It all started some time last year with a letter of invitation from a "Sir Albert Hall", inviting Wallace to display his often overlooked musical talents in a Prom. Naturally, he was honoured to accept the invitation, but rather than stepping out on stage, he set to work writing what was to be the highlight of the concert – My Concerto in Ee, Lad, written for piano. He couldn't resist adding a few technological touches to the performance, either, and his "Maestromatic" (a conductor's stand, complete with space for a cup of tea and a plate of cheese and crackers) would prove vital later on.
As the specially created animations showed us, Wallace was busy making last-minute preparations for his world première deep in the bowels of the Royal Albert Hall. With everything sorted, leaving Gromit to manœuvre the piano proved fatal as it careered down the ramp and lost a foot. Meanwhile, the orchestra entertained the crowds with a selection of popular, zesty classics, including Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man – fitting because, to paraphrase conductor Nicholas Collon, Wallace is the ultimate common man – the Wallace & Gromit theme tune, the orchestral version of Debussy's Claire de Lune (in recognition of Wallace's romantic side), and a feisty rendition of Monti's Czardas by Tasmin Little. The overture to Mozart's The Magic Flute told another tale of romance, with Collon comparing it to a film trailer; his decision to include it in the programme was that Mozart was as inventive as Wallace and as ingenious as Gromit. Very clever.
Wallace's inventive side came to light as he resurrected the piano as an all-rockets-firing "Pianomatic", but unfortunately said rockets were just a touch too powerful, and the whole thing went up in flames. Devastatingly, My Concerto in Ee, Lad would never be, and it was, as always, left to Gromit to save the day. Meanwhile, Wallace sent an instruction up the Maestromatic's chute, instructing Collon to "fill". Having offered the orchestra crackers (gamely accepted by the cellists) and asked them whether they knew a good tune, a keen trumpeter piped up with the Wallace and Gromit theme – but we'd already had that. What followed was an absolute triumph. Ian Farrington's Wing It was a Britten-style children's guide to the orchestra, albeit one inspired by jazz improvisations. The collective trumpets still couldn't do better than a (so bad, yet so, so good) swing version of the theme tune, but the other sections proved a little more imaginative. About halfway through, it became clear where the piece was going, and suspicions were proved when, at the end, the orchestra played a magnificently punchy version of Gershwin's I Got Rhythm. Words cannot describe the buzz the orchestra created; it was a fun, funny, and very appealing piece.
Finally, after an excerpt from Shostakovich's Symphony no. 4, the moment came for Gromit's concerto. One problem: an accomplished violinist (and, apparently, owner of a Stradivarius, dismissed as "just a piece of wood"), Gromit knew only how to write for his own instrument, and up the maestromatic's chute came his emergency composition, the Double Concerto for Violin and Dog. But wait – where would they find a soloist at such short notice?! Cue some nervous tea-sipping by Collon and a frantic phone call (yes, the phone was part of the Maestromatic) to none other than Tasmin Little, who was still in the building. Out she came, dressed in a cheeky red number, to take to the stage once more. What happened next was sheer genius: whilst Tasmin was on stage, Gromit was on screen, and together the pair, plus orchestra, performed the quirky, yet tuneful concerto. It was clear that Gromit had taken inspiration from one of his favourite composers, Bach (natch). A remarkable effort for something taken on at such short notice, let alone by a dog. The nickname "Poochini" (groan...) was richly deserved.
The second half of the Prom consisted solely of a showing of Wallace and Gromit's most recent film, A Matter of Loaf and Death, with the soundtrack played live by the orchestra. The film is, of course, full of unsubtle puns, but so is the music, and seeing the orchestra play only made them more unsubtle – and funnier. Unlike in a recording studio, the orchestra were not wearing headphones, but their precision timing could not be faulted.
What fun. The programming was creative: the perfect match to the on-screen shenanigans. Littered with bad puns, the overall story remained true to Wallace and Gromit's trademark haphazard approach and good-natured humour. The Aurora Orchestra was stupendously good. Nicholas Collon's enthusiasm as conductor-compère was obvious. A technical hitch (unplanned, I'm sure) near the start was humorously dismissed as "what happens when you leave things to Wallace and Gromit"; that made it entirely forgivable. The final animation showed the weary pair relieved that they had pulled it off. To Gromit's horror, though, Wallace exhaustedly flopped onto the chair on which Gromit's Strad was resting; you can imagine what resulted. I suspect it may be some time before the duo make another musical appearance...
Royal Albert HallKensington Gore
London Greater London United Kingdom SW7 2AP