“Good evening and welcome to the party!”
So here we are, Prom 75: The Last Night of the Proms (LNOP). The BBC Symphony Orchestra, along with the BBC Symphony Chorus, soloists Nigel Kennedy, Joyce DiDonato and Iestyn Davies, conducted by Marin Alsop, the first woman to conduct Last Night, all took to the stage in this marathon concert, with a running time of over three hours. It’s challenging enough to listen to via iPlayer, which you can pause whenever you please for food/toilet breaks, so it is an amazing feat for the Prommers to stay in such incredibily high spirits that whole time. The audience in the Royal Albert Hall were in high spirits from the very beginning and completely mad by the end.
“It is not just an end-of-term party, it is also a wonderful celebration” and that it is, with LNOP featuring pieces from birthday boys Wagner, Verdi and Britten, violinist Nigel Kennedy, who also performed in Prom 34, and world and British premiere pieces.
Be warned, there will be superlatives by the bucketful!
- LNOP began with the final world premiere for the season, Anna Clyne’s party piece Masquerade. It sounds quite like something out if a film soundtrack and makes full use of the big orchestra. A great piece to start LNOP, and one of my favourite world premieres this season.
- Bicentenary man Richard Wagner’s The Mastersingers of Nuremberg – overture. Overtures like this almost seem tailor made for Last Night, both musically, and in this case, titularly (though it’s more of a case of the Mastersingers of the BBCSC!). Excellent.
- The stage then was reset for Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, which is a bit of a change of pace. Counter-tenor Iestyn Davies and the singers of the BBCSC were really beautiful in this piece.
- Ralph Vaughn-Williams’s The Lark Ascending, featuring Nigel Kennedy as the solo violin. I really like this piece, it’s so very English, and as it’s so calming and beautiful, quite an apt piece for the first half of LNOP, before the madness of Act II. Kennedy played beautifully, and listening to this piece on a Sunday afternoon, with the sun streaming in through my window, looking out on the green Australian countryside, everything felt rather perfect.
- Centenarian Benjamin Britten’s The Building of the House. This piece shows off the chorus wonderfully, and they do sound fantastic.
- 7. & 8. The final three pieces of Act I were all sung by soprano Joyce DiDonato, accompanied by the BBCSO. In order, they were Massenet’s Chérubin – ‘Je suis gris! je suis ivre!’, Handel’s Xerxes – ‘Frondi tenere e belle … Ombra mai fù’, and Rossini’s La donna del lago – ‘Tanti affetti in tal momento!’. These were very well sung, but I think I preferred everything else in the first act, rather than these three pieces, as I’ve said before and I’ll say again, I’m just not the biggest fan of opera.
So far, over £82,000 have been collected for the Proms Musical Charities.
The second half began with two pieces from Bernstein’s Candide, the Overture and ‘Make our Garden Grow’. I particularly loved the overture, it is quite a famous piece, but it’s a great one, too. The chorus were again sublime in ‘Make our Garden Grow’. I will keep going on about how great the BBCSC are, because they really are absolutely fantastic.
The BBCSC again got to shine in the other bicentenary man Giuseppe Verdi’s ‘Va, pensiero’ (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Nabucco. This is probably one of the most famous opera choruses, and I must say, I operatic pieces sung by a chorus, rather than a soloist.
Between pieces you can hear all the party-poppers going off in the crowd. This has been happening since the very beginning.
Joyce DiDonato then returned to sing Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz. This was a properly beautiful rendition of this song.
Nigel Kennedy then returned to play Monti’s Csárdás. This is obviously one of those pieces that you miss quite a bit from when you can’t actually see it, as a number of times throughout this piece, the audience laughed. I don’t know why, as us poor iPlayer listeners aren’t treated to such information, but it was amazing playing by Kennedy anyway, who brings such energy and enthusiasm to his playing. I think in the end Kennedy was just improvising, as there were definitely the opening cords from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and some other pieces thrown in there. That was brilliant.
Next Joyce DiDonato took to the stage again, this time to sing the traditional Londonderry Air (Danny Boy). You can actually watch this here, and it was great to be able to see the RAH and what everyone looked like! It would be nice if the full stream was available internationally, but, alas, snippets are all we get. This song was beautifully performed. Very, very good.
Singing voices at the ready, here we go!
Joyce DiDonato sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. I was also able to watch this here. I had the sound on my laptop turned up to full-blast, but it loses too much sound quality, so I ended up putting headphones in. At least then I can’t hear myself singing (though the rest of the family are probably thinking what is she doing?!). I love this song. I love 6000 people singing along to it. It’s brilliant.
With hardly any break, the orchestra went straight into Granville Bantock’s Sea Reivers, which started a bit of an maritime-themed trilogy. This was a great piece, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve really enjoyed all the Bantock pieces played during this Proms Season, and I hope to hear more of him, because all of his works have been wonderful.
The maritime theme continued with the UK premiere of George Lloyd’s HMS Trinidad March. I love a good march, and this is clearly one of them. I found myself bopping away to it. Very cheerful, very good.
Voices at the ready – the maritime theme concluded with Thomas Arne’s Rule, Britannia! You can watch this, Land of Hope and Glory and Jerusalem here. Words fail me. There is nothing I can say about this. Brilliant. Amazing. The best. An encore. Of course.
Marin Alsop kept the Prom moving after the encore, plunging straight into Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 in D Major (Land of Hope and Glory). Again, what can I say. Watch it. Encore of the chorus. So much energy from the RAH audience.
Parry (arr. Elgar) Jerusalem. Ibid. Full encore.
Benjamin Britten’s arrangement of the British National Anthem (God Save the Queen). Even HM the Queen herself has said that she likes this version of it (which is saying something, since she’s rather well acquainted with said song!). It is a very good arrangement, and such a great way to conclude the Proms.
And of course, the unprogrammed Auld Lang Syng, when the audience take over.
This has probably been the best LNOP that I’ve heard. I’m at a loss for words. I can’t possibly listen to any more music for probably the rest of the night now. That was just so good and I wasn’t even there.
There is nothing like the Proms, and nothing like Last Night.
“Thank goodness for the BBC Proms.”
(Photos from the BBC Proms Facebook page)