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BBC Proms Dubai review

The second night of the classical fest at Dubai Opera brought cheer to the crowd

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For my ears’ sake: Stop it.

My brain is reverberating with these two words until there’s a crescendo.

The first few minutes were fine enough. The BBC Singers, led by the very animated James Burton, took the stage with practised precision. This was BBC Proms Dubai, the franchise’s first stint in the UAE and second abroad. [Usually, the fest, now in its 123rd season, is an eight-week extravaganza of music and workshops in the UK.] But the crowd was raring to go. The standing spaces were dotted with enthusiastic listeners and the stalls held a smiling crowd.

Their first song, Finzi’s My spirit sang all day, set the tone for a charming night. Then came Judith Bingham’s Distant Thunder, a spine-tingling blanket of emotion, which was followed by the original version by Charles Hubert Hastings, from Songs of Farewell.

And this is where the trouble began.

Sitting next to people who insist on stomping, (stage) whispering or playing with their phones can be annoying at the best of times. However when you are engrossed — and the quality of voices in the choir will ensure that you are — you can’t help but consider violence, or at least tugging your hair out.

Fortunately, after they had been discreetly told off a few times — cue applause for the Opera staff — we could focus on the brilliant melody that swept past those ‘promming’ with standing tickets (these are Dh50 each, and a Proms tradition) and into the stalls.

After two more songs by Parry came half-Emirati Mohammad Fairouz’s Different Ways to Pray, which included a section on how to pray in a place the stones are flat, then there was another delightful version of Bingham’s song The Drowned Lovers.

A little later, after cheerful tunes had wowed the crowd, Bingham’s protege Joanna Marsh came on and explained her set piece Arabesques, based on words by poets from the region. [Marsh debuts her Middle East-inspired composition Flare on Thursday.] She said that the songs were from a male point of view but focused on a woman’s life, from when she’s an attractive young woman to after she has passed away. This made for an interesting if somewhat sombre end. But perhaps this was just right, for next up was Tippett’s Five Spirituals from A Child Of Our Time. This serious piece of work was inspired by the killing of a German by a Jew in 1938 and the subsequent consequences for the whole race because of the government’s retaliation in the form of a pogrom code-named Kristallnacht.

To cap the evening off were pieces of British music, after all what would the world’s biggest classic music fest be without harking back to its roots? Every time we say goodbye made for a sweet ending.

Conspicuous by its absence was the deadly hit in Westminister that resulted in five dead, including an officer who was stabbed by the attacker, and 40 hurt.

However, in spite of or perhaps because of that terrible news — just one at a time peppered with tragic incidents — the night ended on a light vein.

Fed with cheery, uplifting voices and soulful songs we said our good nights.

But seriously, phone mid-song? Leave the hall, please.