Since 1942, the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts or Proms have been held annually in the Royal Albert Hall, near Hyde Park in South Kensington, London. The two month long programme of concerts has been described as the world’s largest and most democratic music festival and introduces new music as well as revisiting many favourite and lesser known pieces of classical music.
The most famous of the Promenade concerts is the Last Night of the Proms, and is normally held on the second Saturday night in September. Tickets are in such demand that the majority of them are allotted by ballot, and limited to only two per household. There are ballots for those who have bought at least five tickets for other concerts in the series and wheelchair users, as well as an open ballot for only 200 tickets. A few are available for sale this year from 10th July 2016, and some of the £5 standing tickets are available on the day, but demand is very high, and people have been known to queue for weeks in previous years. Sleeping out to hold a place in the queue has been stopped, and a new system is in place, allowing people to register on a list and return in list order on the morning of the last night. Details of the ballots and ticket sales in general can be found on the Royal Albert Hall website: http://www.royalalberthall.com/extra/booking-tickets-for-the-last-night-of-the-proms.
The last night of the Proms has become the Albert Hall’s most high profile event of the year, with its party atmosphere and familiar second half programme.
For the first half of the concert, classical pieces are played, as the audience anticipates the more raucous and festive second half. After the interval, an end of term exuberance is unleashed, as the orchestra and guest vocalists perform the familiar pieces that everyone has come to share.
Participation is actively encouraged. Land of Hope and Glory to Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March number one is rarely sung with such gusto, or by such a large crowd. The medley of sea shanties has the sea of flags waving in time. The prommers bob up and down in time to the music, which speeds up as it goes along, much to the delight of the audience. A rousing rendition of Rule Britannia usually follows.
Henry Wood, the founder of the concerts, his bust decorated for the occasion with a laurel wreath, looks down upon the crowd of promendars, or prommers, many in fancy dress and wearing red, white and blue face paints, waving their Union Flags.
The conductor traditionally makes a speech, thanking the performers and engaging in a little banter with the audience, before the evening concludes with Jerusalem – And did those feet? – and the National Anthem.
The Last Night of the Proms is a peculiarly British institution, where total strangers link arms, smile, dance and sing together. Such is the spirit of togetherness that in recent years it has become customary to sing Old Lang Syne together after the concert, expressing the hope that next year everyone will be back for another Last Night, the same, if not even better.