Advantages Unique performances of "New Music"
Disadvantages Last Night of the Proms
The Promenade Concerts at Royal Albert Hall are probably the most famous classical music event in the world. Nowhere else can be found such a variety and density of works put together in a marathon event. For those who don't know, I shall just briefly describe the concept of the Proms.Unlike with other classical concerts where you have to reserve expensive tickets weeks in advance for a fixed seat, here you just enter Royal Albert Hall one hour before the performance and get a ticket for 3 Pounds. Seating is not in the ranks (although there are such tickets available for around 10 to 30 Pounds), but on the floor in the center of the hall. Or you may walk (promenade) around the galeries and have a look from above.
This is classical music for the masses and has introduced a new dimension of interaction between orchestra and audience, and within the audience itself. I have seen people doing all kinds of things on the audience floor: sitting and silently humming the music, standing and cheering, sleeping, and meditating.I have attended at least two concerts every year from 1995 to 1999. I was disappointed at the 2000 programme though, and the few interesting announcements didn't match my agenda, so I stayed away for the first time in years. Yet, I can't await receiving the 2001 programme for the 107th Season, which will last from July 20 to September 15.
The Proms, like Ciao, can become an addiction, and if you miss a year, you begin to feel empty. And just having listened to some Proms recordings, I felt the urge to write this opinion.I believe to have noticed a slight decline in the presentations of "New Music", ie. compositions from the second half of the 20th Century and from all over the world, which used to be a particular strength of the Proms. It was one such piece of new music which provided me with the best concert experience of my life and was one of the most celebrated Proms performances ever:
Old Russian Circus Music (Concerto for Orchestra No. 3),
composed by Rodion Shchedrin in 1989,
and performed at the 103rd Season in 1997 (BBC Philharmonic).
The audience went absolutely over the top, and for the first and only time in my concerts experience, the orchestra had to play the whole thing all over again. The performance was uplifted by the presence of the composer, Mr. Shchedrin himself, who received twenty minutes of standing ovations.
The last night usually starts with a light potpourrie including standard classical repertoire as well as elements from musicals. It then gets heavier with dramatic pieces such as Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Finally it all culminates in the chorusses of "Land of Hope and Glory", "Rule Britannia" and "Jerusalem".
The Last Night of the Proms.
Frankly speaking, it is beyond my understanding how intelligent people can join in this absurd demonstration of 18th Century Imperialism. Oops. So who does he think he is, this German barbarian, who dares to throw mud at the sanctuary of English culture?Well folks, have you ever actually read the lyrics of "Rule Britannia" and "Jerusalem"? Let me give you some examples:
In Rule Britannia we learn "still more majestic shalt thou rise, more dreadful from each foreign stroke...". Oh come on! The Spanish Armada has been sunk, Britain has won two world wars, so its about time that Britain relaxed a bit and realised that we have arrived in the age of globalisation. It continues "blest isle with matchless beauty crowned". So why do you all flee to the beaches of Mallorca and Ibiza in the millions every year?The worst part are the closing words of Jerusalem: "I will not cease from mental fight; nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, Till we have built Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land." I know around a dozen peoples who - if only by misunderstanding - may feel offended by these words, including Orthodox Jews (who might regard this as mockery on Zionism) and Arabs (who will feel reminded of the crusades).
I believe that this is hopelessly outdated and should not be performed anymore, or not in this manner. The last night attracts a different, mostly uninformed audience than the other concerts. And, with the invention of the "Proms in the Park", the whole event is transmitted to a cheering crowd of 40,000 in Hyde Park. I am not at all against a rational patriotism. But as much as the Proms may serve to attract foreign visitors, the Last Night is anything but an invitation to the outside world.
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