Friday, 17 July 2009

Pre-Proms surfacing

This has become relentlessly operatic, I know, but to paraphrase the motto of our Yankeediva (see below), ‘it’s all been good’ – unsurpassably great, in fact, what with Rusalka, Falstaff and Barbiere close on the heels of meeting the Anderssons. And it may continue a bit operaticky for a while, when it continues at all, until I get to my first Proms the week after next. Photos above and below are by Chris Christodoulou for the BBC, whom I'll be calling upon over the season as before.

Was going to Haitink’s Mahler 9 on Monday but decided to give up the ticket as friend Andrew Hammond is celebrating his imminent succentorship at St Paul's Cathedral in style. I felt it would do him a dishonour to roll up late and Gustav-drunk (those last cries and whispers, if they work, are not going to leave one in a party mood). How many times do I need to hear Haitink conduct Mahler 9, anyway? Supreme musician though he is, his interpretations are rather carved in stone these days, so I don’t expect much variation from the last occasion. The LSO, at least, will be relieved to be digging a little deeper than they did with Gergiev last June.

So my first two Proms will probably be Petrushka with an 8-year old on 27 July and Firebird on the Tuesday because I now have to talk Stravinsky with the best animateur in the business, Chris Cook, at 5.15 in the Royal College of Music just south of the Albert Hall. I’m replacing indisposed choreographer Richard Alston, big shoes into which to step. The scheduled appearance is for 19 August, when I’ll be discussing Shostakovich with that nice Andrew McGregor and a fellow Russianist I very much respect, Philip Ross Bullock. Edited versions are due to appear on R3 in the 20-minute intervals. Crikey, the studio folk will have to work fast to whittle us down from the three-quarters-of-an-hour mark.

The next week and a bit, where no Proms hugely appeal, will be a good time to take stock, have leisurely suppers with friends and maybe catch up on a play or two. In the meantime, the Proms schedule is once again to be found here.

Amazing how many Proms have sold out already (in the seats department only, of course – I intend to hit the arena for quite a few).

On Sunday - just a couple of updates to 'Farewell, Ted and Joan', which was so soon left behind in the ongoing whirl of life. There's an informed precis of the various obits on, while in the Observer, Boudicca Downes talks about her extraordinary parents and the last moments. Incidentally, the naming of 'Crac' (Caractacus) and 'Bo' misled me into thinking Ted and Joan must be flag-waving tories, whereas he was a staunch socialist and a passionate NHS supporter. Their liberal conversation soon disabused me of that error.


Gemma Nolan said...

from Gemma Nolan
apropos previous blog comments from Cambridge Univ undergraduates, I thought you might like to know that next Wed, 22 July, ALL the main choirs of Cambridge will be performing at the Proms: King's College, StJohn's, Trinity, Gonville&Caius and Clare Colleges.
By the way, I notice from your earlier blogs that you were at Edinburgh University. People go on about the elitism of Oxbridge, but staying with my sister Clare(doing Classics at EdinUniv) I met far more inbred, thick old Etonian "Hooray Henry", more money than sense, people than I have ever encountered at CambUniv.
Gemma Nolan, Trinity, Cambridge.

David said...

Indeed, Gemma, pertinent and duly noted. The programme doesn't quite do it for me personally, but I might tune in to bits of it should I be home.

Edinburgh (where I read classics, too - or started off doing so, and switched to English and Greek, should have done Russian, my one regret) has become much more hoorayish over the years. As a keen member of the 'Bedlam' University Theatre Co I was always on the fringes of the hoorays. And how about St Andrew's since the Prince went there?

Christine Thompson said...

From Christine Thompson, Upper Street, Islington, N1
Dear David
re your last two comments:
I quite enjoyed my History degree at Edinburgh University, graduating in 1983, but as a workingclass girl from Bathgate I definitely found the upper crust of that university difficult to deal with. In tutorials the public schoolboys and posh conventgirls completely ignored the rest of us and just brayed away to one another about their weekends away in Perthshire at somewhere owned "by a friend of Daddy". I don't think they meant to make you feel left out, but that was the result. And their superconfidence in approaching ANYTHING was quite daunting. I hope that your experiences of such people were not so irritating.
Christine Thompson

David said...

I was actually rather ambiguous about the whole set-up, as a grammar school boy slightly seduced by certain aspects of the public-school largesse - a bit like the protagonist of Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty (except there were no drugs in sight except the odd passed-around joint).

After all, I did benefit from paying only £17 a week for a huge room in a Dundas Street flat, purchased for a good friend at university by his father.

