The Last Night of the Proms is a major event in the Classical Music festival calendar. It is the culmination of the series of concerts known as the Proms, which takes place in the Royal Albert Hall in London, United Kingdom every year from mid July to mid September. It is broadcast live on television by the BBC and also on Radio 3, and is nowadays accompanied by the Proms in the Park events which run alongside it.
The Last Night of the Proms is essentially a huge party which is enhanced by the concert goers, who produce flags, various party goods such as streamers and crackers, and the maddening toy trumpets and whistles which inevitably accompany the performance of the Henry Wood Fantasia on British Sea Songs. This last is really rather a shame because the music in this work is quite beautiful and it's well worth listening to in its own right.
The Last Night of the Proms starts off with a normal concert in the first half. However, because of the forces required for the second half (full orchestra, vocal soloists and large choir plus conductor), it is possible for works to be performed in the first half of the concert which are not always heard regularly. A couple of years ago, for example, a rare performance took place of Beethoven's Fantasy in C Minor Opus 80 which requires solo piano, full orchestra and conductor, choir, solo vocal quartet and an orchestral string quartet.
It is in the second half of the concert that the party really gets going. If you watch one of the DVD's available or watch it live on TV, you will notice that in the front row of the standing Prommers there are quite a number of "conductors" - members of the audience dressed as conductors complete with baton, and accompanying the conductor on the podium! Numerous soft toys appear along with a sea of Union Jack flags and flags from many other nationalities.
The audience generally accompanies the first work of the second half, which is always Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March, by bopping along to the music and then joining in with Land of Hope and Glory". This is followed by the aforementioned Fantasia on British Sea Songs, Rule Britannia, Jerusalem and finally the British National Anthem and the Scottish song Auld Lang Syne which quite often is used in the UK to complete special events such as the Last Night of the Proms. The audience will usually stand for the National Anthem and then for Auld Lang Syne each individual will cross one arm over the other and in this way grasp the hands of the people on either side, shaking them up and down in time to the music, another tradition which accompanies this song. The conductor also always makes a speech thanking the various groups involved in the production of the Proms and summarising the season's events.
The Last Night of the Proms is an annual musical event which should not be missed by anyone interested in Classical Music and who would like to enjoy a most entertaining concert.
If you haven't heard a Last Night of the Proms concert and miss the broadcast, CD's and DVD's are available. I particularly enjoyed the broadcast when Sir Andrew Davis conducted the Last Night Of The Proms. This DVD features in addition Bryn Terfel and Evelyn Glennie in some sparkling performances.