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Abi's Proms highlights

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Abigail Appleton Abigail Appleton | 17:01 UK Time, Thursday, 17 September 2009

bocklin_isle_of_the_dead.jpgMy head is thick with drama this week (that's thick in a positive, creative way I hope - not thick as if with flu). We're trying to draw up a shortlist of plays to commission for next year. The floor of the room I work in at home is strewn with scripts and novels and long poems and CDs - systematically arranged though it doesn't look that way to anyone else in the house. I was reading Buchner for breakfast - not recommended (I'd recommend both Buchner and breakfast but not together

- more cheering to listen to Rob Cowan or Sara Mohr-Pietsch with the toast). So understand, when Graeme says, please nominate your highlights from the speech programmes around the Proms I think, OK but I'll do it very quickly, off the top of my head, and never mind that tomorrow I'll be kicking myself I didn't mention others.

It seems a lifetime ago in some ways but the very first Twenty Minutes sticks in my mind. In the interval of the opening concert, Moving Pianos gave us a gently humorous glimpse into some of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into preparing the concerts and a sense of the labyrinthine caverns and corridors hidden from public view in the Albert Hall. Pianos came up again much later in the summer in an unsentimental story by Carson McCullers - Wunderkind - in which a young pianist realises she's never quite going to live up to her early promise.

It's hard for me to choose between the broadcasts from the Literary Festival but Fiona Shaw reading Tennyson and talking about his poetry with Andrew Motion and Matthew Sweet, which you can still watch, has to be near the top and a passionate discussion of Sherlock Holmes later in the season, both in this year's Victorian series. For longer conversations of course there was another very strong series of Lebrecht Interviews. It's probably cheating to choose a whole series as a highlight so my next choice is a fragment - Stephen Hough in the presenter's box with Petroc Trelawny and Sean Rafferty for the opening and closing nights, bringing for me just the right mix of personal comment and expert insight.

And if I can sneak in one of my personal musical high points of the season it would have to be Xenakis's Ais. I'd never heard it before and found it deeply absorbing, one of those pieces of music you know is going to wind its way into your life. Unthinkingly I'd asked someone to the concert who'd only just been bereaved and when we opened the programme at another of the night's pieces, Rachmaninov's 'The Isle of the Dead', illustrated with Arnold Bocklin's dark and lonely picture of a coffin being taken across the water to a mysterious island, I wondered just how tactless this was going to prove to have been. Luckily, for us both, it was an evening that did more to reinforce the power of human creativity than the pain of mortality. It made me think how extraordinary the experience of each concert is with so many thousands of us in the hall feeling and thinking about the music in so many different ways.

Now back to play script reading. It's easier to choose broadcast highlights than it is to predict them.



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