After annual leave, we were straight back into the studio, preparing an eclectic programme for our final Prom of 2011, with our principal guest conductor Jac van Steen. Comprising two concertos, book ended by a rousing Elgar overture and Kodály's rather exotic Háry János Suite, it was a really fun programme to play and so, a nice way to start back to work.
On Saturday 3 September, we drove to London for an afternoon rehearsal at the Royal Albert Hall. I knew the Prom had sold out, but was amazed by the queues of people waiting for tickets when we emerged from our rehearsal. There's always such a wide range of people queuing for tickets - it is wonderful to see so many people, from so many walks of life, coming to such an amazing festival of music.
Now, in between rehearsal and concert, I like to have something small but filling to eat and then a little bit of time to just sit down, but on Saturday, everything seemed to go wrong.
For convenience (and the perfectly-sized portion of bangers and mash) we planned to eat in the restaurant at the Hall, but it was so full and we didn't have enough time to wait. The next place we tried wasn't serving yet. Cursing myself for not having bought something at Reading services, I finally got a substandard sandwich and toddled back to the hall in a huff to change and warm up.
We opened with Elgar's rollicking 'Cockaigne' Overture. Devoid of a viola solo, it's no 'In The South', but still a fun play.
It was then on to the first concerto. Composed by our former Composer-in-Association, Michael Berkeley, the Concerto for Organ and Orchestra (soloist David Goode) was an opportunity to hear the Royal Albert Hall's organ played full throttle. It has 9997 speaking pipes! I liked the bit at the end when the off stage trumpets played their independent, meandering melodies - in the space of the Albert Hall, it was really effective.
After the interval (and a chance to cool off - was anyone else abnormally sweaty in the hall on Saturday night?), it was Rachmaninov's perennially popular Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. This is one of those works where it can be said that, at times, familiarity breeds contempt, however, Marc-André Hamelin's interpretation was gorgeous, with spice and pace in the fast variations, but tender and poignant, without ever being self indulgent, in the slower variations.
Until last season, I had never heard Kodály's Háry János Suite, but I think it's a fabulous work and it has a viola solo (scrumptiously played by Jorg Winkler). Even better, it has a cimbalom solo! Cimbalom duties were performed by Ed Cervenka and I'm hoping next time we perform this work, he'll let me have a go on the cimbalom. Fingers crossed.
So that's it from us this year! Goodbye Proms 2011 - see you in 2012!