Prom 37: Nitin Sawhney and Friends - Royal Albert Hall, 10 August 2007
There are so many Proms I wanted to see in this second half of the season that I decided to buy an arena half-season ticket rather than bankrupt myself on seats. Although tonight's concert was sold out, the sensible limit on standing places meant there was plenty of room in the arena, even for those of us who needed to sit down and rest our heels from time to time.
The downside of standing is that unless you queue for hours to secure a place at the front, you can't actually see that much. It's OK if performers are standing, but of course the critical difference between classical and popular music is that classical is done sitting down. That meant I couldn't see much of tonight's orchestra, but it looked gigantic, maybe fifty strings just for starters. On top of that a raft of percussionists and keyboards and a long roster of singers stuffed the stage to bursting.
With these resources, Sawhney was able to present a much wider variety of sounds than he's normally able to in a live format. So we got to hear music from all stages of his career, including film scores and collaborations as well as work he's released on his solo albums.
The pieces that delved into his Indian and flamenco inspirations came across most strongly. Reena Bhardwaj's hauntingly beautiful performances of Nadia and Koyal shut up even the annoying couple who were chatting behind me for most of the concert. Natacha Atlas and Tina Grace were the vocal centre of a strong ten minute flamenco section.
One of the oddest and most effective pieces of programming came from the four scattered extracts from Zero Degrees, a dance work scored by Sawhney. Dancers Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui sat on raised chairs and narrated the story of a trip-gone-wrong in perfect unison, both vocal and movement - a simple but compelling effect.
Everyone had been looking forward to the guest appearance of Anoushka Shankar and her sitar, and her newly-written collaboration with Sawhney, Charukeshi Rain was an inevitable highlight.
With 50-ish scores to his credit, Nitin Sawhney probably writes film music in his sleep (possibly the only time he's got with all the things he's up to). But the new work he presented for a Mira Nair film and a video game was imaginative and fully-realised.
His last number, the acoustic Prophesy, on an open-tuned guitar was a meditative contrast to the weight of the orchestral work, and paired with a graceful Kathak dance by an ankle-belled Akram Khan.
The whole thing is available on a Real stream from the BBC for the next week (with the sound mysteriously much cleaner than it was live).