Sunday, July 25, 2004

Stop talking and get on with the music

Curious about the Prom the other night - a new John Casken work and Pierre-Laurent Aimard playing Ravel G major piano concerto - I thought I'd take the easy option and watch it on BBC4, rather than braving the acoustics at the Albert Hall. Proms on TV have many advantages, one being that with the simultaneous radio broadcast you can hear everything clear as a bell (not always the case in the RAH) and another being that you can see everything too, such as the pianist's hands. But there is one major disadvantage, as I discovered: the way the Beeb likes to have its Proms presented.

I'm not in favour of 'a return to' anything, unlike some of my blogging e-colleagues who seem to think clocks can be turned backwards (they can't; end of story). But I fail to see the advantage of presenting music on TV by having windbags in loud shirts yakking at one another, demonstrating their own superior levels of knowledge and offering opinions and more opinions, all addressed to their fellow windbags rather than the TV audience and, in this case, doing little more than what my analysis teacher at uni used to call 'woffle'. If I was a first-time viewer to music on TV - just supposing I had bought an expensive digital box, found the Prom and thought 'OK, let's give it a try' - I wouldn't even have got as far as the music before switching off. Loud shirts, trendy haircuts and positive spin about painful noises do nobody any favours.

If I was a first-time viewer to this Prom, I'd have wanted to know this kind of thing:

Who is John Casken, what's he done before, what does he looks like, what's so special about him and why should I listen to his music? What should I listen out for if I'm to be helped to enjoy it?

Who was Ravel, when did he live, who did he know, what was his music all about, what did he look like, what kind of guy was he and is this concerto going to be better than the Bolero?

Instead of which, trendy presenter and friends wittered on and on about nothing very much, dropping in tidbits of information that you had to be rather alert to catch...

Particularly noteworthy, or so I'm told, was the interactive audience exchange about the Casken work on the digital text option afterwards. I'd switched off long before, deeply depressed, but my brother told me that, contrary to positive-spinning comments by the on-screen windbags about how the music's pulse pulled you along with it, viewers weren't mincing their words about fingernails on blackboards.

The whole thing should, in any case, have been banned on grounds of cruelty to wind players, who were so exhausted after the Casken marathon that they couldn't cope with the Ravel, let alone The Firebird...

Still, a huge thank-you to the BBC for televising this, which meant that I could watch and listen in the safety of my own home with access to an 'off' button.