His Peculiar Menagerie

Prommers gather in the arena of the Royal Albert Hall, 7.25 p.m.
Prommers gather in the arena of the Royal Albert Hall, 7.25 p.m.

tubaWe’ve gone for seats in the grand tier, in the last box to the right of the orchestra, giving us the closest view but arguably not perfectly balanced sound, however I can hear every instrument and follow the action from solo violin, to cor anglais to glockenspiel. The Prommers, the members of the audience who stand, sit or lie down in the arena, might be closer to the conductor but they don’t have the unrestricted view of the entire orchestra that we’re getting.

Some of the players don’t have the option of tuning their instruments off stage so during the interval I get a chance to draw the harpist tuning up. The kettle drum player has a method of tuning his drum during the performance, turning the keys and keeping his ear close to the edge of the drum. I think of a drum as a background beat that doesn’t really need any tuning but when it comes to finishing off some of the pieces the kettle drum really does have to hit the right note.


harpistRavel’s Mother Goose and Debussy’s La Mer are the old favourites that brought us here but the British premiere of a Symphony for Violin, Chorus and Orchestra by Lera Auerbach, The Infant Minstrel and His Peculiar Menagerie, is an event in itself.

Edward Gardner conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra but I decide to miss out on the chance to sketch him in action because I don’t want to miss a note of the music. His conducting style combines the necessary precision and expression with a touch of wry humour and just a hint of mime. His peculiar menagerie of performers includes several glockenspiels, a musical saw, two harps and five vocal soloists including countertenor Andrew Watts. I’d have liked to have drawn them too.

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