Jo and I went to the BBC Proms last night, and saw a new commision from John Casken, Symphony ‘Broken Consort’; Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major; and Stravinski’s Firebird Suite, all performed by the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. The BBC Phil was OK, hard to judge with the slightly murky sound from our vantage across the room.

For ‘Broken Consort’ they were augmented by a “Gypsy Ensemble” (compete with red sashes on the men and flowing skirts on the women amongst the formally-dressed Philharmonic) of accordion, mandolin, led-outfitted electric violin and ‘cimbalon’, which seems to be the guts of a harpsichord played with zither-like hammers. They had some fine moments of almost-Asian music, but it failed to grip your ears or your emotions for much of the piece.

The best instrumentalist was Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s piano on the Ravel concerto–jaunty, fluid, perfect, but somehow relaxed at the same time (perhaps aided by his all-black but still informal outfit). Much of the work is familiar and even a tiny little kitsch, but the piano made me want to devote a few years to learning how to play even a little like that (last year Aimard produced a fantastic CD combining Ligeti’s piano Etudes, Steve Reich and African singing (a bizarre combination actually suggested by Ligeti). And it’s nice that the Proms really are popular entertainment, or at least not the same hifalutin’ culture that classical music usually seems. Usual rules don’t apply; we could eat and drink in the hall. People even committed the great sin of applauding between movements (nobody knew how many movements there were in the opening Casken piece…) without any approbation (I am reminded of the opposite experience: at a symphony performance in San Francisco, an Asian couple had the temerity to applaud between movements and were hissed by the crowd each time. But why not applaud? Why not show your approval?)