Last Night of the Proms. A view from the stage.

Or rather not just from the stage, but a view of the whole day, as a performer involved from the rehearsal in the morning right through to Auld Lang Syne.  2015 will be my 15th LNOP as a trombonist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and I can honestly say I’ve loved every one of them.  One year I even did a diary of the entire Prom season, the BBCSO concerts anyway. 

If you’re coming to the show this year you’re in for a treat.  And this article was written the day after the LNOP last year, so I have no idea what the programme for 2015 is, you’re still in for a lifetime experience.  For me the party starts at 9.30 in the morning, when I roll up for the rehearsal.  There have been a few days of rehearsal at the Maida Vale studios of course, during which there is a discernible frisson in the air, but the buzz starts to crescendo on the morning of The Day.  It forever astounds me that this early in the morning, 10 hours before the show, there are crowds waiting.  They’ll be standing there with their flags and picnics the entire day while I trip in, play for 3 hours, have some lunch and probably a siesta somewhere in the hall before popping up on stage in the evening, and it makes me proud of them every year.

So what are they waiting for all that time?  The music, yes, the occasion, world famous, the experience, as I said, of a lifetime.  But above all, there’s no doubt in my mind it’s the atmosphere.  The party feeling, the dressing up, the multinational flags, the fizzy balloons and party poppers, the informality; the sheer involvement in the show, for the audience is a huge part of it.  It’s like an idealised Christmas Day.

The international togetherness is a wonderful factor.  Looking out from the stage at all those flags, from however many corners of the world there are now, I find it hard to imagine any war or dispute between nations. That’s just my naïve outlook, of course, but it looks to me as if the audience feels the same way.  Tradition is a big part, though I can’t honestly say this is a highlight for me.  Being in the BBCSO, perhaps I’m ingrained into the creed of New is Good, we’re always playing brand new music and it’s eye-and-ear-opening.  But traditions there are, the bringing out of the bust of Henry Wood, founder of the Proms, being one of them.

As for the music, it’s always a spectacular and hugely varied mixture of something for everyone, though it’s more often everything for everyone.  One interesting thing I’ve noticed about the programme, from the musicians point of view, is its unpredictability.  By which I mean trying to see where the highs and (if any) dips of the concert might be.  Last year my wife came to the rehearsal in the morning, and we both agreed that a particular piece by Chausson wasn’t exactly going to bring the house down.  It was one of the highlights of the show, as our guests in the evening couldn’t wait to tell us.

My highlights in 15 years?  Sam West narrating Walton’s Henry V Suite in 2002, the music and his passionate delivery were heartbursting, and the extraordinary Russian soprano Anna Netrebko singing Lehar in 2007, when she twirled and pirouetted through and around the orchestra like a spinning top.

The party that’s been going on all day finally finishes around 11pm, yet the atmosphere doesn’t stop.  Wherever you’re going, on your way you’ll see excited members of the audience, members of the concert really, still swathed in Union Jacks and bubbling over the evening; remnants of the 6000 people in the Albert Hall accompany me all the way home, and I’m proud of them all over again.

Lastly, I mentioned earlier that I’d once kept a diary of a Prom season.  In my case this amounted to around a dozen concerts, part of a total of 72 that year.  On my first LNOP, I had a couple of numbers off, time to slip down into the arena and be part of the swaying crowd, and sample the magic from the front.  I stood next to an American couple who were obviously loving it, and between pieces I asked how many Proms they’d been to this year.  “Seventy-two” replied the man. 

This is why I love it, it’s a privilege to be a part of something that inspires such devotion, passion and commitment to music.  And the audience in the hall is a drop in the ocean of the worldwide millions watching on TV.  So if you’re coming along this year, you’re part of a multinational musical party, and one of the most dynamic events of your life.

                                                                                                            Dan Jenkins.

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