Here at Starburst Towers our lives are busy: frantic, even. We try to fit too much into our lives, and find ourselves multi-tasking on multiple screens, without ever being able to truly focus on one activity. The ability to just sit, and observe, and be entertained, is an opportunity which is rarely afforded to us. As such, when an invitation to attend Prom 27 of the 2019 BBC Proms Season at the Royal Albert Hall arrived in our inbox, we were more than a little intrigued. In common with most people in the UK we’re familiar with the Proms from the annual ‘Last Night’ with its flag waving, anthem singing ‘prommers’ joining in with ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.
Prom 27 is very far from that slightly raucous audience-participation bonanza. Prom 27 is ‘The Sound of Space: Sci-Fi Film Music’. The venue is astonishing: it takes your breath away, and immediately starts to seduce you into a relaxed, convivial atmosphere. The idea of playing ‘popular’ music at The Proms is not a new development – Henry Wood, the founder of the proms, was attempting to entice audiences with shorter concerts of contemporary pieces back in the Edwardian era. That’s what makes this experience so special – you feel like you’re a part of history: that you’re a part of something bigger than this 75-minute concert with a somewhat eclectic programme.
The experience is more than we were expecting. As well as seats which rotate slightly to allow audience members to directly face the orchestra, an immense amount of stage lighting has been installed in the arena, and an array of screens have been arranged in a graceful curve immediately behind and just slightly above the orchestra. The lights move through a series of pleasing, calming yet suitably dramatic states throughout the Prom, and the screen has various elements which suggest the media product whose score we’re listening to at any particular point. The orchestra for this Prom is the London Contemporary Orchestra, conducted by Robert Ames. To match the relaxed vibe, they’re all dressed in normal clothes, rather than the formal black tie and tails combo that can feel stuffy.
As mentioned, the programme is mixed, moving through playbacks of soundtracks from classics such as Forbidden Planet, all the way to a suite of music from Netflix’s The Innocents. The pieces chosen are both classically classical, and thoroughly modern electronic. At one point the enormous pipe organ at the rear of the orchestra area gets called into service, and it’s a visceral moment – it feels like you could reach out and touch the music as the notes travel around the arena. There truly is something for everyone here.
Even if you’re not familiar with the individual pieces being played, or even their associated movies or TV shows, there is pleasure to be derived from just sitting and appreciating the music being played with immense skill. For a moment, in a busy summer, in our non-stop lives, this feels like a blissful moment where we can, for once, just pause, and appreciate the hypnotic quality of these evocative compositions.
Prom 27 is available on BBC Sounds until 5th September via this link.
The Prom was recorded for TV, and will be broadcast on BBC Four at 22:30 on Friday 9th August.