Swaying is tolerated. Talking is not. And don't think about waving a flag ...

Eye witness: First Night of the Proms

No talking is allowed. No whispering, no muttering, no rustling of wrappers, no inappropriate movement and certainly no dancing. What matters as we stand shoulder to shoulder, back to sweaty back, in the arena at the Royal Albert is the music. The people around me, mostly men, have stood in line in the sunshine for hours to be within a bow's throw of the first violin, on the First Night of the Proms.

Never mind the flag-waving of the Last Night, this is a night for serious musos: Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky rather than Rule Britannia.

Flamboyant Prommers sway a little and bob in time - as anyone would who had been standing this long - but others stare motionless at the stage like chess masters absorbed in the battle. They exhale and splutter as the first movement ends and the pianist Lang Lang wipes his face with a white towel, but then the Prommers fall absolutely silent again. The creak of shoe leather rises up to the dome of the newly and gloriously restored hall.

Classical music audiences are always fiercely quiet but here we are unusually close to each other - closer than body odour makes comfortable - and the devotion to silence is religious, fanatical. As is the hierarchy. The serious Prommers at the very front demand an assurance "written in blood" that our photographer will go back to his proper place.

Even the sudden bursts of chanting between performances are scripted.

"Arena to Stephanie," a group calls to a Radio 3 presenter on the balcony. "Happy New Year!" It is, you see, the beginning of a new prom season. "Arena to Gallery," they have been known to shout to others high in the roof, "Jump!" When the stage hands lift the lid of the piano there is a ritualised call and response of "Heave!" from the arena and "Ho!" from above.

The majority of the audience are white and appear middle-class, but Henry Wood's original intention that the working man should be able to hear fine music at the end of his day is still honoured: tickets for the arena are £4, if you are prepared to queue.

It is hard to imagine how Kevin and Matthew might have become friends other than meeting every year in the queue. Matthew, a 17-year-old music student from Birmingham, arrived at the hall at just before 10 in the morning. There was nobody about so he left his bag and a note at the appointed place and went off for a viola lesson. When he got back the bag was being guarded by Kevin, a 55-year-old from Milton Keynes who drives a seven-and-a-half ton truck for a living.

"If someone pushes in the stewards will deal with them," said this slight, diffident music-lover. "Or we will." He does not play an instrument. Asked for his favourite moment in more than a decade of Prom-going he gave his young friend an admiring smile. "Mahler's Eighth Symphony last year." Matthew was on stage that night with the National Youth Orchestra. He laughed and blushed. "You don't have to say that!"

A girl with rainbow feathers in her hair read Harry Potter aloud while a precocious boy slashed demons on a laptop computer. The sustenance of choice in the queue was a picnic from a Marks & Spencer bag. Barbara, 73, had been to every Prom season since 1947 except one, the year her husband died. "I just love coming," she said. "It is like meeting your family." Members of the orchestra were smoking roll-ups in the sun a few feet away. "I get icy feelings all down my back when the big chorus gets going."

Way up in the gallery during the concert people lay on the marbled floor or sat cross-legged and barefoot as the music drifted up. A woman read with her back to a pillar and her recumbent partner appeared to be asleep but for his hands. One caressed her ankle, the other moved as though playing the piano way down on the stage below.

It was hot and airless back down in the arena but the power of the orchestra and chorus was hugely impressive close up. Afterwards Matthew the student was pale but elated. "Where else can you stand this close to the best musicians in the world and watch them play?"

Review: A weak dose of Stalinist medicine

By Anna Picard, Classical Music Critic

A weak opening to the world's greatest orchestral festival has become something of a tradition at the Royal Albert Hall.

In a First Night devoted to state-sponsored kitsch (Shostakovich's Festive Overture) and a second-rate film-score (Prokofiev's music for Eisenstein's epic Ivan the Terrible), it fell to Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto to be the spoonful of Tsarist sugar to Auntie's Stalinist medicine at the Proms.

Small wonder that it was the 21-year-old Chinese-American pianist Lang Lang who emerged as the populist hero, not Prokofiev's despot.

But a little of what you fancy always does you good.

After last year's bizarre cocktail of biblical panto and pseudo-Spanish froth, an all-Russian First Night seemed positively cohesive. But all three are more remarkable for missed opportunities than creative milestones.

The same could be said of the performance. How much of this was down to the obvious froideur between the BBC Symphony Orchestra and their Chief Conductor, Leonard Slatkin, is hard to say. With a work-to-rule horn section in front of him, Slatkin's gestures seemed less organic than ever.

Only tonight, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales's performance of Tippett's King Priam, will the serious music-making start.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'