Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Last Night of the Proms

Ice cream at Wimbledon; watching the English Rugby team play at Twickenham; driving on the left of the road; soccer at Hampden Park; singing Abide with Me at Wembley; the White Cliffs of Dover; Harlech Castle; red telephone boxes – whatever it is that evokes the UK for you the Last Night of the Promenade Concerts has to be one of the things that would come on many people’s lists. “The Last Night of the Proms celebrates a brand of patriotism in which we can still take pride”, says Stephen Hough.

Classical music’s most talked about soloist, the Classical Brit award-winning trumpeter Alison Balsom, continued her extraordinary year by taking to the stage on Saturday night. I love Haydn’s music and was delighted that she was playing his Trumpet Concerto. Some Mahler songs were also included in the programme and whilst they are not everyone’s cup of tea I love them. Sung by mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly it was really miserable, suicidal music! But I admit I prefer to listen to Mahler on a less joyous occasion than the Last Night.

We were also treated to excerpts from the Proms in the Park being held at five parks around the UK but they were all too brief – as was the whole evening.

In particular I could listen to (and watch!) the 29 year old Katherine Jenkins – who was singing in Hyde Park - for hour after hour. I would love to go to an opera with her in one of the lead roles. The Marriage of Figaro, perhaps.

The Promenaders laid their traditional wreath on the bust of Sir Henry Wood who began the Promenade Concerts in Queens Hall in 1895.

“Although the Royal Albert Hall seems as if it might have been built especially for this festival, the first 50 years of the Proms took place in the Queen's Hall at the end of Regent Street, until it was damaged during an air raid in another terrible war, on May 10, 1941. The last work to be performed there, earlier on that same fateful day, was Sir Edward Elgar's Dream of Gerontius. How cruelly pertinent must the Demons' screaming chorus have seemed on the following, rubble-filled morning: "Dispossessed, Aside thrust, Chucked down, By the sheer might of a despot's will, Of a tyrant's frown." (Stephen Hough)

Malcolm Arnold’s A Grand Grand Overture for vacuum cleaners, floor polishers, rifles and orchestra (commissioned by cartoonist Gerard Hoffnung) was one of the evenings pieces of fun. David Attenborough played the floor polisher!

Mum would have loved last nights Prom because Ketelby’s ‘In a Monastery Garden’ was one of her favourite pieces. It is a tribute to the musicality of the Promenaders that they can settle down from the traditional paper aeroplane throwing and ten seconds later be perfectly quiet for the music.

The bird-caller in the Garden!

Alison Balsom was back on stage to play a delightful piece called Libertango by Piazzolla – a new one for me. I loved the muted beginning.

Alison and Sarah Connolly came together for the Gershwin piece “They can’t take that away from me” (arr. Barry Forgie).

BBC Proms Inspire composers (6 award winning young musicians aged between 14 and 18 ) created the Fireworks Fanfares for this event and the piece was played in sections by the BBC Orchestra and the orchestras in the various parks across the country. Not my cup of tea but you can’t always please old fogies like me. Excerpts from Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks followed. In the five parks fireworks were set off and the weather for once was kind and it was a dry warm evening right across the UK.

The Promenaders have raised over £77,000 for musical charities this season.

The highlights and climax were the traditional Land of Hope and Glory. Jerusalem and Rule Britannia.

Thomas Arne’s Rule Britannia – the original version (not an arrangement) - was brilliantly sung by Sarah Connolly complete with Nelson costume!

The chorus was sung by the Promenaders (including those in the Parks) with their usual verve and flag-waving. Even Sarah had a flag!!

The deeply emotional Jerusalem by Parry was treated to its usual respectful singing by the many thousands taking part, forty thousand in Hyde Park alone.

David Robertson, the conductor, gave the usual conductor’s speech and whilst those of us with long memories can recall greater, better speeches it was nevertheless first class. I especially loved his ending where he compared the world to an orchestra and pointed out the things which unite us are far, far stronger than the things which keep us apart.

Land of Hope and Glory (officially Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1) followed and I put the volume up to neighbourhood-blasting volume! The whole evening’s enthusiasm is compressed into those last eight minutes like nothing on earth.

God Save the Queen was followed by Auld Lang Syne. The Proms will be back next year. I’m looking forward to Mum’s birthday, 16th Jul 2010, when it will be the First Night of the Proms!



  1. I've never watched the Proms, and will be unlikely to ever do so, unless it's carried on a special channel over here. Perhaps there'll be something on Utube - I'll go have a look.
    All of the music was familiar to me, and Jerusalem, Land of Hope and Glory etc are all songs we sang at school over here, but are rarely heard today.
    Lovely post!

  2. I connected up my TV's stereo audio output to my HiFi (proper HiFi too). The outputted sound and the event were awesome! Really enjoyed it.

    Due to the overrunning of the event, I had to wait up until about 12:30am watch Liverpool FC. Way past my bed time. Sacrifices sacrifices. :-)

  3. I emailed a friend last night when I was watching the Last Night of the Proms and said that she could see what I was talking about when I did my blog posting. I'm glad that I happened to see yours tonight because it's better than the one I would have done.

    It's been a wonderful series and the fact that the BBC have televised so many of the performances is encouraging.

  4. Oh, Pondside, I am sorry you've never seen it. You'd love it, I'm sure. The last night of the Proms really is spectacular. And Land of Hope and Glory (aka Pomp and Circumstance) was what we marched to when I graduated.
    Thanks for sharing it with us, Scriptor.
    The Canadian Chickadee

  5. A wonderful post! You are right, when I think of "things English" I'd like to do the Proms feature towards the top of the list. After tennis at Wimbledon. Occasionally, during the day in the holiday season we might catch a Night at the Proms on TV. They are always great. Like Pondside I'll have to look on Utube. Thanks for a lovely post.


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