Part 3: Taking a stand
Thousands of people each year go Promming, but why is it so popular? Tristan Jakob-Hoff gives you four good reasons to brave the Arena crowds
It’s certainly not for everyone. But for anyone with a serious love for music and a reasonably hardy constitution, it is the only way to properly appreciate the special magic of the Proms season. Here’s why:
• It’s cheap. In the middle of what is apparently the worst financial crisis since the invention of money, Promming makes sound economic sense. Day tickets cost just £5, and a season ticket – which guarantees you’ll get into every Royal Albert Hall Prom – is a very reasonable £190. For 76 concerts, that’s not bad value.
• It sounds great. The acoustics in the Royal Albert Hall are notoriously capricious, and there is no seat that will give you as clear or balanced a sound picture as you will get standing in the Arena (pictured left with Prommers resting before the Prom). In most venues, the Arena is where the Stalls would be. At Covent Garden, you might pay upwards of £200 for an equivalent seat; at the Proms you pay a fiver.
• It’s egalitarian. Standing places are unreserved, and though the first few rows are generally taken up by die-hard season ticket holders, you can still get the best ‘seats’ in the house if you queue up early enough. (It’s acoustically rubbish right at the front anyway, unless you really, really like the sound of violins.)
• The performers love you. It’s true. Orchestras, soloists and conductors adore the Proms, and it’s little wonder why. It must be very flattering to be faced with 1,400 Prommers willingly subjecting themselves to hours of physical discomfort out of love for what you do. At any rate, it seems to inspire performers to play at the top of their game, and the sense of mutual admiration between orchestra and audience is palpable.
The best concert experiences I have ever had have all been Proms – I think of Plácido Domingo singing Siegmund in Die Walküre in 2005, or Claudio Abbado conducting Mahler’s Third Symphony two years ago. They were taxing at the time, to be sure – imagine standing through an entire Wagner opera! – but I honestly would not have traded my £5 standing ticket for the most expensive seat in the house. Give it a go some time and you’ll see why.