Now the Royal Albert Hall is quiet, though the cleaners and maintenance people are busy, let's take stock of the BBC Proms 2016 season and look ahead. The Proms are so big that plans are made many years in advance - that's the way the business work. No doubt the figures will show good sales, which will please politicians and bureaucrats. But success isn't measured solely in terms of statistics. Short-term targets are all very well, and box-ticking, but what of the longer-term future? Will the Proms honour the musical ideals of Sir Henry Wood or will they become a giant commercial splash promoting anything but serious music?
First, kaput to the mantra that the Proms have to be all things to everyone. Proms for kids, Proms for minority interests, etc etc are a very good thing indeed. Even party-time gimmicks have their place - that's why we love the Last Night of the Proms. But any business that loses sight of its USP goes down the tubes. In the case of the BBC, that's a real danger given the competition from vested outside interests. A few years ago, many moaned about the Michael Ball Prom. It brought in new audiences, yes, but not the core Proms audience, but audiences who thought that by hearing Ball at the RAH they "knew" about music. Now, nivellement par le bas become the norm. Even the Children's Prom, which not long ago was so good that even adults could enjoy it , is now more about being cute than getting kids enthused. Will these kids grow up thinking that serious music is poison that must be coated in sugar? I know someone who was taken to the Proms at schools and hated the experience so much that she's assumed ever since that music is for middle-class toffs pretending to be Right On. My friend, and many of her friends, are not fools. They can spot condescension a mile away. Sir Henry Wood believed that ordinary people were capable of learning. Now, those who make arts policy seem ashamed of excellence, trapping us in a counter-productive downward spiral.
It's all very well to chaase new audiences, for that is the current mantra. But face demographics, and face the global market for the arts. Through technology, the BBC Proms can reach millions all over the world. In places like Asia - potentially the biggest market of all - people are brought iup to value cultivation. they look to the BBC as a beacon of high standards. Give them too much parochial drivel and lose their attention.
Anecdotal evidence is that many Proms regulars are cutting down on what they attend. Driving away the core audience is bad business : killing the goose that laid the golden eggs in the first place. Although one could cultivate the proms as fun for tourists, the fact is that the British public is ageing. This year, I've witnessed many problems for people with disabilities. I don't know if the Royal Albert Hall,is exempt from normal Health and Safety regulations, but surely there must be ways for the BBC to make things fairer for those who can't leap up stairs and stand in the arena. One obvious and very simple solution: keep seats with easy access for people with disabilities, so people with special needs can book ahead, knowing that they will be able to use seats that currently have to be booked blind. One man told me how difficult it is just to come to the RAH, and then be turned away. Better even, he saiud, to spend a bit more than lose so much. Not everyone who is disabled is in a wheelchair or is registered blind or whatever, but people have a right to come to the Proms and be treated with dignity. If these reserved seats don't sell close to date, then sell them openly. It can't be that difficult.
Part of being a presenter is the ability to adlib while stages are being changed and so on, and that's a skill! But it would help if the presenters were briefed and not just off Wikipedia. Proms interval features vary : one of the best this year - by far - was the shepherd who spoke during the prom that featured Mendelssohn A Midsummer Night's Dream. Someone with something genuinely interesting to say, not just a motormouth. Also, as a voice person, I can vouch that at least one presenter needs a voice coach. Take breaths for punctuation, don't let your voice squeak higher and higher , faster and faster, calm down and be natural. Hysteria might be fine on some forms of radio (like sports), but it pains audiences who listen to pitch and modulation.