Sunday, 12 September 2010

Last Night of the Proms 2010

Renée Fleming, Prom Queen! Complete with helmet and flag! The BBC Proms are the biggest block party in the whole world, as well as the Biggest Music Festival, and the Last Night of the Proms is the biggest party of the whole season.

Imagine, 86,000 tickets issued for the various events, Hyde Park and other free open air venues and concert halls in the UK completely packed out. Millions more listening at home or with friends (where you safely quaff champagne). All over the world, online too. By tomorrow the repeat broadcast will be available on the BBC Site, and also more clips on youtube both official and pirated.

La Renée gave us a Rule Britannia with genuine baroque flourish: nice change! She knows how not to take herself too seriously, though, which is a saving grace. In any case, no-one comes to the Last Night for High Art. That's why I loved Sergei Leiferkus singing Edward German's Who were the Yeomen of England? with heavy Russian accent at the 1910 Proms Last Night reconstruction last Sunday. (There is a special clip of this on the BBC listen again site)  This should become a classic!

No English singer could sing German without Heavy Irony. When a Russian sings it, it's hysterically funny. As a historian friend told me apropos this Prom, that London in 1910 was full of exiles, Russians, Polish, Jewish and Indian. Good point! One thing the British should be proud of is that London was a world city, even then, a haven for progressive thinkers. This is one aspect of Britishness that's worth remembering, which right-wing bigots forget.

At the Last Night of the Proms in 1946, my mother was in the arena, a penniless refugee, recently liberated from a camp, in England for the first time. To her, Land of Hope and Glory really meant something. Flag waviing is fine, jingoism isn't. A few years ago showing off got out of hand, and some people were more interested in hogging attention than the musical spirit of the Proms. Thank goodness BBCTV crews don't focus on these types anymore, but linger on ordinary members of the audience. Ban vuvuzuelas, someone! They're intrusive and fascist, the sonic equivalent of a fart.

One of the pleasures of the Proms is the "ordinary people". Wonderful to spot friends in the audience, having fun, not playing up for TV. And watch around 48 minutes into part 2. There's a celebrity in the crowd, but the cameraman doesn't notice, so it's a fuzzy group shot. He's completely unassuming, no airs. The people around him probably didn't realize he's a star. Bet HE sang nicely.

Jiří Bĕlohlávek was lovable, because he. too, is unpretentious. His English is odd ("Gent-lemen") but it's much better to have a conductor who expresses himself through music than through showmanship. The speech is one tradition we could do without. It's unnatural, as it creates unnecessary stress on a conductor who isn't that way inclined. Most of them haven't the guts to say, let me do music not clown. Bĕlohlávek's genial, and you can see his nerves, and the relief on his face when he starts to do what he's much better at.

Post mortem on the 2010 Proms season is now up.  It's been wonderful, extremelty well planned and balanced, spectaular flourishes, many good moments and only a few duds.

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