The final concert of the Second Half of the Proms (given that the Last Night does not count!) Monteverdi’s Vespers of the Blessed Virgin on its 400th anniversary, was another one that ordinarily I would not have chosen to attend, but one of the joys of having a season ticket is to be able to try all sorts of concerts that are slightly different. The hall was packed, and I don’t know whether this was because it was the last ordinary Prom of the season, or because people wanted to see this performance on period instruments. It was certainly demanding on the prommers, as it was 95 minutes long without an interval. (At the end I heard some people complaining that it really needed an interval, and the toilets were certainly very busy beforehand!)
The English Baroque Soloists specialise in playing on period instruments, and this naturally gave the orchestra quite a different sound compared to a modern orchestra. There were some weird and wonderful instruments, particularly the chitarrones, which are lutes with very long necks, and sackbuts, which I discovered are the strange-looking trombones (they brought in extra players, His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts, to boost their numbers).
The staging was also interesting. Shortly after the start, the children’s choir walked off-stage. I thought they didn’t do much, in fact I couldn’t recall them singing at all. Was it past their bedtimes? In fact, they climbed all the way up to the gallery, the same one inhabited by that other strange breed of prommer, and later sung from there. Some prommers behind me had puzzled over who the man was standing at the end of the children’s row, and it turned out he was their director who conducted up in the gallery. There were numerous other occasions where performers stood in different parts of the hall, at the rear or the side: 400-year-old surround sound, in effect, and arena prommers were definitely in the best position to appreciate it.
Most people survived the long stand without a break. The Vespers certainly made an impact on the audience, and were a more reflective end to the season in contrast to tomorrow – which everyone will be enjoying whether in person or on TV and radio.
Today the total collected by prommers for charity jumped from £80,000 to £82,000. OK, it might only be a just-over £1000 increase, but it still gave me satisfaction to know that my contribution yesterday was included in the total. A big round of applause for those who organise this collection each night.
Monteverdi Vespers of 1610
London Oratory Junior Choir
Schola Cantorum of The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School
English Baroque Soloists
His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts
Sir John Eliot Gardiner conductor