Part 8: Saturday night fever

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A Prommer with a spectacular cough nearly upstaged pianist Stephen Hough, writes Tristan Jakob-Hoff

I felt so sorry for the chap standing beside me at Saturday’s National Youth Orchestra Prom. About 45 minutes before the music began, he started coughing. Seriously coughing, though. Not one of those 'I’ve got a slight tickle in the throat' kind of coughs, but one of those 'I have some sort of unusual tropical disease that makes me cough like a cantankerous tuba' kind of coughs.

This is not, in all honesty, the sort of cough you want to be stuck with in a classical concert. By the time soloist Stephen Hough (seen right at the First Night of the Proms this year) and conductor Vasily Petrenko came out on to the platform, every other audience member in the Royal Albert Hall was staring at this poor gentleman wondering just how long it would take for him to add his own unauthorised cadenza of suppressed barking to the score.

On the one hand, you couldn’t help thinking that perhaps turning up to the Royal Albert Hall in such a condition was not the wisest of moves. But on the other you had to admire the sheer determination and obvious devotion it takes for someone to make the effort of overcoming such a malady for the sake of a musical experience.

Of course, watching Stephen Hough play is a musical experience worth risking the ire of your fellow Prommers for. He rarely fails to astonish and he performed Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the usual mix of translucent delicacy and raw muscularity for which he is justly celebrated.

Sadly, though, it was not to be for my coughing friend. The moment the dynamic dropped below fortissimo, he started convulsing violently in an attempt to contain a veritable eruption of expectoration. It was a fruitless endeavour. Within three minutes of those famous opening chords, he was out the door.

Well, at least he tried.

Tristan Jakob-Hoff is a freelance music writer, critic, and a  contributor to The Guardian. He has been a fervent Prommer for the last six years, and can be found every summer in the middle of the Royal Albert Hall arena, looking slightly faint...
 
Image: Chris Christodoulou