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The Proms - the most famous institution in British music.
A Great British Tradition
Yes, its here again that great British number one festival held every year in the Queen's Hall and the Royal Albert Hall, London. With a dazzling array of orchestras, conductors and soloists and the greatest musicians in the world performing for audiences of millions around the world through radio, television and now the internet!
The Proms is a heart warming story which started in 1895 and involves the education of the British people and a struggle against financial odds. Intellectuals at that time were in consensus that classical music had cultured ownership and that the ordinary people neither appreciated nor understood its value. However, something gradually started happening with popular taste and it was eventually recognized and then given a platform. The history of the Proms is also a history of modernism Britain.
By 1913 a printed programme read, 'Fortunately the Promenade audience has now been educated to such sound and liberal tastes that it is possible to organize programmes at a very high order...' Patronizing maybe, but the original experiment of the Proms to attract its diverse audience was eventually paying off.
Those who participate in the Proms today represent a diverse audience of musical preferences. What was traditionally known as the 'classical music audience' has become larger groups for diverse musics.
The audiences as a whole at the Proms are not unlike classical audiences but the difference being is that the Prommers are slightly younger and mainly from lower socio-economic categories. At The Royal Albert Hall it feels democratic and you are not aware of the highest paying members of the audience. Of course there are expensive boxes around the perimeter but they are not at the highest points. Everyone has the opportunity to partake in the grandeur.
Today's audiences at the Proms agree that casualness of behaviour and dress are more acceptable. However, there are still those for whom concert behaviour become a topic for arguments about what is acceptable and even challenge applause between movements of symphonies. Thankfully these complaints are often challenged by replies that speak up for the rights of the younger generation!
Proms - Reactive to world events
The Proms have proved that they rightly react and respond to world events in times when things have had to change. The most powerful example of this was in the 2001 season. The Last Night fell on the 15th September that year, four days after 9/11. On the day of the attacks, the Orchestre de Paris substituted the funeral march from Beethoven's 'Eroica' Symphany for the 'Prometheus Overture' with which they had originally planned to open their concert. As that week progressed it was recognized that the 'traditional' Last Night would not be appropriate.
This was the second time since 1996 that the end of the season had to be substantially altered. In 1997, after the death of Princess Diana, the plan had been to include the performance of John Adam's 'Short ride in a fast machine' - a fantastic orchestral showpiece, but unfortunately titled given the circumstances of Diana's death. It was replaced by Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" and "Jupiter" from Holst's "Planets" was also played because it contained Diana's hymn tune "I vow to thee my country".
Proms in The Park
The Proms has been one of the most thorough and consistent attempts to bring together classical music and to make it part of the mainstream of British cultural life. Proms audiences today are not necessarily the same as those who originally took part in this festival, but over the years they have recreated themselves from generation to generation.
As we get ready for another year of spectacular music "Proms in the Park" has given more people the opportunity to participate. It was because of the perceived inaccessibility of classical music that this began in 1996 as a single concert in Hyde Park alongside the concert in the Royal Albert Hall. Today it is a significant part of the vision for modern day Proms. I for one am looking forward to this special event and the classical performers as well as popular artists making their debut. It is now a tradition accessible to all and for all to enjoy through whichever medium is appropriate. No-one has to miss out and really no-one should miss out!