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. The goal would be to 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 attracts performers and concert-goers from all over the world. This makes it one of the largest classical music festivals in 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”. This is where you get the cheap standing room tickets that make these concerts. Having these standing room tickets make the Proms 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 classical pieces. There will often be a stand out performance from the season or a showcased performer. In the second half, it is a series of traditional English songs. These include Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March Number 1. Here you will hear the audience passionately singing along with the hymn, “Land of Hope and Glory”. Other crowd favourites include 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 will wear their most formal wear. Others will don patriotic shirts. Still others will choose a mixture of the two (such as, formal jackets over British flag shorts). British flags are waved and hung around the auditorium in abundance. But as the festival has grown, flags from other nationalities are visible as well.
Last Night of the Proms all over the world
This concert has grown so much that the concert is now broadcast all over the world. The BBC broadcast the concert across England. There are also 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. DVD’s of the performances are also available.
There has also become a bit of a tradition of orchestras doing their own “Last Night of the Proms” concerts. In these concerts, 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 also 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. I think it would be an incredible experience to be there for so many great concerts. But to be there for The Last Night of the Proms inside Royal Albert Hall would be an unforgettable experience.