Sunday, 14 September 2014

Benignly British - Last Night of the Proms 2014

Last Night of the BBC Proms 2014. Thousands were there, having fun, and thousands more at open air Proms all over the country. I was at Otello at the ENO – new production by David Alden. I'll write about that in a few hours, please come back – it was good! The real Last Night of the Proms was  a thrilling Beethoven Ninth with the Leipzig Gewandhaus (reviewed here)  So the Last Last Night of the Proms is Silly Season, a time to unwind and ham things up.

Sakaro Oramo in tails and a Union Flag waistcoat!  And Malcolm Arnold to set the right tone of doggedly British dottiness. The BBC Singers, The BBC SO Chorus, the BBC SO and conductor Sakari Oramo joined forces for Arnold's Peterloo Overture. "I felt again the passion of a great nation burning...the libertine philosophers no longer held sway, ". New words, methinks. At least Arnold had a sense of humour. Havergal Brian didn't and many others won't. 

I loved the BBC camera work, the scene shot from way up in the dome. Literally, "off the wall". Sakari Oramo hams things up with a demented grin. Wow, he's a natural TV persona. Some real music in the mix – Janine Jansen playing Chausson Poème with a straight face, and a rarity – Richard Strauss's Taillefer, a mini-oratorio about a peasant following William the Conqueror to "Eng-ger-land".  Strauss sending up Grand Oratorios and Mock Medieval Tradition.

Roderick Williams sang Rule Britannia. In recent years this feature of the Last Night has been camped up so much that there's no more room for novelty. Williams took a radically different approach. Previously he'd joked about waving a Jamaican flag. Perfectly reasonable – where would Britain be without West Indians and their descendants? At one stroke, the Proms would connect to millions of people otherwise excluded form the sometimes belligerant jingoism of the past. On the other hand, Williams is sharp enough to understand thast such a gesture might be patronizing, Much, much better that Williams chose sincerity, idealism and conviction.  His eyes shone. No gimmick, no jokiness, but absolute faith in,meaning  For me, one of the great things about Britain is that immigrants can become somebody, hard as it might be. That's what inclusiveness is really all about.

Sakari Oramo is  a natural party animal and born communicator. He takes his coat off to reveal  a Finnish flag on the back of his waistcoat.  But in his speech he addressed serious issues. "Music isn't just about knowledge and technical things, it's about love and appreciation.... Music is history, it's culture, it's a universal language to those who are open to it. It's science, it's geography, it's physical education. It develops insight. It's therapy for those who need it. Music is a wonderful high speed dual carriageway to the human mind and innermost emotions" 

Last year there was a big fuss because Marin Alsop was the first female conductor to conduct a Last Night. But so what? One person's self-congratulation means nothing when millions of women (and men) around the globe struggle simply to stay alive. Being a conductor is not only irrelevant in the wider scheme of things, but reinforces the idea of western supremacy, Far from promoting  feminism, it set the cause back,  This year's LNOP with its non-grandstanding,  gentle good humour could do a lot more in terms of bringing people together.

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