It would probably be a mistake to take Frank Zappa’s The Adventures of Greggery Peccary too seriously. True, musically it is highly taxing in its orchestral transcription by Ali N. Askin, and there’s absolutely no denying the seriousness of Zappa as a musician generally. But this is Zappa in full-on nonsense mode.

Prom 25 (c) Chris Christodoulou
Prom 25 (c) Chris Christodoulou

Greggery Peccary is a pig of some sort, who works in an office, or something. He flirts with the girls in the typing pool and invents the calendar, an act which causes him to be pursued by some Hunchmen (and Hunch-Women). Our hero ends up stuck on a mountain, concerned about some brown clouds which have suddenly appeared. He phones the “Greatest Living Philosotopher Known to Mankind” for advice but receives none of use. The ending is inconclusive.

I wasn’t convinced by Tom Service’s game attempt in the programme notes to read the story as a shrewd social satire. There are many pieces like this in Zappa's brilliant, vast output, and while this one may lend itself particularly well to live orchestral performance, it isn’t necessarily one of his most compelling stories. My vote, at any rate, would go to Muffin Man or Dinah Moe Humm, the latter of which I recommend that you research yourself, in an incognito window. Musically, on the other hand, Greggery Peccary has pretty much everything, from advertising jingles to curious modernist orchestral outbursts, all underpinned by the two vocal parts, the narrator and Peccary himself.

The Aurora Orchestra, conducted by the brilliantly enthusiastic Nicholas Collon, realised this taxing piece with great skill, and Christopher Purves was an appropriately lurid Greggery, mastering the vocal acrobatics and silly voice. He also sported a pink, vaguely pig-like onesie, which can’t have been comfortable in the heat of the Royal Albert Hall. Just as impeccable in performance, though not always quite as clearly audible, was Mitch Benn, the narrator perhaps better known to the audience as a contributor to BBC Radio 4’s The Now Show. But while all was done with skill, I wasn’t quite convinced the piece’s zany, off-the-cuff humour really transferred to the polished exactitude of the concert hall.

In what is surely the most imaginatively programmed of all this year’s Proms, Greggery Peccary was preceded by the music of Conlon Nancarrow and Philip Glass. Nancarrow’s Study for Player Piano no. 7 in this orchestration by Yvar Mikhashoff has all of this composer’s customary complexity but also a surprisingly neat structure, with a pair of musical ideas introduced at the beginning in a way that recalls sonata form, and the end is clearly marked by some huge orchestral stab chords. Not quite what you’d necessarily expect from this composer of inhumanly difficult canons – although there is always a surprising approachability to these delightful, beguiling pieces. Mikhashoff’s arrangement is virtuosic, making imaginative use of the orchestra and integrating a harpsichord for some reason, and the seventeen players plus Collon were more than up to the job, delivering it with delicious vim and polish.

A different approach was needed for Philip Glass’ Symphony no. 10, here receiving its UK première, but they obliged here as well. Glass’ music plays into critics’ hands – it really does all sound the same – but this particular piece possesses a sturdy dramatic structure which provides a driven half-hour, if not the most strikingly different. The best minimalist music makes a virtue of its repetitive nature, which this piece doesn’t really do: it felt like a few more changes of harmony or melodic idea would simply have made it all a bit more interesting. In Collon and his orchestra’s lyrical interpretation, however, there was a sense of flow to this performance. While the rest of the programme might have showcased their technical virtuosity, this was the piece where their musicality was allowed to shine.

The highlight, for me, was the four-minute G-Spot Tornado, a 1986 Zappa piece originally written (like the Nancarrow) for inhuman forces, in this case the electronic Synclavier. Askin’s 1991 orchestration is another tour de force, and this performance highlighted Zappa’s unique musical brilliance more effectively than Greggery Peccary, in which it was too hard to put the zaniness to one side. Cheeky but keenly focused, this short, 80s-disco-style outburst was brimming with life, and the vitality of the playing – and conducting – was a real joy.