And some people I knew really did say 'OK - yaar'. Has that gone underground now? I never hear it anymore.

David Damant said...

David Damant writes

One must be a bit careful about intelligence. As Hilaire Belloc said - "The thing of ultimate effect is CHARACTER, not intellect". I my days at Cambridge many of the thicker Upper Class were at Magdelene ( they have now obviously been squeezed out). I remember helping a man there to fill out his May Ball application form, which was clearly a daunting intellectual task for him. He is now a Lord Lieutenant, admired by all.

My guess is that class distinctions are dissolving. I know a noble Earl ( vast wealth) who affects an Essex accent so as to mix in.

David said...

But in that Lord Lieutenant's case, would it not be a case of Old Boys' Network rather than simple Character?

Mind you, I have trouble doing something simple like filling in a form. As my travelling companion round Turkey, Emma, had to explain to some delightful folk on the Black Sea coast when I couldn't work out what to do with a hazelnut, 'Cok zeki - praktik deyil' (he's very intelligent but not very practical).

David Damant said...

David Damant writes

Being a Old Boy helps to propel one along, and indeed up, but becoming a Lord Lieutenant requires qualities - and my original point was that, as Belloc argued, maybe what matters is qualities of "Character, not Intellect"

JVaughan said...


My own Proms of most interest, which largely should come as no surprise to you, are Sir Charles's Elgar/Delius/Holst concert this coming Saturday, though I own his recordings of all works thereon, Miss Gritton's participation in Holst's _First_ _Choral_ _Symphony_ the following evening (I hope these forces bring this late work of his more to life for me than that great Hol
(Holstian), Sir Adrian, seemed to do in his recording from the 70's, Sir Mark's Mendelssohn _Lobgesang_, Sir Charles's G&S _Patience_, and, with a good deal of potential trepidation as per possible musicological decisions with which I would personally disagree, Handel's _Samson_, again with La Gritton, this time as Dalilah. By the bye, do you yet have her new Dutton disc of English orchestral songs, etc., which I have just ordered? I may also wish to at least sample Maestro McCreesh's _Creation_ before it disappears out of curiosity, though I know he has already recorded it and it has been available for a while. Now, before I leave here, I probably should check for other posts of yours which I have missed since my last visit.

Hoping, as usual, that this finds you well, and with renewed best wishes,

J. V.

Philip Eastwood said...

Dear David Nice
I am an avid reader of your blog as well as a keen prommer. Re the previous comments - I am a graduate of both Cambridge(MA) and Edinburgh(LLB,LLM) Universities, and I found both places evenly matched when it came to "Hooray Henry!" quoitient, although we sometimes called them Rahs or Sloanes. The ones I met at Edinburgh were inevitably Oxbridge rejects who couldn't cope with being branded a failure for the first time in their lives, something even Daddy's money, family connexions and a sixth-form place at the "best" public schools couldn't buy. One of them whimpered to me about the beauty of Magdalen, Oxford and how he couldn't deal with rejection from there, even though he was in one of the world's most beautiful cities(Edin). If you can't get into Oxbridge from Eton you must be thick.
Best wishes
Philip Eastwood, law lecturer.

David said...

Count yourself lucky to have experienced both, Philip, and show a little compassion for the less privileged, however gilded.

Well, I was an Oxbridge reject in Edinburgh, albeit a grammar-school boy, having sat the entrance exam in the fifth term of sixth form which is not an excuse - even though it was probably a mistake.

From the first day I set foot in Edinburgh, though, I had no regrets and have had none since. I chose it over Durham and York because of the music scene, which was (and is) marvellous - SCO, SNO, Scottish opera, plus plenty going on within the university.

Incidentally, I was advised in those days (the late 1970s) to apply for Keble, Oxford, as one of the few colleges which might accept non-public-school applicants. Seems rather shocking to look back on that - I'm sure the situation has changed.

David Damant said...

David Damant writes

These comments on the public school bias at Oxbridge seem to me to an extent exagerated. I believe about half the undergratuates are from public schools - OK that is way out of kilter but still there are opportunities for others - and one must not think that every "public school" is Eton. And in my very limited but direct experience ( some years ago) the colleges do adopt an open approach to selection. There is also a growing analysis under discussion as to how to spot future high achievers with good but not ( at the school stage) brilliant exams.Note that that is not positive discrimination

Alan Tattum said...

