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)

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living