Monday, September 11, 2006

The Last Night of the Proms

On Saturday, I went to the Last Night of the Proms.

Until I moved to England, the term "prom" was used to refer to something high school kids went to soon before graduation.

In England, however, the term "prom" refers to a promenade concert. One of the most famous series of proms is the BBC Proms, a series of concerts held every night for about eight weeks at the Royal Albert Hall in London. (This year, there were 73 proms held between July and September - one every day and, on some days, two.) These are mainly classical concerts with performances by world-famous musicians with full symphony orchestras. A main distinction between these concerts and other concerts is the Prommers - up to 1400 people who are standing in the main arena of the Royal Albert Hall.

But, as unique as this series of concerts is, the other 70-odd concerts are completely different from the Last Night of the Proms. (The fact the it is always referred to this way - full capitalization - should give a clue as to its high standing in the calendar.) Though all of the proms are broadcast live on BBC radio and some broadcast on TV as well, the Last night of the Proms is broadcast live on radio and TV - the first half on BBC Two and the second half on BBC One. There is a live link-up to proms in five different parks around the UK (including Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland) who have each had their own concert earlier - with full orchestra. It is a major deal.

Just getting a ticket at all requires a majorly organized campaign (and possibly overnight camping). If you expect an actual seat, well, you have to start in about April. The Proms ticket order form (actually an application) is three pages long and is more complicated than many tax forms I have seen. (Ordering tickets to six earlier proms allows you to request to order a Last Night of the Proms ticket...people are limited to a maximum of two tickets...Ordering a ticket for a prom in Category A gives you priority...if the stamp is licked under a full moon in the last week of April...that kind of thing. Heck, the order form comes bound in a book...full colour...glossy pages...found at bookstores nationwide.) Don't ask how I got one (I don't really need both kidneys, do I?).

Take a look at this picture (I didn't take it). Ever been to a classical concert with flag waving? Bobbing sunflowers? Beach balls and balloons? Air horns? A conductor's stand that gets decorated by fans at the interval?

I'm sorry, but words just fail me. I truly believe there is nothing like it anywhere.

Here is one news account. (The photo is not mine - it's from this news story.)

This Google search shows some Last Night of the Proms pictures.


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