I particularly enjoyed the concert and reception marking Wood's death on 19 August 1944. As the author of the recent biography Henry J Wood: Maker of the Proms, I recognise your cherishing of that adventurousness with which Wood stamped the first 50 seasons of Proms.
Tomorrow, Henry J Wood will again be in the minds of everyone - those thousands at the Albert Hall, those millions listening and viewing on worldwide radio and television. After Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March no 1, the Last Night will give a time-honoured space to Wood's Fantasia on British Sea Songs, written for a Trafalgar Day centenary celebration of 1905. In carnival mood, promenaders will sway and wave and sing and cheer as this is followed by Arne's 'Rule Britannia' and Parry's 'Jerusalem'.
And I, despite being caught up in the jollity, will mentally cringe. So will many others. The exclusively British and bellicose ('Wider still and wider') nature of this final sequence jars against our new European identity and our farewell long since to imperialism. Yet when Mark Elder, the appointed conductor of the Last Night in 1990, dared to suggest modifying the jingoism, the BBC instantly replaced him.
Time for a rethink, John? The Great Patriotic Sequence was never part of Sir Henry's own Proms. I do not complain, on empty grounds of tradition, that the audience's noisy exuberance far exceeds the response that Wood invited. That change became inevitable with the presence of television cameras. It would be stupid and snobbish to deny the promenaders a night of final carnival. But you, as a master of programming, could easily find an apt formula to internationalise it.
Start, perhaps, by reviving John Ireland's cantata celebrating peace and international comradeship, These Things Shall Be, as performed by Sir Henry J Wood himself.
Beyond this, you have the whole world's music to choose from - including, may I add, the music of Africa, now so strongly emergent in non-classical concerts. A broadening of the celebration could usher in the display of all United Nations flags, and also the emblems of such bodies as Amnesty International, alongside our own.
What a splendid achievement that would be to crown the 1995 (your last) season] One of your friends tells me, John, that you are in private a fervent European. Right, let's hear it]
- More about:
- Amnesty International
- Festive Events (including Carnivals)
- Music Festivals
- Shane Williams