A number of years ago, I was planning the trip of a lifetime. I was going to fly to England, find a backpackers or something near Paddington, and go to as many Proms concerts as I could. The Proms are something so uniquely Brittish, but even more so is the traditional Last Night of the Proms.
The Proms are one of the largest classical music festivals in the world, and attracts performers and concert goers from all over the world. For example, the 2019 proms included performances by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, Joshua Bell, the Czech Philharmonic, Sol Gabetta, the Knussen Chamber Orchestra, Barry Manilow, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Gil Shaham, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Tenebrae and VOCES8, amongst many others.
One of the unique experiences of the Proms is the idea of “Promming” – that is, getting the cheap standing room tickets that make these concerts so different than anything else that the classical music world ever experiences. But the final event of the festival – the Last Night of the Proms – is effectively the rock festival of the classical music world.
In the first half of the concert, there are often light classiscal pieces, and perhaps some stand out performances from the season. In the second half, it is a series of traditional English songs, such as Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March Number 1, which includes the hymn “Land of Hope and Glory” which is passionately sung by the audience; Thomas Wood’s “Fantasia on British Sea Songs”, Thomas Arne’s “Rule Britannia”, Hubert Parry’s “Jerusalem”, and the British National Anthem, “God Save the Queen”.
The concert audience will often dress up – some if their most formal wear, others in patriotic shirts, and some with a mixture of the two (such as, formal jackets over British flag shorts). There are often a huge amount of British flags being waved and hung around the auditorium, as well as flags from other nationalities.
This concert has grown so much that the concert is now broadcast all over the world. In England, it’s broadcast on the BBC, as well as there being a number of live sites that incorporate a live concert as well as a video feed of the Royal Albert Hall. There are now also broadcasts of the concerts in cinemas in many countries across Europe, Asia and even Australia, and DVD’s of the performances are available.
There has also become a bit of a tradition of orchestras doing their own “Last Night of the Proms” concerts, where they replicate the program of the last night in their own local setting. For example, my local orchestra, the WA Symphony Orchestra, is presenting their own Last Night of the Proms concert this weekend, there is one scheduled for Bendigo next year, and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra held one in 2019.
I still hope to be able to get over to London one year for the proms, as I think it would be an incredible experience to be there for so many great concerts, as well as either being there for the Last night at the hall, or in the Hyde Park live event.