I do hope this performance (on my birthday) was recorded for later release, but with PSB, that’s always very iffy, indeed. From The Guardian:
Nomenclature can get tricky when you think outside the box. What are we to call A Man From the Future, the Pet Shop Boys' tribute to mathematician Alan Turing, elegantly premiered last Wednesday at the Proms? A pop oratorio? A classical audiobiography?
It is narrated by Juliet Stevenson, unkindly housed in a shonky-looking plywood box behind the orchestra. Her steely, authoritative tones remain purposely impassive, a judge passing harsh sentence on an era, even when they describe the death of the Bletchley Park code-breaker's first love from tuberculosis. A lonely bell clangs for this boy called Chris. Later, it clangs for Turing himself, as the piece in eight movements draws to an intense close. We pop heathens do know not to clap in between them.
Turing died young of cyanide poisoning, an assumed suicide, after the innovative mathematician suffered chemical castration and lost his security clearance in the wake of a conviction for gross indecency. (Some do wonder whether his death was in fact suicide .)
His tale works as an operatic tragedy and this piece is extensively sung: by the BBC Singers, augmented by Neil Tennant, who frequently refers to a score housed in a large red folder. They function like a Greek chorus, repeating Stevenson's words theatrically, picking out phrases to drum home. "Can you feel what I think? Do you feel what I feel?" they demand, teasing out the elements of Turing's outer and inner lives. The Enigma code-breaker imagined a "universal machine" that could compute, as far back as the war; boxes, now called computers, that could think outside the box. Turing's innermost feelings, of course, ran painfully counter to the law of the day, and the discussion of his gay leanings gets a breezy, almost swinging treatment, full of longing.
Mainly, though, this tribute is lavishly orchestrated. The BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Dominic Wheeler, is doing the heavy lifting tonight. As the piece is often stirring or sad, the strings out-rank the brass and woodwind; I would have liked to hear more from the less strident corners of the ensemble. PSB synth jockey Chris Lowe is hidden at the very back beside some sound guys, identifiable only by a pair of fat red headphones and a baseball cap. Magnificently diffident, clad in shades and jeans, he comes down at the end and doesn't bow.
Turing's story is deeply affecting, and the telling of it by an establishment organisation (the BBC, which runs the Proms) in an establishment venue (the Royal Albert Hall) in an establishment idiom (classical) is cause for celebration. We have come far since sodomy and treachery were felt to be synonymous by the state. (Or have we? Gay men who weren't Enigma code-breakers remain unpardoned.)
But we really could have done with more from Lowe, and modernity more widely. Turing was, after all, a man from The Future. Even given the operatic nature of his tale and the rarefied Proms setting, wrapping this man up in strings seems a contradictory impulse. The very best passages here recall Giorgio by Moroder, a terrific electronic narrative from last year's Daft Punk album, such as when Lowe's vintage analogue sounds, laptop emissions and some unexpected beats (from a man hitting his cello, an excellent touch) penetrate the swell of the classical players.
And so it goes.
Note: One of the two birthday gifts to arrive without the gifter’s name is a DVD recording of the Pet Shop Boys “Cubism” concert. A gift that I will be viewing this evening for the first time. The first of many more to come, I am sure.
Again, thank you, who ever you are.