Monday, March 2, 2009

My First Last Night Of The Proms!

I promised I'd do a quick write-up of the Proms, so here I am!

I'll apologise in advance if I offend any Brits (well, actually if I offend anyone, for that matter!), but I'm an Aussie, and anti-Royalist, and I couldn't help finding it all rather amusing, seeing a pack of Antipodean Kiwis waving Union Jacks and wearing silly hats, singing anachronistic songs about a long-dead Empire and a Monarch who has only visited this country a handful of times.

Can Lizzie The Second place New Zealand on a world map? Does she know what a sheep looks like? Would she ride a Segway up Baldwin Street? Whadayareckon? Your guess is as good as mine.

However, getting back to the Proms. We were awesome!

Yes, we were. We really were. Admit it, people! We ROCKED.

It's time to give ourselves a pat on the back, and say, without reservation, that old Queenie-poohs should have taken it upon Her Royal We-ness to come to Dunedin and attend the Proms, because I think she would have had a ripper of a time. And no Cliff Richard, which has to be a bonus.

As you probably know (but I'm going to tell you anyway), we started the night with God Save The Queen and God Defend New Zealand. We were LOUD. We were SEXY. We were WONDERFUL. God had His ears on, and was almost certainly duly impressed.

Then into a whole stack of great stuff by the Sinfonia (but not quite as good as the openers, because WE weren't singing!). I rather enjoyed my top, back-row view of the audience, because from where I was you could see everything.

I could see audience members dressed as Beefeaters and Guardsmen and Morris dancers, and even an old lady - who went on to win the prize as Best Promenader - dressed as Queen Victoria herself! And she was highly amused.

It was a colourful sight, looked like loads of fun, and almost made me wish I were down in the peanut gallery instead of up on stage!


The highlight of the evening was of course our own performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Toward The Unknown Region, the text of which is of course taken from Whitman's great work Leaves Of Grass (Book 30), and speaks of the crossing over from life into death.

Toward The Unknown Region is a stunning work, and in it you can hear many similarities with Vaughan Williams' much larger masterpiece, A Sea Symphony, which also uses text from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.

Enough of the scholarly rubbish, as it's pretty boring to everyone but me, I'm guessing.

The Proms was certainly a huge success. A notable mention was Alex Campbell-Hunt's new work Sakura Trees, which was very beautiful. I enjoyed it immensely, it was very well received, and I know that many of us on stage and in the audience are looking forward to hearing Alex's next offerings.

The soloists were great. I particularly enjoyed Tom McGrath's performance of Shostakovich's Piano Concerto 2 (movements 2 & 3) - but then, I admit that piano has always made me swoon.

Throughout the Proms, Helen Medlyn did an excellent job of her performances, and showed us what really first-class talent New Zealand can produce. She was great - as were her outfits!

Doing it all again - in Oamaru!

Come Saturday afternoon I found myself boarding a bus for Oamaru, ready to do it all over again at the Oamaru Opera House.

Just to prove a point, no sooner had we boarded than we were pushing uphill out of town (don't mention the gear changes!) against some of the south island's finest summer weather. Not. And I was wishing I'd brought an umbrella. Typical - whenever I bring one it doesn't rain. Leave the brolly at home and it downpours.

I never cease to be amazed at how beautiful this country of ours is. The absolute irony of us all going along to wave the flags of another, far less beautiful (and wonderful, in my opinion) country and sing its songs instead of ours was not lost on me. Regardless of this, I had thoroughly enjoyed my First Last Night Of The Proms, and was determined to enjoy my Last Last Night of the Proms too.

After a rather slow bus convoy, we finally arrived, and were ushered into one of the strangest and most dungeon-like green rooms I've ever experienced.

In all fairness, the Opera House is still being built. And this was one of the 'incomplete' sections. But I did feel rather like a Star Trek Red Jacket or a nameless extra in a Dr Who episode, and I wondered when the four-headed, fifty-foot-long-fanged creatures would be released to dine on us.

A quick rehearsal, then we all headed over to a local hotel for drinks followed by an extremely delicious dinner. Full marks for this one. No matter what your tastes or inclination in food, it was provided. Yumm-oh! I won't admit to the actual number of roast potatoes I consumed, but yes, it was obscene. And the dessert was delicious. My dining companions were friendly and fun, and dinner exceeded expectations. Vairy noice.

Back to the concert venue. Problems getting 160 people through three toilets in succession in time for a concert. Note to any architects reading this: PLEASE build public buildings with more bathrooms than you think will be needed! There's nothing worse than waiting in line with ten (or more) people ahead of you, and knowing you're due on stage in two minutes!

The concert was good fun. I won't say we were quite as spectacular as we had been in Dunedin (you always perform better to a home crowd), but I had a good time. Snapshots in my memory include the audience member who won the prize to conduct the Sinfonia. I've never seen such raw talent! Arvin - I must get a copy of your footage - please!!!

And also our esteemed musical director David, making a complete, ummmm, Brit of himself with plastic hat and Union Jack cape. There are some "looks" we can carry off, and there are others that should be carried off. Permanently. (Yes, I'm teasing. Being an Aussie I can't resist stirring a Pom - it's in my blood.)

In short, although this supposedly "short" write-up of the Proms has been anything but, Oamaru was fun. I had a great time. At the end of the night there was mad confusion as we all scrambled through mud and rain onto three buses. I don't know how anyone could tell whether we all made it home. Maybe we didn't? If the tenor section is missing on Tuesday, the first place to look is the toilet queue at Oamaru Opera House.

The journey home was filled with wonderful views of the neon lights of the bustling city of Oamaru - changing from red, to amber, then green, and back to red again.

The views of the bays were similarly awe-inspiring - if you had a very vivid imagination you could almost see beyond the drizzle and the pitch black to the sweeping beaches and rolling hills. Almost.

I finally got home at around midnight - I think. I had to catch a taxi from the Octagon home, but no dramas - the drivers were all avoiding the north end of the city after the liquid delights of last week's toga parade, and hailing a cab for any person not resembling a drunken student was easy-peasy.

In closing, I'd like to give huge thankyous to our wonderful committee, the Sinfonia, to David, and to everyone involved in organising our concerts for us. We, the humble choristers, expect everything to be beautifully organised and well-planned. And because you guys are so awesome, it always is! So thankyou - we do appreciate it very much, even though we may usually be too witless and self-centered to say so!

Bring on the rest of 2009! We'll be awesome!

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