Review: PROM 53: EARTH PROM, Royal Albert Hall

Review: PROM 53: EARTH PROM, Royal Albert Hall

Review: PROM 53: EARTH PROM, Royal Albert HallWhen you think of soundtracks, the first thing that springs to mind is film and then possibly a good quality TV drama – but what about documentary scores? Music has been quietly vital in factual programmes for some time, though as technology has improved and series become more filmic, what the audience can hear has become almost as important as what they can see. The BBC’s very first Earth Prom celebrates all aspects of the BBC Studios Natural History Unit, combining beautiful music with stunning videos to great effect in a packed Royal Albert Hall.

Well-known broadcasters Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin were on hand to host the event, providing fascinating insight into some of the scenes depicted on-screen, as well as sharing some of their own anecdotes from their years of filming. There aren’t many more passionate advocates for the natural world out there, and the pair did an excellent job of combining the celebratory elements of the show with a cautionary tale or two. It was also nice to see a BSL interpreter employed for both performances of this Prom, suggesting a cautious embrace of greater accessibility.

As this was a matinée performance (it was repeated in the evening), many parents took full advantage of being able to bring their children along. Though there was the odd restless moment – unsurprising given that the performance was over two hours long – most of the noises were those of curiosity and wonder, showing how engaged and absorbed these young audience members were (which is more than I can say for the disruptive and disinterested celebrity couple sat next to me). Shows like this are also a brilliant way of introducing children to classical music, and the idiosyncratic conventions of the Proms.

The first half of the show featured eight different compositions, some accompanied by the clips for which they were composed, others paired with appropriate video montages. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Ben Palmer) began proceedings with Murray Gold’s Life Story theme tune, serving as a visual overture with a selection of spectacular videos appearing on the big screen. Another excellent montage served as a tribute to David Attenborough’s astonishing career; Ben Salisbury’s The Life of Mammals was chosen as the soundtrack to this incredibly inspiring, but also very moving, short film.

One of the most memorable clips from the show came from the 2013 series Africa, and featured a pair of bull giraffes engaged in a short but brutal fight; Sarah Class composed a fun but evocative Wild West style soundtrack to this encounter, one that will live in the memories of those watching for a long time.

Other highlights of the first half came from Wonders of the Monsoon and Life Story. Nitin Sawhney’s theme and “Storm Brewing” from the former transported us to South East Asia and Australia, and depicted some of the wide-ranging consequences of climate change on animal behaviour – including the risks overheating bats have to take in order to cool down. This half closed with the wondrous underwater art of the pufferfish, Murray Gold soundtracking the male’s attempt to woo a female with his awe-inspiring creativity and perseverance.

Part of the Earth Prom was dedicated to promoting the forthcoming series Frozen Planet II, with patrons greeted by ice sculptures outside the Royal Albert Hall, and then given a sneak preview of the series in the second half, accompanied by the world première performance of “Take Me Back Home”, composed by Camila Cabello and Hans Zimmer, and sung by Norwegian performer AURORA. Zimmer himself even made a surprise appearance, talking enthusiastically about his long association with the Natural History Unit and how it’s impossible to compare his work on their projects with anything else he does.

The final performance of the show was the BBC commission Earth Symphony; another world première, this one based on existing soundtracks to Planet Earth II, Blue Planet II, and Seven Worlds, One Planet, featuring work from Hans Zimmer, Jacob Shea, Jasha Klebe, and David Fleming – all put together by Iain Farrington, who also provided some additional compositions for the piece. This five-movement symphony was inspired by the classical elements of Earth, Air, Water, and Fire, with the extra element of Spirit (or Aether) added into the mix.

This symphony is absolutely astounding, the chosen clips combining with expressive music to create something that’s greater than the sum of its parts: it truly is a work of art. From iguanas being chased by snakes and a Roman starling murmuration, to bears trying to scratch an itch and the extraordinary display of nature in urban Singapore, every facet of life on Earth is covered.

The music has such an important job in setting the tone, and suggesting whether it’s a more light-hearted clip or potentially one that could end in tragedy; it plays on the emotions and allows for a more complete experience. You will never look at a nature documentary in the same way again.

Judging by the reactions of everyone present in the Royal Albert Hall, it seems as though the very first Earth Prom was a resounding success – an event thoroughly enjoyed by all. With the wealth of arresting footage captured by the Natural History Unit over the years, not to mention all of the compositions to date, this will hopefully become a regular event in the Prom series to help to inspire future generations for years to come.

The Proms are at the Royal Albert Hall until 10 September

Photo credit: BBC

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