Anyone looking for an uplifting musical experience should steer clear of the famous Prom concerts in London’s Albert Hall.
The hall itself is enormous and impressive, seating several thousands at a time. In addition, especially cheap tickets are sold as standing room only in the center of the main auditorium. All well and good, provided those standing remain stock still throughout the performance, and on the whole I think they did.
As a result of a mistake in our booking procedure we found ourselves sitting in row 2 of the main auditorium, which meant that our view of the orchestra and the soloist (Stephen Hough playing the piano solo in Rachmaninov’s variations on a theme by Paganini) was obscured by the people standing.
That’s just one of those things, we said, and settled down to enjoy the performance. Lo and behold, in trooped a bevy of well-dressed and coiffured young men, obviously well-educated, each one clutching a large plastic glass containing…beer! They took their places in the row in front of us and proceeded to quaff their drinks. This went on throughout the performance and seems to have become part of the Proms experience (this was not the famous Last Night at the Proms, when riotous behaviour is de rigeur).
An elderly Indian couple took their places in front of us, also in the front row, and sat quietly. Every now and again the wife (presumably) would shove her hand into the handbag on her lap, silently extract a sweet and put it in her mouth. The young men continued to swill their drinks, albeit in silence.
Half-way through the first item in the programme (Tchaikovsky’s Hamlet overture) a large lady dressed in pink sitting two seats to my right suddenly stood up. I thought she might not be feeling well and wanted to leave. But no. To my astonishment she started gesticulating frantically and mouthing ‘stoppit! Stoppit!’ to the Indian lady sitting several seats away from her.
This presumably had the desired effect, and the Indian lady’s hand stopped traveling from her bag to her mouth. After the interval the Indian couple did not return to their seats. The young men continued to drink, but this elicited no response or criticism from the large lady in pink.
If this is the customary behaviour of the audience at the Proms you won’t find me there again. At least in Israel the audience isn’t eating and drinking during concerts, and neither do officious persons take it upon themselves to teach others how to behave. At any rate, not in a manner that can only be described as overtly racist.