What I said back then:
Just to prove the random nature of these, here's one so recent it barely counts as a memory at all. Regular readers will remember the review I wrote of this, and the prize won as a result. Well, the dust has settled on this now, and there was no hesitation at all - it went straight in to the list. Unlike many of these memories, which depend on a piece of recorded music to take me back to a place and time, this is a very specific memory of an individual performance which still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
I knew next to nothing of Shostakovich 4 before I went to the Prom - as I said, I went to hear the Prokofiev Piano Concerto - and while I was sure that such a renowned orchestra and conductor - Kirov, under Valery Gergiev - weren't going to let me down, I did wonder whether such a long piece which I didn't know might not be hard work to concentrate on in such an environment. Of course I needn't have worried. It started powerful and riveting, and just got better and better; the time flew by, and the flow and control of the orchestra were stunning. The second movement really caught my attention, especially the sinister, rhythmic ending, and I thought I was ready for whatever the third was going to throw at me. Of course, I didn't really know what the third movement involved, and I was nowhere near prepared for the sheer force and violence of the ending. Or rather, the first ending. For, as the cacophony ebbed away, the strings were gently throbbing - indeed, gently sobbing, and a solo celeste plaintively called out in the darkness, fading until all was silent. Gergiev stood. We all stood. Not a sound was made. Slowly, slowly, the baton was lowered. Still not a sound. Gergiev bowed his head but the audience was still spellbound. The silence - which I had estimated at 20 seconds or so was, in fact, 31 seconds. I don't expect ever to have such an intense experience in a concert hall again - although I can always hope.
I bought the symphony on CD as soon as I could, and I do already love the music, but nothing can come close to the magic of that performance.
What I think now:
Ten years on, I still get goose pimples thinking about that night. It was a truly magical experience. People sometimes ask me what kind of music I like, and I never quite know what to answer. The correct response, of course, is: ‘music which can do that to me’.
And the review won a prize, and truly started me on a road – I don’t know where it might lead, but I know that I can write stuff which other people like. I think that’s worth pursuing, don’t you?
I became a Shostakovich-aholic for a while. I like the ambiguities in his work – was he beholden to the Soviet state; was he a secret dissident; was he in fact saying any of the things we like to ascribe to him? I don’t pretend to know any of the answers, but trying to make my mind up is rewarding work.
I also have listened to all 15 symphonies in sequence more than once. While I was doing so, a book got written. Which is fitting.