London Drum

Royal Albert Hall – Classical Proms concert

Royal Albert Hall
Where? Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, Kensington · Web: Parking: Nearby car parks Buses: 9, 10, 52, 70, 360, 452 Bus fares Trains: The closest station is South Kensington Circle District Piccadilly Train fares

Craig’s review… I’ve bought myself a ticket to a Proms concert and I’m sitting on the steps of the Royal Albert Hall, waiting for it to open. It’s quite nice out here in the evening. The sun is just about to duck down behind the terracotta rooftops and everyone is dressed up in nothing much at all – it’s very hot today. I thought it was going to be all shirts and ties and suits and boots but it’s more like sandals and flip-flops. It doesn’t look like a classical crowd.

I bought a seat in the Grand Tier which is definitely the best place to sit, I think, but the level above is okay as well (as long as you get a seat near the front). But I would certainly avoid going any higher than that because it’s like staring down from the side of a mountain up there. The seats are so steep up there that you’d have to strap yourself in. And don’t go any further round the circle than box number 10 or 11 either, because you’ll be sitting too side-on to the stage.

The central section downstairs is okay but sometimes they take out all the seats to make it standing room only, like a pop concert. That’s what they’ve done today. Hundreds of people are just sitting on the floor waiting for the show to start. Some of them are lying flat on their backs, whilst others have come prepared with blow-up pillows.

If you want the cheapest ticket of all then there’s some more standing room in the roof. It’s a bit like a running track that runs around the top and people just stand up there peering over the edge. It sounds daft but it’s true – I can see them up there now, leaning over the barrier with their binoculars. They look like pigeons roosting in the rafters.

The orchestra is parading onto the stage now. Some of them are skipping in with little flutes and piccolos whilst others have to drag in ten-tonne double basses. Two big harps have been wheeled on whilst the violins are tuning up and it’s getting very hard to tell which sounds are practice and which sounds are song. They all sound pretty good to me.

I’m trying to decide which instrument I’m going to play in case they ask me up onto the stage. It will probably have to be one of the easy ones at the back, maybe a tambourine or a triangle. I reckon I could just about manage that without screwing it up. I mean, how talented do you have to be to hit a triangle with a stick? That’s the one they give the thick kids at school. They have certainly got some strange instruments up there. One lady is playing a pair of wooden clappers.

Here we go… the principal violinist has just come out to wild applause, followed by the conductor and the whole place erupts into cheers and thunderous applause and we are on our feet clapping like mad. I don’t know who this guy is, so I am just clapping along for the hell of it.

The music doesn’t seem particularly loud at first but then it rumbles up into a bone-shaking thunder. Then it becomes quite violent as the musicians unleash a barrage of sharp shrieks as their bows dart back and forth in a quick swish swish swish. Two hundred arms and elbows start pumping left and right and up and down like pistons in a steam machine. The conductor is almost dancing off his podium – he’s possessed! He’s been overtaken with wild, exaggerated movements, and it’s not just his hands that are out of control either, it’s as if his entire body is made of rubber all of a sudden, with two elongated arms snapping back like wind socks in a hurricane. To my untrained eye his movements don’t seem to correspond with any of the music and it’s hard to make out what he’s ordering the orchestra to do. He’s just dancing about and nobody is paying a blind bit of notice. They are all too busy reading the actual music.

I like the way he flounces out for a rest at the end of every song, whilst all of the musicians have to sit in silence with their hands on their laps. I think he just enjoys getting a load of extra claps every time he comes back.

I also like the way the principal violinist has her own personal slave to turn over the pages in her songbook. There seems to be a definite pecking order in this orchestra. They might look pretty in their penguin suits and cocktail dresses but I reckon behind the scenes it is a seething sea of jealousies and rivalries. That’s why a lot of the tunes they’re pounding out seem so angry because they’re playing out the private battles in their heads. Every time they attack a note they’re imagining plunging the bow into the neighbour’s neck. That is what I imagine anyway.

The show is over now and the orchestra certainly know how to milk the applause – they’ve been standing there for five minutes whilst we fed them a banquet of claps. We are wilting and losing people to exhaustion but they’re still refusing to move. Once the clap-o-meter hits a million they’ll eventually relent and let our tired hands have a rest.

Worth a visit? Value for money? Good for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… If you enjoy this then try Barbican Hall (travel from South Kensington to Barbican by tube); Royal Festival Hall (catch a tube from South Kensington to Waterloo) and Royal Opera House (travel from South Kensington to Covent Garden by tube). Instead of listening to a concert, how about having a guided tour of the Royal Albert Hall instead?

London Squire bookThe owns and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon

Your comments and questions

Nicky The last time I went to the Royal Albert Hall was to hear some Benjamin Britten, which was top notch, as always. We only had the cheap seats up in the circle which was only 15 quid for me and my wife, but you get a great view up there where you can see the whole orchestra from back to front

Terri Always on my Christmas list is a visit to the Royal Albert Hall for one of their Christmas carol by candlelight concerts. They are truly magical, with everyone dressed up in period costume and the wonderful arena lit with flickering flames. One word of advice that I will give you all, though... If you are seated on the flat centre part of the hall then try not to sit near the back. I have made that mistake before, and because the floor is not sloped towards the stage like they are at the cinemas, the people at the back have a very poor view of what is going on at the front. I much prefer sitting at the side.

Vero Can you look inside the building if you're not going to a concert

Craig Hi Vero. You can pop inside their cafe and book a meal in their restaurant, but if you want to see it properly then you'll have to go on one of their guided tours -​events/​?p=26002

JH How far from the tube

Craig Hi JH. It's about a ten minute walk from South Kensington station, straight up Exhibition Road

Leave a comment