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  • Making it live at the Proms


    Which is better: a 'live' broadcast of a classical concert or being in the Royal Albert Hall for the performance itself? Last night's Prom included Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and centenarian Elliott Carter's Oboe Concerto. Using the BBC iPlayer I was able to compare the television broadcast, the radio version and the experience of actually being in the hall at the concert.

    The TV broadcast includes a revealing interview with soloist Nicholas Daniel. In it he talks about the rapt concentration on the faces of the crowd of Promenaders standing in the arena. The Proms audience is particularly attentive - unsurprising since the hall is dominated by a well-informed crowd of 400 or more who are so motivated by the music that they are prepared to stand for it. But join any audience at a live performance and you plug in to the collective experience in a way that never happens at home.

    Conductor David Robertson also gave an interview in which he identified Elliott Carter's ability to capture real experience in his music, in the same way as Virginia Woolf did in 'stream of consciousness' novels like Mrs Dalloway. Being in the Albert Hall it is the moment-by-moment collective experience that makes the music.

    Standing in the hall with my £5 ticket bought just before, I was hot, and not quite close enough. But when the conductor's baton hovered momentarily at the top of its first down beat, hushed expectation distilled into one moment of complete focussed concentration.

    In the fifth symphony the sound was rich with detail I'd never noticed in recordings, and the dynamic range was vastly greater than any recording. Even a static viewpoint sometimes distracts me and so I listen with my eyes closed. In the apparently familiar Beethoven there were moments of complete engagement in the music. This is consciousness changing  'flow experience'. When I was a child it happened so much more easily.

    The broadcasts are flush with background information, sophisticated camerwork and the BBC's determinaton to make everything upbeat and accessible. The sound is perfectly balanced. The broadcast 'experience' is almost too polished and content packed, (how I love close-ups of the hammed-up histrionics of some conductors and soloists!). For me, make it live any day.

  • Cashing up in the attic

    7625eb2c6c48a8599c0f09ef59f6f9a6.jpg"My mother always said never trust a man with matching belt and shoes" - so said winsomely entertaining TV presenter Angus Purden of my outfit when I was persuaded to take part in the filming of an episode of one of the BBC's most popular day time shows, 'Cash in the Attic'.

    What sounded like fun was actually an object lesson in just how painstaking and exhausting it is building up just 45 minutes of broadcast material. It was also proof of the voracious appetite of the media for material. Two days filming, each 12 hours long. Since they only had two cameras, every set-up had to be recorded repeatedly and ritualistically from every angle: 'wides', 'singles' and close-ups, plus a trademark out-of-focus holding shot with a vase in the foreground. Words that once seemed spontaneous rapidly became inane.

    Barbara's mother died last year leaving her and her brother with a huge inheritance tax bill. The family house lies deep in the woods in Nettlebed in rural Oxfordshire. A beautiful and magical place, with pheasants in the garden, red kites calling overhead, and an antiquated kitchen with an indicator board once used by servants. A green baize door separates the kitchen from the dining room and the house is filled with family treasures, many from turn-of-the-century Vienna. I remembered Christmases year ago when real candles twinkled on a huge tree and we played Scrabble in front of a blazing log fire.

    The camera caught Angus as he twirled in Barbara's mother's kimono and we obligingly acted out surprise on discovering him. Barbara's ferocious dog Foxy performed as we walked in long-shot through the woods. After the crew finally left, ornate lights that had been on the wall when the house was bought almost half a century ago were taken down forever and we polished up for the auction a fine silver Viennese Secession coffee service that had languished in a cupboard for years.

    The auction itself was filmed weeks later in Cirencester. Understandably perhaps, Barbara needed to smoke something calming between shots. I chatted coyly to Angela Ripon. Two sets of lots were being filmed for two separate programmes and we kept being called in (like obedient circus animals) to mime delight or dismay according to the prices achieved. Barbara rushed to ask purchasers where the lots were ending up. The kimonos went eastwards. Angus told me about his escapades in New York and said he was more interested in our chat (and in one of the porters) than the filming.

    Transmission was today. I expected it to be in July. Some extraordinary impulse made me email the production company about transmission the very moment the broadcast began. Within an hour I'd had calls from friends of daytime TV watchers and a website thread had started discussing my appearance. And tomorrow yet another unlikely group of participants will have their Warholian 15 minutes.

    In spite of the £4,380 proceeds from the auction – just a tiny part of the tax due - Barbara and her brother's house in Nettlebed must be sold. Its contents will be dispersed forever. Somehow, Mr De Mille, I don't think I'll ever be ready for my close-up.