The Last Night this year conducted for the first time by a woman: Marin Alsop, had considerable coverage at the beginning, during andt towards the end of this year’s Proms. It was a big selling point for the season at launch, provided the hook at when the festival began and the impetus for a handful of interviews in the run-up to the final night. I can’t remember another Last Night event which has had quite so much attention.
Come the concert the coverage clouded the event somewhat and masked what at times felt like a fairly unadventurous programme musically. The Meistersingers Overture lacked sparkle in places. Things picked up considerably with Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Britten’s Building of the House, but tailed off during the Lark Ascending. Yes, the sparkling presence of Joyce Didonato including an achingly beautiful Frondi tenere e belle was a joy to behold, but the first half as a whole felt disappointing as we skidded into the interval.
The second half is traditionally where things become a little freer. Traditional running orders are replaced by celebratory tit-bits designed to whip up the crowd. But on this night I failed to get swept along and didn’t sense (in comparison to previous years) that the crowd in the hall felt suitably whipped-up either. Things took a bit of a turn for the worse (for me) when Nigel Kennedy dressed in a football top stepped onto stage with his coffee cup: as good as his Csárdás was, I think the pseudo-punk stage presence feels a little tired now. I did miss the Sea Shanties and as gorgeous as Over the Rainbow is, I need a Broadway voice covering it.
Much respect has to go Marin Alsop who – for me – seemed in her various appearances and interviews throughout the season as though she had been playing down her notoriety in this year’s Last Night. Come the concert there were moments where it seemed she was either momentarily uncomfortable with the party atmosphere in the hall (for those conductors used to a more orthodox concert experience, the Last Night is an odd beast), or it that it wasn’t necessarily her bag. The thought had crossed my mind too that her wrist (in a special support) may well have been giving her gip too. Even so, her speech was – given the massive billing her appearance had been given throughout the season – a modest and heartfelt affair which made an endearing contribution. Her presence and delivery was genuinely humble, indirectly highlighting a collaborative relationship between her and the band. I’ve always been a fan of her as a person and her work. Now, I’m a bigger fan.
In short, there were moments when I felt a bit sorry for her on stage. But, she walked off the platform with her head held high, not only because she was the first woman to conduct the Last Night but – for me, more importantly – she carried out her unenviable role in a most distinctively individual way. Stylish.
Amid dubious on-stage decorations and sometimes lack-lustre music, Marin Alsop made for a deservedly memorable presence. I very much hope she’s booked up for next year’s Last Night and (whilst we’re on the subject) the First Night too.
There are many reviews available of this years Last Night of the Proms. The majority of them chime with one another, concluding the evening a success both in the Royal Albert Hall and on TV.
Many thanks to David England (from the BBC Symphony Chorus) for posting them on Facebook.