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A British Import: the BBC Proms

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Sunday at 5:00 pm


They gave the world Monty Python and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Leave it to the British to organize something as inexplicable and wonderful as the BBC Proms. The 2014 BBC Proms has been an eight-week music festival with 74 concerts. What sets this festival apart is its subculture of devoted attendants, some of whom line up hours before a concert for a £5.00, standing-room-only ticket.

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A gentleman is first in line for one of 500 day-of, standing-room-only tickets to a Prom

Standing at the Proms is a time-honored tradition known as “promming.” The people who do it are called “prommers.” In a venue like the Royal Albert Hall, there can be as many as 1,400 prommers at a concert. Reserved seating is also abundant at the Royal Albert Hall, which can accommodate nearly 6,000 for the Proms concerts, but it’s the standing area directly beneath the stage that is among the most coveted places to hear a concert, especially with high-profile performers.

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Prommers on Last Night

There are stalwarts among the prommers who speak of the “community of the queue.” Holding season tickets to the standing area, they line up early for a favorite spot in the hall, spending the entire afternoon together, picnicking, playing cards, drinking, and reading. Interlopers who attempt to push their way ahead of the line are not tolerated.

The Telegraph offers a a less affectionate moniker and definition for prommers: “Promenerders: mild loopiness and often terrible dress sense.”

Inside the hall, this pack of prommers has its traditions like shouting “heave ho” when the piano is moved, and greeting a foreign orchestra in its native tongue.

The Proms culminates with Last Night, featuring performances throughout the UK, including Belfast, Glasgow, Swansea, and London’s Hyde Park. A jumbotron links the sea of flag-waving fans to the grand singalong from Royal Albert Hall.

English trumpeter Alison Balsom plays a Prom

WFMT presents the BBC Proms 2014

Sunday, September 14, 2014
5:00 pm

The China Philharmonic/Long Yu, conductor
Alison Balsom, trumpet; Haochen Zhang, piano

Elgar: Pomp and Circumstance March #4
Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet
Liszt: Piano Concerto #1
Qigang Chen: Joie éternelle
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition.


Sunday, September 28, 2014
5:00 pm

The Last Night of the Proms from September 13
BBC Symphony, choirs, and soloists/Sakari Oramo, conductor

Concert favorites, American tunes, and British music, ending with Parry’s Jerusalem.

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The Proms tradition started around the mid 18th century with “promenade concerts,” at which audiences strolled through pleasure gardens (public gardens) while listening to live music. The present festival goes back to 1894, when impresario Robert Newman conceived of low-cost, casual concerts to broaden the audience for classical music. According to the Proms, he pitched the idea to conductor Sir Henry Wood, ‘I am going to run nightly concerts to train the public in easy stages,’ he explained. ‘Popular at first, gradually raising the standard until I have created a public for classical and modern music.’ Concertgoers were invited to enjoy smoking, eating, drinking; and promenading in the designated space.

  • Hal Dvorin

    This year’s version of the Last Night of the Proms was not up to previous standards. Not to many years ago after Sir Andrew Davis left the BBC Symphony to join Chicago’s Lyric Opera, there were complaints when Leonard Slatkin took his place during the Last Night. The cause of this unhappiness was that Slatkin was not British (gasp!). Now they have a new conductor for the 2014 Last Night who is Finnish and frankly I found the traditional spirit somewhat lacking. Also lacking were the traditional “meaty” works by Britiish composers. It seems like the whole experience has been dumbed down. Too bad! This used to be a major music event.

    For anyone interested in viewing streaming video of the Last Night or other BBC offerings, there is a way to do this although the BBC blocks streaming video internet connections from outside the UK. A web search will turn up several ways to do this