Outside the world of mainstream summer music festivals, the Proms are big business. Running for 57 consecutive nights, they are transmitted by over 45 countries. Last year, Radio 3 drew in 3 million listeners, and more than 15 million watched the BBC broadcasts. Yet crossover appeal remains elusive.
Last night, the first 6 Music Prom attempted to change this by drawing together the station’s own alternative indie darlings - Laura Marling, Cerys Matthews and The Stranglers - alongside Radio 3 sweethearts, the London Sinfonietta.
The results were mixed, not helped by sections of the eclectic audience acting like spoilt kids in the playground. Hosts, Steve Lamacq and Radio 3’s Tom Service, tried to engage the front row revellers in the shared history of punk and classical music, only for hecklers to shout “get on with it”. When Cerys Matthews embraced the experimental spirit by performing “one of Henry V’s favourite tracks” in both Welsh and English, another man shouted “your language is dead”. Although Matthew’s magnetic stage presence did get the crowd going, buoyed by her cover of 'Blueberry Hill', the small minded minority left a bitter after-taste.
Similar polarisation plagued the music itself. The Strangler’s underwhelming ode to their punk days afforded the London Sinfonietta little space, but the orchestra proved spectacular when performing Iannis Xenakis’s hauntingly disparate ‘O-Mega’ and Luciano Berio’s ‘O King’. Despite their classical grounding, both pieces were written over the past 40 years (the latter a response to King’s assassination in 1968) and suggested the real barrier to collaboration lay in rock music’s incongruous nature.
Ironically, the night’s youngest performer, 23-year-old Laura Marling, best bridged the gap between the two worlds. Her folk sensibilities and delicately swooping vocals harmonised perfectly amongst the plethora of instruments during a spectacular 10 minute version of ‘Breathe’.
But the curtain closer reverted to type, silver haired ‘punks’ bouncing awkwardly to ‘Golden Brown’ – the moment they had been waiting for.
Despite the sound clash, it would be a travesty to give up on the concept just yet. As Cerys Matthews subtly pointed out: “We’re not that far apart, I played the oboe in the West Glamorgan Youth Orchestra when I was a teen”. What is required then, is for the painfully alternative rock bands and fans to open their minds.
Listen to the show on iPlayer here: