The Last Night of the Proms with its forced fun and embarrassing displays of jollity from middle brow Middle England brings to the end the silly season for this country’s usually well-behaved silent majority.
Nothing wrong with the Proms of course. It is as impressive a festival of classical music as you will find anywhere in the World with consistently interesting performances of great music available to anyone who is prepared to stand up in the well of the hall or pay a very reasonable price for a seat.
The trouble is that Last Night.
It would be fine if it was just the end of term party for all those nerdy classical music students who flock to the festival on most nights throughout the summer. They should be allowed to have their own particular sort of fun. Wearing silly hats, waving teddy bears and showing that they can clap in 6/8 time.
We all know the type. They are of course very nice, a bit unworldly, good musicians with absolutely no sense of style or irony and usually very shy and socially inept.
It is good that they should have their party.
It is their mums and dads, as usual, who are the problem. All those people who like a good tune but can’t be having with all that modern stuff, who prefer the popular composers’ greatest hits served up in bite size chunks and love to feel that they are part of what they perceive to be a moment of high culture.
Mostly they stay at home at watch The Last Night on the television but every year the lucky ones get to go to the concert itself where they too try to look fun and ironic whilst showing that they are those least erotic of people, the great mass of mis-named “music lovers.”
There was a poll once when people in the street were asked the name of the composer who wrote Handel’s Largo only to find that people came up with answers like Beethoven or Don’t Know. Similarly, a lot of people who profess to loving the Last Night of the Proms don’t realize that there are other nights too. They would never think of attending any of the other concerts even if they knew that they existed.
I don’t mind really what they do and if people love all that flag waving, whistle blowing and all the rest, then let them but let’s not see it as anything more than an example of a giant gate-crashing invasion of an end of term student party by hordes of voyeurs.
In the first half, the part of the Last Night that most of the audience find boring, you know the part where the serious music is, there was, amongst other things, a fine performance of a Mahler song cycle. All attention though, in our media too, was for a “hilarious” performance of a fifty year old novelty overture by the excellent English composer Malcolm Arnold which includes parts for an electric floor-polisher and a vacuum cleaner.
This was not a new idea in 1956 as anyone who knows their early 20th Century music would tell you nor is it THAT funny but you would think that this was the comedy highlight of the year. To have the venerable TV natural historian David Attenborough playing the floor-polisher was seen as, somehow, side-splitting and extraordinary.
Well I am sorry. It wasn’t. It was fine, he did perfectly well but the whole thing, with the other added “celebrities” too was merely another over-rated variation of bosses making tits of themselves at office parties.
Tell that to the audience though. Forget the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Morecombe and Wise or Woody Allen, they thought that the floor-polisher was the funniest thing since grandad sat on his dentures.
It must be something to do with the Summer.
Take another distinguished British music festival, Glyndebourne.
Nowhere can you see more interesting, original or well-sung opera productions than during this summer long opera festival which takes place in a rural theatre just a couple of miles away from where I live. The performances, just like those at the Proms, are outstanding and yet, any sense of enjoyment for me is diminished by the jarring presence of that one and a half hour interval when the great English middle classes dressing up as aristocrats yet again show their true mettle.
This is what it is all about for too many of the audience. Endure the music except for the nice bits but wallow in the “elegance” of sitting on the grass having a picnic with just enough champagne to dull your senses for the second half of the opera. Glyndebourne is of course, like The Last Night of The Proms, a great British institution so you just have to be there.
Just like Wimbledon where yet again we are embarrassed by the sight of nice middle class English people dressing up in Union Jacks, shouting for victory in matches that are unlikely ever to be won by Brits and finding their fun in lame ringside jokes:
They too, like the audiences of The Last Night, would love to sing along to Rule Britannia whilst waving their flags. It is only a bit of fun of course. We don’t really rule the waves any more but it is nice to think we do when all that music surges around you and, for a moment, it is perfectly alright to look a prat.
That’s why I am happy to see the end of the middle class English summer. It brings out the worst in Britain. People in silly clothes are allowed to express sillier opinions laced with snobbery and nationalism at cultural events which really make them feel uncomfortable.
You can see that they just don’t like the Summer or any of its rituals. You just have to look at them on the beach. They will be much happier when it is cold again and they can get on with sensible things.
But whatever I think about the audience, you can’t knock the music. Here is the wonderful Sarah Connolly unafraid of showing her masculine side in Rule Britannia. Now any Brits out there, control yourselves, OK and everyone else beyond our shores, don’t worry, we are harmless really and the conductor is, after-all, an American.