of great concerts to remember.
Anyway, the talk thingy was a lady from R3, James MacMillan and Andrew Carwood. AC went for what passes as the typical establishment view of the English Reformation as it affected music. That is into the vernacular, a lot more syllabic and a tendency not to go too overboard. Edward VI, got a mention even though he wasn't King of Scotland. Cranmer got a positive mention though Cardinal Pole didn't share AC's view of him, cf Chapter 8 of Duffy's latest book where Pole grapples with how to sort out the Archdiocese of Canterbury post Cranmer and what authority and apostolic succession mean when you have heretics about.
When we got to the bit about the place of sacred music and scared words in the secular concert hall. JM ran through a list of the greats of 20thC music who just happened to be believers. Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Messiaen as a trio surely make you think you'd like to join the club.
The questions from the audience (all directed at JM) were interesting. On the subject of the Credo, one person mused on how often it actually gets sung. 'Every Sunday, except in August,' I thought. Which is all very smug except that the reason for that is that it has to be so. In the EF, it just doesn't matter whether you maybe feel a bit lazy this week, it's happening. Feeling a bit tired on Corpus Christ? Lauda Sion will still have 24 verses and at a Requiem Mass you will sing the Gradual, Tract and Sequence one after the other. Another reason it doesn't get sung in the OF so much is because the naughty naughty practice of making the Gloria fit our wonderful secular verse-refrain template has never really taken off with the Credo. The only vernacular Credo that I know that does this also has a tune that sounds like Jingle Bells, not that such considerations are always sufficient to render a piece languishing unsung in the hymn book.
Then it was off to the concert. The MacMillan Credo has quite a small scoring of double woodwind, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timps and Strings, plus SATB chorus. Only having two horns and two trumpets means no super oomph brass and just timps, no novelty percussive effects. The chorus were never overwhelmed by a thunderous orchestra; it was all just right. The lack of vocal soloists threw the emphasis onto the words rather than who was singing them. Other things to like - a rather lovely moment for 3 solo violas, lots of scrunchy chords, a Credo III quote, three (?) quotes of the beginning of 'Tu es Petrus' at various choice moments in the text - nice one - and the overall effect was great - full of energy and discovering the text anew or in today's world just meeting the text.
I'd link to some reviews, but the three I read I son't agree with. The one in The Guardian received feedback from lots of people in the RAH who enjoyed the concert lots, thanks. A point that kept coming up was that there were too many contrasting sections, but that is inherent in the text. Some of it is quite poetic, some narrative about the life of Christ, some a list. If a composer is to react to each part of the text and have some time to do it what do you do? Go melismatic or repeat the text. Have the text treated one way by the chorus and another in the orchestra simultaneously. Also I think that with new works it takes a few performances for the piece to bed down for the performers and for the listeners. As world premières go, I found it very exciting. So there.
Bruckner 6 from the second half has been added to my need to know better symphonies list.
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Location:Royal Albert Hall, South Kensington