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Sounds special

As the Proms get under way, recently retired London Symphony Orchestra musician Dudley Bright tells Philip Halcrow about playing at the concerts and the power of music

The experience of being moved hits you, sometimes unexpectedly

THE news is music to the ears of thousands of people who have already bought tickets, those who hope to join the queues outside the Royal Albert Hall and the millions who will listen online, on TV and on radio. The BBC Proms will soon be in full swing.

After the opening concert in this summer’s season last night (Friday 13 July), music lovers can look forward to a variety of sounds at the Albert Hall and in the Proms spin-off concerts at other venues. This year’s programme offers not only centuries-old music by Mozart and Mendelssohn but also a specially commissioned work by singer-songwriter Laura Mvula.

The organisers talk about ‘bringing the best classical music to the widest possible audience’. They are not alone in thinking the Proms are special. The audiences agree. So do the musicians.

Dudley Bright, who recently retired as principal trombonist of the London Symphony Orchestra, says: ‘The Albert Hall is a charismatic building. It has an atmosphere all its own. Put the Proms and the Promenaders in there and it’s even more special.

‘The Proms attract people who wouldn’t dream of going to a regular classical concert. The fact that some of the audience are standing may also be part of the reason why the concerts have their own atmosphere, along with the fact that people can get into the concerts cheaply, which was the original idea.’

Dudley says the musicians are affected by the audiences. ‘I’ve just been on a tour of China with the LSO, and some of the concert halls are big – but concert halls tend to have a capacity of about 2,000, whereas the Albert Hall holds more than 5,000. So if it’s sold out, it generates its own excitement.

‘At the Proms you can sense the audience’s expectation, and I think the performers pull out all the stops.’

He may have retired from the LSO, but the trombonist is not sliding away from the Proms immediately. ‘Before I was in the LSO, I was in the Philharmonia Orchestra for 21 years, and they’ve asked me back to play in Wagner’s The Valkyrie because their first trombone player is playing the important bass trumpet part.’

Looking back, Dudley picks out a couple of highlights from among the many memorable Proms concerts in which he has played.

‘When I was still a student, someone went sick at the last minute and I was roped into the LSO to play William Walton’s 70th birthday concert with André Previn conducting.

‘Then a couple of years ago the LSO played Mahler’s Third Symphony, conducted by Bernard Haitink. As a trombonist you don’t get lots of solos in an orchestra, but that symphony has one. And knowing that my time with the orchestra was approaching the end, it was special.’

Dudley’s appearances at the Albert Hall have not all been with orchestras. He recalls being a soloist and playing in ensembles at Salvation Army events at the venue. He was introduced to music-making through the Movement and plays with the band at the Salvation Army church he attends.

He says that in some ways playing in a Salvation Army band and in an orchestra are different experiences, partly because of the contrasts between brass and orchestral music. But he adds another difference.

‘Whenever you go to a Salvation Army performance or concert, it always closes with a prayer. That’s what you get used to. So,’ he laughs, ‘even now it still sometimes strikes me as strange when an orchestral concert doesn’t end with a word of prayer.

‘But then one of the similarities between a Salvation Army concert and a Prom is that they are both spiritual events. Sometimes the music at an orchestral concert is overtly religious, such as a Requiem, but even when it is simply an abstract symphony, the music still exists on a spiritual plane. People don’t go to a concert to see whether all the crotchets and quavers are right or wrong.

‘It’s something I think about: people who wouldn’t go to church go to a Prom and are affected. They may not use religious words about the experience, but I wonder how many go away thinking: “What was that experience? Where does that come from?”’

Dudley’s own experience is that music-making – at the Proms, in another concert or even in rehearsal – can be ‘faith-boosting’.

He says: ‘The experience of being moved comes up and hits you, sometimes unexpectedly. It’s not something that happens just with a particular piece of music that flicks the switch. It comes from something beyond that – something that you can’t or don’t need to put into words. You could say that it’s a little glimpse of Heaven.’

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