Dear Sir
David Damant is being charitable toward Oxbridge in his comments. When I was being interviewed at Trinity Cambridge in 1981, which offered me an conditional place on Alevels, which I then achieved,I was told by the tutor that "we always give a second look at the sons of Trinity men". The whole atmosphere of the admissions system was suffused with elitism and snobbery, the public school applicants in their own little clique, asking one another about their respective schools etc.."does Stonyhurst still have the Schools system ..bla, bla" As a state school applicant from Wales I was definitely made to feel inadequate by all this, and I am in no doubt that this was intended. Academically I enjoyed my four years at Trinity, but the public school boys there were pretty unbearable on the whole and not even particularly bright. With any luck I will not encounter them or their arrogance again.
Alan Tattum

David Damant said...

Two friends of mine whose daughters were applying to Cambridge around four years ago were advised NOT to reveal that they (the fathers) had been to Cambridge/the same college. So maybe things have changed as regards that aspect. I wonder if Alan Tattum is reporting on his memories of the more tedious of the upper class people.....I lived in Cambridge for many years ( 1960 to 1999 ) and I thought that in the later years the bright people just mixed in.

Christopher Young said...

I agree with the comments of Alan Tattum regarding Oxbridge elitism. I was offered a place at Balliol in 1984 provided I achieved certain A levels, which I managed to get, to read History. Even at Balliol, supposedly the most left-wing/liberal college in Oxbridge, I was, as a comprehensive school leaver, shocked at the public school hegemony prevalent in Balliol, and the snobbery and boorish elitism on constant display there. State school, working-class "oiks" like myself were routinely sidelined and subtlely ostracized from partaking in many college activities and sports, and the state school system was regularly verbally trounced and trashed by the Balliol "boaties" at formal dinner in hall, as if the whole world could by choice have gone to Winchester or Westminster instead. Unlike Jude the Obscure, I did actually get into Oxford, but I left with a strong feeling that the public school system actually deforms and distorts its products, giving them a false sense of self-worth and superiority. The truth finally hit them when they often failed to achieve much academically, even "going down without a degree" on more than a few occasions. What a sad waste of valuable and precious university places, when those public schoolboys couldn't even be bothered to do a bit of work. I graduated in absentia and have not been back since. Despite the claims of David Damant, I was one of very few workingclass undergraduates at Balliol.
Yours etc
Christopher Young

David said...

I'd agree with you, David, from my own experience in Edinburgh. Call it the Line of Beauty effect if you like, but as I've said above or elsewhere, I was seduced by certain aspects of the clever rich (and often the wealth was never displayed, though of course it was always there as a given).

And of course many of my best friends from university days, or more recently acquired, take certain privileges for granted. Most of the time it doesn't figure, but of course the consciousness of wealth and/or privilege does underpin a lot of what they do.

Alan Tattum said...

In reply to David Damant, I don't recall any of the upper crust at Trinity Cambridge not being "tedious"(his word). My Welsh workingclass accent was often mocked by them in imitation. When I took exception to this, I was sneeringly told that I was resentful only because I had "a massive chip on (my) shoulder from having gone to a comprehensive". I quote exactly.
Alan Tattum

David Damant said...

This difference of opinion on the class system at Oxbridge is a bit odd. I wonder if the split is a different one. Maybe most of the state school undergraduates at Oxbridge are middle class - parents being professional - doctors, lawyers, etc - or managerial people, having libraries, going to concerts etc, and in many cases graduates themselves. Then they mix in easily with the public schoolians(except for the boring ones, who may be the most prominent). This still leaves an important cut, of course,in the case of working class pupils, but it is not of the same size.

Alan Tattum said...

To David Nice
I am not clear what you are arguing in response to Mr Christopher Young's comment(see below on this blog). You mention
1. Being seduced by the clever rich
2. Your best friends from University(with whom presumably you are still in contact)
Can you make clear to me: are these two categories now one and the same group, or are they mutually exclusive of one another, or what?
It seems to me that you have made some of your "best friends" at university simply by being seduced by their largess and patronage, or by their having gone to Eton or wherever, always a seductive thing to grammar schoolboys like you and me. That is not the best foundation for a "best friend"
Alan Tattum

David said...

You sound rather severe, Alan. To clarify: both at university and now I had/have a mix of friends from all backgrounds. Some of my present friends remain so from university days; others are more of more recent standing.

In both cases, I think I've learnt to love the person rather than the circumstances, whatever the initial aura. Real friendships wouldn't survive the kind of superficial criteria you're suggesting.

Casting the net more widely, isn't it always better to try and find anyone's true qualities, however difficult that may seem? Though I can understand that might be more difficult if there was a sense of being an outcast and mocked. I never experienced that at university, whereas at (grammar) school I had it all the time. No wonder I seized gratefully on the culture more privileged folk seemed to take for granted.