Last Night of the Proms 2010

Union Jacks and high jinks were guaranteed, but would there be vuvuzelas? Nick Shave reports on the 2010 Proms finale from the Royal Albert Hall

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There are many good reasons to celebrate this year's Proms – Maria João Pires’s Chopin recital; the Berlin Philharmonic’s Mahler One; and John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi Vespers, a truly moving and memorable performance by the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists last Friday – to name just a few. Hats off to Proms director Roger Wright for one of the most successful festivals on record.

The statistics speak for themselves: an average of 92% attendance at the main performances, that’s a turnout of around 4,000 spectators to the Royal Albert Hall each night. Of course, I still harbour minor gripes (do the attendants really have to police the doors like prison warders, scanning your ticket not just on the way in, but also the way out of the hall?), but here is not the place to air them. It’s the Last Night. I have far greater gripes to bear.

In fact, such are my reservations about attending the Last Night that I had planned to set up a stall selling Union Jack vuvuzelas at the main entrance, secretly hoping they might do for the concert what they did to this year’s World Cup football, zapping the occasion of any atmosphere and effectively removing the collective memory of it ever taking place. ‘The Proms’, the promenaders would mumble, confusedly as they staggered from the Hall, ‘was that this year?’

Without wishing to sound like a Last Night balloon – the ones that whizz high into the air before blowing a raspberry and flopping unceremoniously back down to earth – all this flag-waving and we-Brits frivolity is just not for me. The prospect of Last Nighting was akin to attending a fondue party on a full stomach – I would just have to get through the cheese as quickly and politely as possible while hoping it all stayed down.

And hand out lots of vuvuzelas. According to my schedule, the evening would be launched by a fanfare of trumpets from Jonathan Dove’s, A Song of Joys, a setting of the opening nine lines of Walt Witman that at one point (figure 8 in the score, as it turned out) would draw directly from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, elsewhere would bring to mind John Adams, but would always sound unmistakably English.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra would lightly render Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien, followed by his Rococo Variations, with the excellent young viola player Maxim Rysanov the soloist. Hubert Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens from the BBC Singers would follow and Renée Fleming would introduce Strauss’s Five Songs to the Proms for the first time. So far, so palatable.

Then after the interval the japes and tomfoolery would begin. Cue vuvuzelas with a drone that gradually cresendoes over Charbrier’s whimsical Joyeuse marche, Smetana’s Dalibor and Dvořák’s Song to the Moon from Fleming – sorry, collateral damage – and drowns out Vaughan Williams’s Suite for viola and small orchestra (1934) from Rysanov.

Still louder they would hum, swarming like bored bees around Lohengrin’s Bridal Chorus, and ‘You’ll never walk alone’, before hitting lobotomising volumes for Rule, Britannia!, the Parry, Elgar and National Anthem. Champagne would flow, heads would bob, and the rest, they wouldn’t say, is history.

But who was I to ruin the fun? And besides, the door staff were already onto me.

Prom 76: The Last Night of the Proms
Renée Fleming (soprano); Maxim Rysanov (viola); BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Jiři Bělohlávek

 

Nick Shave is a freelance music writer, critic, and contributing editor to BBC Music Magazine. He has spent many happy summers reviewing the Proms, but is still prone to a loss of bearings when choosing the quickest way round the Royal Albert Hall.

 

Related links:
Proms Diary: Critical Response
Proms Diary: The Berlin Philharmonic
Proms Diary: Jumping for joy

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