The BBC Proms are a Mecca for classical musicians. If there was any audience in the world I could play for, it would probably be an audience at The Proms. Not only does its home the Royal Albert Hall cater for an audience of over 5,000, but in my experience it’s an audience like no other: a mix of dedicated fans and curious Prommers of all ages. Hundreds stand for the entire performance in the arena, and even more way up in the gallery. Some have season passes, others queue up (“prom”) for hours to snap up £5 tickets on the day!
You can imagine my reaction then when I received the good news that I’d have the opportunity to perform here alongside over 100 young musicians in an epic program that included Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring! The month-long project, developed in the small English seaside town home to Benjamin Britten’s legendary classical music festival, was instigated by the Britten-Pears Young Artist Program and appropriately named the Aldeburgh World Orchestra. You can read more about the audition process we went through on my earlier blog.
We met only a few weeks prior to our Proms debut. One hundred and twenty musicians drawn from over 30 countries made for a thrilling and culturally rich experience. We worked hard to put together two demanding programs, but, as I think most of us did, I cherished each day as an opportunity to meet someone new or experience something different. From Arabic improvisation nights to salsa dancing, our time resident in Aldeburgh and Snape was unforgettable.
Following two concerts at the beautiful Snape Maltings Concert Hall, we packed up our bags, said goodbye to the local pub and the iconic pebble beach we’d become so accustomed to and made our way to Munich, Ingolstadt and Amsterdam. Performing at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw was certainly a highlight of the tour. Renowned for its acoustics, it was the perfect venue for us to give our final performance of Shostakovich’s momentous Fifth Symphony.
With Olympic fever well and truly underway in London, it couldn’t have been a more exciting time to be arriving in town (give or take some queues and traffic). In a brief dress rehearsal we tested out not only how we would sound, but how we would fit on this new stage. With a program consisting of Britten, Mahler, Stravinsky and a world premiere BBC commission by English composer Charlotte Bray, Sir Mark Elder wasted no time moulding the orchestra to its surroundings. Backstage I had a few moments of déjà vu harking back two years ago to a wonderful tour with the Australian Youth Orchestra, also under the baton of Sir Mark Elder, when we performed Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony at the 2010 Proms.
The thrill of being on stage performing such an exciting program with a fantastically diverse group of energetic, passionate young musicians was a humbling experience I will not forget. It is these occasions that for me demonstrate so well the power of music to transcend cultural and geographic barriers. You can listen back to our concert via the BBC website.