CLASSICAL MUSIC / Party poppers, party poopers: Last Night Of The Proms: Silly hats, teddy bears, and some fine music, too

The Last Night of the Proms - either you love it or hate it. In fact it's possible to feel both about this weirdly British institution. In a way, it is utterly, utterly ghastly. Quite apart from the political dimensions - prayers for the return of the ever-expanding Empire ('wider still and wider') - there's the sight of thousands of one's countrymen and women reduced almost to hysterics by exploding party-poppers, nose- diving paper darts and balloons making rude noises during solemn cello solos (I wonder how much the musicians really enjoy that sort of thing?). And for some of us there's the added embarrassment of knowing that for many outsiders, this is what 'The Proms' means - not a uniquely adventurous music festival, offering by far the widest range of orchestral music in the country, but people in Eton collars, straw boaters and Union Jack waistcoats waving teddy bears along to 'The Sailor's Hornpipe'. One prominent journalist has even referred to this as 'the typical Radio 3 audience' - time for an emergency meeting with the image consultants, I'd say.

But I wonder sometimes if the liberal reaction to the flag- waving and patriotic hymn singing doesn't have an element of the knee jerk. Do the Prommers in the Arena really believe that old, battered Britannia can be 'mightier yet' - that as defence cuts gather momentum she will ever again 'rule the waves'? Having talked to one or two of them I don't think so. The people that bother me are the ones in the boxes, chandelier- like with jewellery and popping champagne corks in the more intimate moments of Vaughan Williams' lovely Dives and Lazarus. There are some there, I suspect, who really believe that the Prommers are celebrating Tory values, the free market, and stuff the foreigners. I noticed several European flags and one 'hello CIS' in the arena - nowhere else though.

Point number two is that community singing events are an endangered species. Apart from the rugby or soccer terraces, where else in England can people get together and sing words they all know to wonderful tunes - and let's face it, Jerusalem and Pomp and Circumstance No. 1 are wonderful tunes. It has been suggested that something less gruesomely nationalistic than Rule Britannia or AC Benson's words to the Elgar could be sung - but what? 'Spread a little happiness', 'We Are the Champions', a Lloyd Webber medley? You see the problem.

And then there's the perplexing fact that, as this particular Last Night showed, extraordinary musical things can happen. Not in the second half, I admit, but I've rarely heard the strings of the BBC Symphony Orchestra play more beautifully than they did in the Dives and Lazarus in part one. And the performance of Walton's Belshazzar's Feast that followed was thrilling - a splendid choral contribution, playing with real electricity, and solo singing and vocal acting by Bryn Terfel that was exceptional even by his exceptional standards. It put Lorin Maazel's suave and emptily sensationalised Beethoven Nine the previous evening squarely in the shade. There's been plenty of talk about how you de-formalise concerts, bring back the sparkle to the audience performer relationship. This was it: despite the crassness in the behaviour of certain parts of the auditorium, the relaxed attentiveness of the Prommers and the sense of occasion instilled in the musicians worked a unique kind of magic.

Can the Last Night be changed? Can one reduce the alienating nationalism and rescue the positive features - encourage that element that still sees this as an essentially musical event? An acknowledgement of the increasing role of World Music (long may that continue) might help. And since the event is seen Europewide, we could try including national treasures from neighbouring countries: how about Berlioz's Marseillaise or the Slaves' Chorus from Verdi's Nabucco? Quite a lot of us know those too. But the problem, as a German colleague once said to me, is that 'in Britain you don't ask of something, 'how good is it?' You ask, 'how old is it?' ' Tradition is almost our only criterion of value. We're probably stuck with the Last Night of the Proms as it is, and with an international image as eccentric, blimpish and cute. Well, at least it sells.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn