A Trip to the Proms - Aug 2006


When we first heard that Tchaikovskys 4th symphony was being played we made an immediate decision to book for this Prom, initially as a quick trip down just for the Prom travelling by train on the Saturday morning and returning on the Sunday. Its one of our favourite symphonies, there's something angry and melodic about the way he's expressing his themes or fates. It makes them both thoughtful, sad and uplifting all at the same time, with plenty of room left over for joy.

Of course booking a train in the U.K. also involves fate but hardly ever joy. It was impossible to book seats on any train on the Saturday morning because.."we're expecting them to be busy on the Saturday so we are not allowing reservations on the Saturday at all in any class"... Does this logic make sense to anyone!! I had already booked a room out of the Proms guide at Imperial College, next door to the Albert Hall and as you can see from above and below next door is correct. The view is from our window. A quick call and I arranged to stay the Friday night as well and reserved seats for the Friday night train.

We arrived on time and after a short tube journey from Euston we were soon in bed looking out at a wonderfully illuminated Albert Hall. The rooms were very comfortable and location wise well if you got any closer you would have been sleeping on the steps of the South Porch booking office.The following morning we took a couple of photo oppurtunities after a good hearty breakfast in the senior common room. The memorial at the South of the Albert Hall is from the Great Exhibition and though everything looks like its been here forever, the whole area is actually relatively newly developed or rebuilt so that new underground access roads could be built for goods and services to gain access to the RAH.
Below Jackie points out our rooms.

We then walked around the building to the front or North side. This is the location of Kensington Gardens in which can be found the Albert memorial. It was commissioned by Queen Victoria in memory of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, who died of typhoid in 1861, and was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the Gothic revival style.

The centrepiece of the Memorial is a seated figure of Prince Albert. Following restoration, this is now covered in gold leaf. For eighty years the statue had been covered in black paint. The restoration has also returned the cross to its correct position as it was put on sideways during an earlier restoration. Its certainly an imposing and gleaming monument looking down on the road and directly at the Albert Hall.

Jackie posed for a couple more picture infront of the main North porch, incidently the West Porch to the right in these two pictures has the Albert Halls best restaurant "The Elgar Room" on its top floor and we had booked ourselves in for a pre Prom dinner.

The Albert Hall was opened in 1871 by Queen Victoria. It has held the Proms every summer since the Queens Hall was bombed in 1941. Its reduced capacity due to H&S restrictions is now 7000.

It  is an eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical concerts held annually in Central London, predominantly in the Royal Albert Hall in South Kensington. "Proms" is short for "promenade concerts". This term arose from the original practice of audience members promenading, or strolling, in some areas of the concert hall during the concert. "Promming" now refers to the use of the standing areas inside the hall (the arena and gallery).

With a full day already planned promenading around the vast exhibition rooms of The Victoria & Albert Museum. I was glad we had already bought good Stalls tickets as this popular symphony was generating long lines for the prommers at around four in the afternoon.

The Victoria and Albert, where to start. The museum has a huge range of collections of European, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Islamic decorative arts, totalling 4 million items. It has galleries for sculpture, glass, jewellery, church plate, armour, weapons, costume, textiles, musical instruments, wrought iron, stained glass, metalwork, ceramics, furniture, architecture, photography, British watercolour artists and much more.

Any visit is best made with a definite plan in mind. As the Islamic exhibition had a lot of new exhibitions and was being publicised heavily we made sure we concentrated on those rooms. Unfortunately the giant silk rug, so delicate that the huge glass case it lay behind, was illuminated for 10mins only per hour for its protection, and this failed to coincide with a 10 mins when my camera decided to behave.The camera has for a while behaved badly (the lense mechanism recently decided it did not want to come out and play despite various noises to the contrary from within the machine); then Jackie came up with the novel idea of hitting firmly against the cushioned arm of a sofa we were sat on. After first making sure this was not a priceless antique sofa BANG and one working camera..

We had a go at designing prints for my new summer wardrobe. Here I am sending the final design off to Susan in Oklahoma. If you think the exhibit below looks a little out of place in the V&A by the way thats because its in the science museum across the road. We had to walk past it on our way and what man can resist having his photo taken next to the undercarriage of an Airbus 

After a rest and change back at the rooms, (the V&A is just a short walk ) we were allowed into the Royal Albert Hall a couple of hours early as we had reservations on the restaurant. 

I ordered above - Ham Hock and Foie Gras Roulade, Mustard Seed and Celeriac Slaw with Toasted Brioche. Excellent, just the right saltiness in the Ham and not overpowering the Foie Gras , the celeriac slaw was a great crisp accompaniment to this.

Jackie had above Char grilled Asparagus, Black Fig, Boccocini, Parma Ham and Organic Honey.The cheese stood out for her as did the figs, by the way in case your wondering the asparagus is hidden under the Parma. All the ingredients lovely and fresh. A minor criticism however if the leaf on top was rocket, it was rather tasteless.

Jackie chose one of her favourite fish as her main course above Roast Fillet of Sea Bass , Red Wine and Blackcurrent Shallots , Spinach, Spring Onion Mash. Nicely done with good flavours, simple but very tasty.

I chose the Pan Fried Fillet of Beef with Wild Mushroom Crust, Fondant Potato and Red wine sauce. An excellent piece of beef cooked slightly more medium than I would have liked though the plate was so hot it probably left the kitchen rare, as I asked for it and probably carried on cooking on the pass. Good sauce, again a very simple dish relying on a good flavoured piece of beef.

Jackie finished off with a Gooseberry crumble and I had a Vanilla Pannacotta with Raspberry broth.

With a bottle of wine and coffees the total came to £88.00 for 2 people, good value.

We were lucky( in the restaurant )to have a window seat looking along the edge of the Hall and below us we could see the BBC technicians beavering away with preparations for tonights live TV and radio broadcasts. Every single Prom is broadcast live over the national BBC Radio 3 and certain Proms are broadcast live on the TV as well. Tonights would be shown live on TV as well.

For a coaster afficinado it usually  takes a great amount of coaxing to get Jackie sit anywhere near an edge that involves heights. This is after the meal so the wine must have had a relaxing effect on her. Incidently the area over Jackies left shoulder is where we were stood this morning pointing out our rooms and the building on the right is the Imperial College where are bedroom is located.

We had booked seats in the Stalls. The seats have a simply but effective design in that you can turn them through 90 degrees towards the stage once you have sat down so you don't get neck ache if you're sitting at an angle to the stage.The Program tonight consisted of Ravels Le tombeau de Couperin in its orchestral form. Stravinsky's Violin Concerto in D with Gil Shaham, who also played for us a solo encore after the Stravinsky concerto: a Bach piece which was hauntingly beautiful and melodic.

Then after the interval came Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.4 in F minor.
All three pieces were performed by the German NDR Symphony Orchestra, with their conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi, who was quite a characterful performer. It was real fun watching it back when we returned home (yes, we could spot ourselves on TV).

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