Britain's Proms singing its way to happy finale

Fri Sep 7, 2012 8:37am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - So what do you do for an encore to cap an extraordinary two months of concerts and recitals in a summer series that bills itself as the "world's greatest music festival" on its last weekend in the 2012 Olympics city?

Well, you party, big time, with two concerts, one indoors, one out, featuring a genre-bending array of singers and musicians, from Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja and Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti to Australian pop star Kylie Minogue and English tenor Alfie Boe, plus a four-minute-long orchestral premiere whose composer guarantees a sonic explosion in what is, and only can be, the Last Night of the Proms on Saturday night.

You also let the "Prommers", those 600 souls who every night can queue up for tickets costing five pounds ($8) for standing room in the center of London's 6,000-seat Royal Albert Hall, show their appreciation for a season of musical splendor by waving flags, wearing funny hats and outlandish clothes, and singing their hearts out for "the best of British" grand finale that includes Elgar's "Land of Hope and Glory" and other hits to make everyone feel a lot, or at least a little bit, British.

"When we were setting off we said it was going to be a summer like no other and I think for a whole number of reasons that's actually been the case," Roger Wright, the Proms Director, and Controller of BBC classical music channel Radio 3, told Reuters in an interview as the big night, for which tickets are awarded by a lottery-like ballot, drew near.

Highlights of the BBC-sponsored Proms 118th season included performances by conductor Daniel Barenboim and his pan-Middle Eastern West-Eastern Divan Orchestra of the nine Beethoven symphonies, a night devoted to the works of the avant garde American composer John Cage, a staging for the first time at the Proms of the Broadway musical "My Fair Lady", plus appearances by world-renowned orchestras, ensembles and soloists.

Wright said his predictions that Proms attendance would hold up despite the Olympics staged on the other side of London most of the summer have proven correct, with average attendance of 90 percent, down from a record 94 percent the previous year.

Demand has been strong right to the end with the Last Night of the Proms, and the 17th year of its pop-oriented twin outdoor concert across the way in Hyde Park, sold out for advance tickets for weeks. Both will be shown for the first time in 3D at cinemas and on the BBC's 3D channel, as well as on big screens and in conventional cinemas across Britain.

HONOUR TO PERFORM   Continued...