A chance to relive this exceptional, fun-filled concert
I’m so pleased that the Wallace and Gromit Prom is being broadcast over the forthcoming bank holiday weekend. Every Prom I go to is memorable, but this one was something else and I can’t wait to watch it again with my nearly-four-year-old son, who I took to the concert (it was his first ever Prom).
A themed concert, particularly for children, is a strange concept – will it feel gimmicky and condescending or can it actually work? In the case of the Wallace and Gromit Prom, this was a slickly engineered programme that featured brilliantly shot brand-new scenes starring our favourite hapless pair, along with superb playing from the youthful Aurora Orchestra under Nicholas Collon.
The premise for Wallace and Gromit’s Musical Marvels is simple: Wallace and Gromit are ‘backstage’ at the Royal Albert Hall, preparing for the premiere of Wallace’s new concerto, My Concerto in Ee, Lad. Wallace communicates with the conductor via the ‘Maestr-o-matic’, Collon’s podium, which has on it a telephone, a baton holder, a plate full of crackers and cheese and a mug of tea, together with the receiving end of a device that allows Wallace to send messages – and his finished score! – to the conductor.
So right from the start, although the audience only sees Wallace and Gromit on film, it really does seem that they are in our presence. There’s even a grand piano in some of the footage (which Wallace duly wrecks), not to mention a priceless Stradivarius violin (ditto) and, judging from the reaction of children around me – my son Elliott included – it was all entirely believable. Wallace and Gromit were at the Royal Albert Hall!
But although this storyline dominated the first half of the concert, there was still a clear emphasis on classical music. Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man opened proceedings, followed by Julian Nott’s instantly recognisable Wallace and Gromit theme tune (Nott met Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Gromit, while they were both students at the National Film and Television School in the late 1980s). John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine was next – introduced, like every piece, with flair and humour by Collon. Tasmin Little’s performance of Monti’s Csárdás was typically spirited; Little, with her twinkling eyes and natural affinity with the audience, was the perfect soloist for this sort of occasion.
Some works were accompanied by classic Wallace and Gromit ‘moments’ on film. Stravinsky’s ‘Infernal Dance’ from The Firebird added just the right amount of menace and drama to scenes featuring the most famous Wallace and Gromit villains, from Preston the robot dog to Feathers McGraw the evil penguin. And adult members of the audience were in fits of laughter during an orchestrated version of Debussy’s Clair de lune, which provided the perfect accompaniment to Wallace’s most romantic dalliances on screen. The first movement from Shostakovich’s Symphony No 4, meanwhile, contributed a whirlwind momentum to some of the duo’s most thrilling adventures to date.
The sold-out Royal Albert Hall was packed with families and young children, and the programme catered to this with short, bite-sized pieces of music that nevertheless revealed the gamut of what the orchestra can do. Elliott loved seeing the brass instruments in the spotlight – especially the tuba! – during the Copland, and the percussion instruments in the Adams prompted lots of curiosity. But perhaps the best piece in the first half was a humorous guide to the orchestra, Wing It, composed by Iain Farrington who was sat just a few rows in front of us. A jazzy improvisatory piece using elements of Gershwin, Mozart and – of course – the Wallace and Gromit theme tune, it was fantastic for the children in the audience to hear exactly what the instruments could do. It was also a real insight into the art of composition – who knows, maybe older members of the audience have since given it a go?
The first half was supposed to end with Wallace’s much-hyped concerto but, as usual, after a few ‘technical hitches’, Gromit had to take over. His Double Concerto for Violin and Dog was a perfectly synchronised performance between Tasmin Little, the Aurora Orchestra and Gromit (on screen, of course – but he sounded pretty good).
The second half was given over to a complete screening of the 2008 Wallace and Gromit film, A Matter of Loaf and Death. Julian Nott’s music works fantastically well anyway, but to hear it performed live was a real treat. Watching it at home seems rather drab in comparison, but I suppose I’ll have to get used to that. Since the Prom, Elliott doesn’t want to watch anything else.
The Wallace and Gromit’s Musical Marvels Prom was performed on Sunday July 29 at 3.30pm; it is being broadcast on BBC One on Monday August 27 at 2.45pm
Sarah Kirkup is deputy editor of Gramophone. She plays flute and piano, and sings with her local church choir. Sarah is a fan of ballet and contemporary dance, and attends as many productions - particularly at Covent Garden - as she can.