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The best of British pomp and ceremony


Complete with flag-waving, finery, clapping and sing-alongs, Last Night of the Proms is a departure from the usual formality of a classical concert. ASO conductor Guy Noble offers an insight into the pomp and popularity of this very British tradition.

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What are the origins of the Proms?

In 1894, the manager of the Queen’s Hall in London, Mr Robert Newman, proposed to the young conductor, Mr Henry Wood, his plans for a series of concerts to be held over the English summer. Newman hoped the concerts “…would educate the people about classical music and hopefully make it more popular”. And so, with Mr Wood at the helm, the first of the Proms – or, as they were then known, “Mr Robert Newman’s Promenade Concerts” – was performed in London on August 10, 1895.

Today, the Proms (now the BBC Proms) has become one of the world’s most prestigious music festivals. Consisting of more than 70 concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall, it encompasses everything from symphonic staples performed by major British and international orchestras, to contemporary jazz and pop; once, it even included the world premiere of Dr Who in Concert

Why do you think Last Night of the Proms is so popular?

I think it is because of the interactive nature of the concert. How many other classical concerts have the opportunity to clap along, and also sing along? It’s quite unusual.

What is your favourite piece to conduct in Last Night of the Proms?

Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 – aka Land of Hope and Glory. It is the end of the concert, the audience sings, the orchestra is fired up and usually we have balloons or glitter. It is a festive moment.

Soprano Lorina Gore will take to the stage for this year’s Adelaide Symphony Orchestra concert. What is she like as a performer?

Lorina is wonderful. She has such a clear voice and is fearless on stage – she just goes for it, which I love. She truly enters into the spirit of the occasion.

At the Last Night, the more uptight aspects of classical music – the judging of audience members who clap between movements, or the frowning at those unable to stifle a cough or sneeze – are left firmly at the concert-hall door. Do you enjoy the non-formality of the concert?

Absolutely. My whole career is about challenging that formality, but it happens within a context where we pay great attention to the music and how it is played. I suppose it is like a top-notch restaurant – we still have the starchy tablecloths, the beautiful-quality glass and china, the best dishes carefully prepared, but as a waiter I try and deliver it all to the table with a sense of fun.

The “prommers” as renowned for festooning themselves in everything from Union Jack vests, suits and socks to Viking helmets, while carrying an array of (mainly UK) flags. What’s the most unusual outfit you’ve seen in the audience?

Once we had a young couple sitting in the audience wearing Will and Kate masks. Every time I turned around to talk, they were doing their slow royal wave at me.

Do you have a particular outfit or costume you’ll be donning for this year’s concert?

You’ll have to wait and see!

Do you have a Proms ritual you adhere to before the annual concerts?

I learn all the music and I try and think of some fresh jokes and some new scurrilous political lyrics for my song set to When I Was a Lad from [the comic opera] HMS Pinafore.

For those that have never experienced the Proms, can you tell them in one sentence why they should book a ticket?

I guarantee you will have a good time and leave the Festival Theatre feeling better than when you came in!

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra will present Last Night of the Proms at the Festival Theatre on August 23 and 24. Conducted by Guy Noble, it will feature soloist Lorina Gore, the Elder Conservatorium Chorale and the Graduate Singers.

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