Friday, November 25, 2016

Lat Night of the Proms

Englishness gone mad
In The Road to Little Dribbling, Bill Bryson describes his British Citizenship test. He was asked to identify Sake Dean Mahomet (introduced shampoo to Britain), the other name for the 1944 Education Act (The Butler Act), who Jenson Button is (Formula One racing driver), what is the actual name of Big Ben (the Elizabeth Tower) and other such important and essential bits and bobs relating to British culture.

There is an easier way to do this. Simply require candidates to watch The Last Night of the Proms and disqualify them if they regurgitate during the performance: It would certainly discriminate between the unsuitable and the seriously unstable, both of which we don't really want or need in Britain.

Nothing else comes close to capturing the essence of the English character in all its glory than the Last Night of the Proms. The Last Night is really the official end of the British Summer, so much as summer actually exists here. The venue is the Royal Albert Hall. I know this for my step-son used to work there. Stories he tells of the antics at the Last Night are the stuff of which legends are made.

Prom is short for promenade concert, a term which originally referred to outdoor concerts in London's pleasure gardens, where the audience was free to stroll around while the orchestra was playing.”

The Last Night of the Proms celebrates British tradition with patriotic music of the United Kingdom. That's the bare-bones explanation. The reality is something actually and seriously quite different.

Many people's perception of the Proms is taken from the Last Night, although this concert is very different from the others. It usually takes place on the second Saturday in September, and is broadcast in the UK on BBC Radio 3, and on BBC2 (first half) and BBC1 (second half). The concert is traditionally in a lighter, 'winding-down' vein, with popular classics being followed by a series of British patriotic pieces in the second half of the concert. This sequence traditionally includes Edward Elgar's "Pomp & Circumstance March No. 1" (to part of which "Land of Hope and Glory" is sung, n.b. to which I often append the sub title, “Land of Shite and Tories”) and Henry Wood's "Fantasia on British Sea Songs", followed by Thomas Arne's "Rule, Britannia!".

However, the "Fantasia" did not feature from 2008 to 2011, though "Rule, Britannia!" has retained its place in the programme in its own right. The full "Fantasia" re-appeared in 2012, but was again absent from the 2013 concert. The concert concludes with Hubert Parry's "Jerusalem" (a setting of a poem by William Blake), and the British national anthem, in recent years in an arrangement by Benjamin Britten. The repeat of the Elgar March at the Last Night can be traced to the spontaneous audience demand for a double encore at its première at a 1901 Proms concert. The closing sequence of the second half became fully established in 1954 during Sargent's tenure as chief conductor of the Proms. The Prommers have made a tradition of singing "Auld Lang Syne" after the end of the concert, but it was not included in the programme until 2015. However, when James Loughran, a Scot, conducted the Last Night concert in the late 1970s and early 1980s he included the piece as part of the programme. Since 2009, "You'll Never Walk Alone", for audience participation has been included annually– a contribution made by the current Proms director, Roger Wright.”

I had to include this Wikipedia explanation just to set the stage, for I believe nothing quite like The Last Night exists in any other country or culture. It is so saccharinely sweet and intrinsically twee that it would be impossible to either imitate or even replicate to a close approximation. And then again, why would you want to?

This year's guest tenor was, as the Telegraph put it, “Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez steals the show at Last Night of the Proms as he delights fans with Inca costume.” His finale was Wahine Guantamamea sung whilst wearing his Inca King gear. No, I'm not making this up – he pranced around the stage dressed as a gooney bird and sang Land of Hope and Glory to thousands of Union Jack-waving pelicans in the crowd – the assemblage which contains possibly the greatest collection of saddos and wierdos on the planet (with the exception of the Mathematics Department at Birmingham University). He warmed up by singing various operatic pieces. At this point, they show sub-titles in English, but this does not really help. Even the most rudimentary of language students can see that the sub-titles bear no actual resemblance to what is being sung.

Now, I will not abuse those who like opera: I just never found the reason or sense in it. There is no melody. It's is really just organised shouting (in a foreign language).

I particularly enjoy it when the camera focuses on the orchestra. Now these folks are very skilled musicians. But the whole shemozzle is so artificial that it positively reeks of sycophancy. The first violin believes he is the modern-day equivalent of Julius Caesar's First Spear Centurion. The promenaders ooze orgasmic noises when he deigns to wave at them. (Hand me the sick bag please, Hazel) And, I really wish someone could explain to me why there are no left-handed violin players in an orchestra?

I tracked this down:


I am a left handed violinist, as in bow in left hand. I play classical, as well as many other styles.

In your opinion, what would be my odds of getting into an orchestra? Be honest, say what you feel and think.

Obviously there a big stigma attached to playing left handed in the classical world.

Answer (or should I say Antwort?)

You want me to be honest, so I will. I have been a manager of orchestras and professional musicians for more than 30 years and I have to tell you stand NO CHANCE at all of getting a job in an orchestra if you play the wrong way around. Your bow will always be going in the wrong direction, with the potential to clash with your stand partner. You will also 'look' very strange in the middle of a section. Also, your instrument will be facing the opposite way to everyone else's, leading to balance problems. There is no 'stigma' against left-handed players in music. There is a higher proportion of left-handed people in the music profession than almost any other strand of society. However, they were not as unlucky as you in being 'allowed' to play a string instrument back-to-front.

Every left-handed string player I know (and there are lots, owing to the relatively high proportion of left-handers in the music business) was taught to play the correct way. They actually have the advantage of using their strong hand to play all those fiddly left-hand fingerings.

I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you should never have been allowed to learn to play 'the wrong way'.

My case is well and truly rested. 20% of the population are excluded just for being born left-handed! Where is the march on Downing Street?

The finale includes Jerusalem – words by that well-known drug addict William Blake who must have been high as a kite when he postulated that Jesus strolled about England. Because it has become a kind of English pseudo-anthem tells you all you need to know of the real English character. Odd, weird, jingoistic, mad as a March Hare.

The finish is Auld Lang Syne and two verses of God Save the Queen. Since no-one actually knows more than one verse now-a-days they have the big screen with the words helpfully scrolling by. How thoughtful.

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