BBC Proms Diary 2018: The Last Night

So, it’s over for another year. The Proms coming to an end is like a gear shift in the year. Summer is at an end. We’re left to our devices. Now it’s all pickling and nesting as we career towards Christmas.

As a TV broadcast the Last Night was a much tighter piece of television compared to previous years.

And it was long too. At 3 hours 44 minutes it was a marathon watch which meant the content needed to keep the energy up throughout. In that way the programme failed to meet the mark.

Premiering Stanford’s rather dull ‘Songs of the Sea’ wasn’t a great choice, though the Stanford that followed from the BBC Singers was far more compelling.

Similarly the BBC National Orchestra of Wales’ ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’, Lauren Zhang’s Rachmaninov, and the Ulster Orchestra’s second musical contribution were especially good. But for a lot of the time the nations link ups were flat and uninspiring.

Jess Gillam’s performance of ‘If’ (a surprisingly uninspiring piece by Nyman) to Proms in the Park, paled into insignificance in comparison to her jaw-dropping musicianship during the Albert Hall performance of Mihaud’s Scaramouche. The last movement felt sluggish at times (largely because of orchestral arrangement I think) but Gillam shone throughout with an infectious verve and charming assertiveness that really made her the star of the night. She is well on her way to becoming an ambassador for the next generation (if she isn’t regarded as such already), much-needed and much-appreciated too.

The rest of the concert was a deeply painful experience which at times had me staring at it like I was watching the Eurovision. I get that it’s an end of season party and that it’s not trying to be representative of the rest of the season. I also know it’s different in the hall. But there is an other-worldliness to it which I assume those who are involved in making it assume the rest of us think is charmingly eccentric. The bobbing up and down and the fake crying during the sentimental parts of the Sea Songs make for irrelevant TV. Awkward and embarrassing. Like your Dad cracking the same joke that wasn’t funny 40 odd years ago.

All the images we see on the screen during what is the most watched Proms content of the season are the very images the majority to build up their impression of the classical music world. In that way I’m increasingly of the mind that the Last Night does more to create the negative image of classical music than it does to promote the art form itself. The real problem for the BBC is this one concert in the season that is such a potent kind of crowd-pleaser they are almost certainly too frightened to tinker with it. It is a concert desperately needs updating as a concert programme but no one dares to go near it.

I unexpectedly ended up tweeting my way through it. It was like the old days – 2007/8 when Twitter was new and we were all relatively free to say what we wanted. ‪“Are you drinking wine?” asked a pal following one particular tweet. “It’s my birthday,” I replied, “don’t judge.” ‬

Still. At least I got a tweet of mine included in a news story. And I’m sure the Proms will take heed of my stern warning for next year’s season. Sure they will.

I’m going to write one more post about the Proms in the next few days. I want to reflect on what I’ve captured over the past 8 weeks, see what’s changed for me, and look forward to a new season of concerts. Right now, I need to get packing for Leeds.

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