Tonight it’s the Last Night of the Proms for me. I know most people celebrated this oddly English and – especially in the current climate – deeply contradictory occasion a month ago. But for me Saturday 8 October is the ‘Last Night’. That’s because, for the second year in a row, I have been listening in order to every minute of every Prom using the wonderful BBC iPlayer Radio app. Which has allowed me to access and download every Prom since the unscheduled ‘La Marseillaise’ on 15 July and then listen at my leisure. I have found this to be a quintessentially informative, educational and entertaining experience. Thank you, BBC!
I have to own up to having skipped the Proms Late Extras, but I caught every Proms at… concert as well as the eight (exceptional) chamber music proms first presented on Monday lunchtimes. But I was able to hear them at entirely different times of the week, even if my listening contexts were not always of the best. I listened on trains, I listened walking down the street, and I listened (today, as it happens) while I was cooking a casserole. So more than a few subtleties of performance escaped me, but then they would have done had I heard every note in the Albert Hall itself.
The great thing is that my self-imposed discipline means that I have had to make my way through what has at times felt like many too notes of Mahler and Bruckner. But at the same time I have been introduced to much that I would never have listened to normally, including amazing new commisions from Michael Berkeley (an astonishing Violin Concerto), Lera Auerbach, Iris ter Schiphorst and Helen Grime, and recent compositions from Wolfgang Rihm and Jörg Widmann.
And then there are highlights that without my completist compulsion I would have almost certainly missed including Galina Ustvolskaya’s Third Symphony Perhaps more predictably great was John Wilson’s prom dedicated to the music of George and Ira Gershwin. Best of all has been being introduced to composers and compositions that I am already returning to, including works by Henri Dutilleux, Gerald Finzi’s ‘Love’s Labours Lost Suite’, and Rossini’s ‘Petite messe solennelle’, gloriously performed by the BBC Singers and a small ensemble under conductor David Hill in the chapel of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.
So I’ve had a blast and I’m sad that it’s (nearly) all over. There have been times when I’ve wondered whether I would be able to stay ahead of download disappearances 30 days after the first broadcasts. But I’ve managed that with two days to spare, and now I have Juan Diego Flórez to look forward to later. And of course another whole Proms season next summer.
Image: Juan Diego Flórez’s in Inca costume to sing ‘Rule, Britannia’; courtesy BBC.