The first of the BBC's Late Night Proms series garnered considerable press coverage from the moment the embargo was lifted and the world was able to see what was in store for the expected 300,000 or so Proms-goers this summer. It was not the first time that pop artists had been invited to perform at the Proms, but it was, as Sara Mohr-Pietsch pointed out, the first time that all the pieces in a single Prom were receiving their live premières. The artists: legendary pop duo Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, a.k.a. The Pet Shop Boys, with the help of the BBC Singers, the BBC Concert Orchestra, rock singer Chrissie Hynde, and actress Juliet Stevenson.

Chrissie Hynde and Neil Tennant © Chris Christodoulou
Chrissie Hynde and Neil Tennant
© Chris Christodoulou

The atmosphere in the Royal Albert Hall was buzzing even before the music had started. The first item in the programme, Overture to 'Performance' , gave the Proms a dance hall-like atmosphere as Prommers took to the floor to swing along to Richard Niles's big band-style orchestral medley of the Pet Shop Boys' hits (think six minutes of hits such as It's a SinBeing Boring, and West End Girls with added jazz and lashings of Broadway glitz and glamour). A recording of the piece was played at the start of every concert on their 1991 world tour, but this was the overture's debut as live music. It is a clever piece of music, and one that the BBC Concert Orchestra tangibly enjoyed playing: rhythms were slick, accents sassy, and the melodies playfully brought out.

After ecstasy came melancholy, with Four Songs in A Minor (''cause they're written in...A minor' said a warmly received Tennant, dryly). Film composer Angelo Badalamenti was brought in to orchestrate Love is a CatastropheLater TonightVocal, and Rent. I'm afraid that this was, for me, the low point of the evening, both in terms of its borderline unbearably slow pace and in terms of the limited success with which these songs were transmuted into such large-scale pieces. Chrissie Hynde put an interesting and unique spin on the songs, though ultimately lacked the power (whether physically or electronically – she was miked up) to be heard above the orchestra in the crescendi. Tennant demonstrated an eerily similar timbre to Hynde's voice in Rent, here presented as a kind of mercenary love duet. The original songs, with their synths and decidedly more intimate feel, simply work better for me; with a vast orchestral accompaniment, the finely crafted lyrics sadly did not get the place at the table they really deserved.

Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe in <i>A Man from the Future</i> © Chris Christodoulou
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe in A Man from the Future
© Chris Christodoulou

The most hotly anticipated of the three premieres was the Boys' A Man from the Future, inspired by the life and work of Alan Turing, notable for his code-breaking work at Bletchley Park and his courageous open admission of homosexuality at a time when it was a crime. His being granted a Royal Pardon last year was marked by documentaries, radio programmes, and now this...symphony? Song cycle? Music with biographical narrative? Biographical narrative with music? Political statement? I'm not quite sure – though it is certainly not, as the Boys made clear in a press interview, an oratorio.  Each of the eight parts focuses on a different area of Turing's life, from his entry into Sherborne ('a moderately distinguished public school') and his close friendship with Christopher Morcom, his dreaming of the Universal Machine, and his sexual encounters with Arnold Murray, the pair's subsequent prosecution, and Turing's undergoing chemical castration. A Man From the Future is not the first piece to combine music and narrative, but the Pet Shop Boys appear nonetheless to have created a new fusion genre of 80s synthpop and classical music, in which the singers (here, 18 superb BBC Singers, and Tennant too) are treated sometimes as instruments, sometimes as narrators, and other times as singers in their own right. The music is impressive and impressionistic, swiftly adapting to fit the tone of the narrative, edited from Andrew Hodges's biography of Turing, which was expertly mastered by Stevenson. The recording of Gordon Brown's voice came as a bit of a surprise – though I suppose his apology for the way Turing and others were treated was an important part of Turing's legacy today. Rather amusingly, when it came to the issue of Turing's Royal Pardon, the singers sang the decree in faux-fanfare style, as if to say that his Pardon was not the big deal it was portrayed to be: plenty of other gay men suffered the same treatment, and it was neither fair nor adequate redress to pardon Turing because of his pioneering work. One wonders whether A Man from the Future might be a catalyst for change in the way that Turing ultimately and tragically was, though having listened again to the Prom on iPlayer, I arrive at the conclusion that the visual spectacle was as much a part of the piece as the music and narrative.