Last Night of the Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

So it was farewell to the 2004 Prom season; farewell to Michael Davis, leader of the BBC Symphony Orchestra; and farewell to their chief conductor, Leonard Slatkin, after four eventful but far from harmonious years in the saddle.

So it was farewell to the 2004 Prom season; farewell to Michael Davis, leader of the BBC Symphony Orchestra; and farewell to their chief conductor, Leonard Slatkin, after four eventful but far from harmonious years in the saddle.

John Philip Sousa's march "The Liberty Bell" saw Slatkin off just as it should have piped him on at the start of the 2001 season. But the date, then as now, was September 11 and the traditional festivities were put on hold. Even now, Slatkin was muted when he spoke of the significance of The Liberty Bell, housed in Philadelphia but forged here in Whitechapel. A crack had appeared in the bell shortly after its arrival in the States, a symbol, said Slatkin, of just how fragile liberty can be. Either that or a mark of bad British workmanship.

It's hard to be serious about Anglo/American relations when Monty Python's boot and the attendant raspberry is forever associated with the tune in question. I was rather hoping that Kit Hesketh-Harvey's revised lyrics for "I've Got a Little List" from The Mikado might have got that proverbial boot in for a few more of those "who never would be missed". But no, Hesketh-Harvey was restrained. Just one cracking line: "The judicial humourist - Lord Hutton's on the list".

Sir Thomas Allen delivered Ko-Ko's political incorrectness with his customary aplomb. The East-West theme of this year's Proms had brought out a few flag-carrying Japanese, though most of them will have been wondering where exactly in Japan the town of Titipu was. They will have been even more puzzled to see Sir Thomas sauntering through the auditorium singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning". It was, after all, nearly 10 o'clock at night. But the way we all joined in with the chorus said something for "the special relationship".

The serious business of music-making never really takes precedence in the last night festivities but it's always refreshing when there's a moment in all the madness when it does. With Vaughan Williams' Five Mystical Songs, Sir Thomas and the BBC Singers and Symphony Chorus made more of a case for being British than a thousand choruses of "Land of Hope and Glory". Together they held these lovely settings in the warmest of embraces, Slatkin, too, reminding us there are few stauncher advocates of this music than he.

Then there was the Royal Albert Hall organ once more displaying its newly restored status like something blasting off from Cape Canaveral. Samuel Barber's Toccata Festiva cleverly treats it like an extension of the orchestra. Simon Preston looked and sounded like he was at the controls of an earth-digger. Virtuosic work, and the earth duly moved.

And suddenly we were singing "Jerusalem" again. The German woman to my left, straight-faced and covered in confetti, seemed puzzled by the words. As well she might.

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