September 7, 2012 / 12:42 PM / 6 years ago

Britain's Proms singing its way to happy finale

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.


Artists consider it a great honor to appear at the final Proms concert which, while it may not plumb the deepest levels of the classical repertoire, produces performances of a high caliber, and reaches a phenomenally large audience.

“It’s one of the most famous and biggest musical events in the world,” Calleja, 34, told Reuters in a telephone interview, adding that he was especially looking forward to performing one of the biggest successes of his idol, the late cinema tenor Mario Lanza, Richard Rodgers’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, a perennial Proms Last Night singalong favorite.

“It’s a big honor and I always give it my best,” said Calleja, who has recently recorded a tribute album to Lanza, “Be My Love” (Decca).

As is the tradition, Calleja will wear an appropriately outrageous costume but he declined to divulge details, except to say it had nothing to do with Maltese falcons or puppies.

“It’s absolutely top secret,” he said.

No secret, though, that the Last Night opens with “Sparks” by Liverpool composer and clarinetist Mark Simpson, 23, who said he is thrilled that his work kicks off the night’s festivities.

“It’s an orchestral piece and it was an idea of mine to lure the audience in and not put all the cards out on the table at the outset,” Simpson, who said he has been a fan of the Proms since he was a young boy, told Reuters.

“It is quite suggestive, quite volatile and very fragmented but then it really begins a minute of the way’s very intense...and at the end the piece really explodes.”

Just right for what Wright calls, without a second of hesitation, “the greatest musical festival in the world”.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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