I’m a realist. I knew Martha Argerich’s Prom concert with Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra would be long sold out, but the intrepid ticket ninja in me hoped that a return may have sprung up on the website. It was then I stumbled upon this year’s wheeze: Promming e-tickets. “A limited number of Promming e-tickets will go on sale at 9am on the day of the concert,” advised the website. PDF tickets guarantee entry into the Arena or Gallery without the need to queue for hours on the steps outside the Royal Albert Hall. Trapped at my desk during normal UK office hours, there’s no way I would normally consider promming. For a big name orchestra or soloist, the Day Queue for promming tickets would be far too long to consider schlepping to the hall after work and hoping luck was on my side. But guaranteed entry? It was worth a shot.

© Mark Pullinger
© Mark Pullinger

At 9am on the dot, finger hovering over my mouse, page refreshed, I struck with deadly precision. For the princely sum of £7.12 (usually £6 in person) I had my place in the Arena reserved. With my e-ticket printed, I skipped away from the office for an evening with Martha and Danny. What the e-ticket fails to tell you is what to do next. A hasty tweet to the RAH’s Twitter account revealed you have to join the Arena Season Queue – logically enough, as the Day Queue is for people yet to purchase tickets. What I failed to learn is that in the queue, it is the Done Thing to get a raffle ticket from an usher first to mark your place in the queue. Very British. Things could have turned very ugly as several other e-bookers were just as clueless, but the Prommers are always happy to share queue etiquette with the uninitiated.

Inside the hall, I found myself around halfway back, left-hand side. Being tall, I had a decent view of the keyboard. As this was such a popular Prom, space was tight and we gamely shuffled forward and played Sardines. I haven’t prommed in about 20 years, but I am very used to standing at the Royal Opera House. Two big differences, though: firstly, you have an allotted place at the ROH, so personal space isn’t a big issue. Secondly, you have a rail to lean on. Just recovering from a nasty six-month bout of Plantar faciitis, this was going to be a trial. With little room for manoeuvre, I was in a good deal of discomfort and grateful for the chance to walk about (and sit) during the interval. Younger, fitter legs managed fine.

It’s true what the pundits say: Proms audiences are remarkably still and attentive. They’re also a sociable bunch. Perhaps it’s the close proximity into which we’re all thrown. I struck up lovely conversations with a young German – who checks out Bachtrack reviews every day! – about the orchestral scene in Germany and shared thoughts about the recent Bolshoi season with a young French balletomane. Both had also purchased their tickets online that morning.

Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

But a thought nagged me. Weren’t we frauds, turning up an hour before the concert and effectively queue-jumping ahead of those who’d waited patiently outside the RAH for hours? Here we were enjoying a decent view (and probably the best sound the Albert Hall offers) without putting in the same effort. Argerich was wondrous – her Liszt both tigerish and surprisingly intimate – and Barenboim was affectionately impish, practically embracing Argerich during their Schubert four-hands encore. I was delighted to share the moment… but felt a little guilty all the same. Too British?