The Last Night of the Proms is the time that the Royal Albert Hall (RAH) in the centre of London is packed to the rafters with flag swinging, anthem singing people proud to be British, but there are also the odd few who sneak in their French, Brazilian or Japanese flags – well more nationalities that you could shake a baton at.
(As sung by Bryn Terfel, Proms footage courtesy of the BBC. All photos by Lucy Peel)
There is an enormous demand for tickets on this evening. There are three ways get the tickets which can cost anywhere up to £90. Applications can be made in advance if tickets have been brought to five other RAH events in the same year (which is how the majority of last night tickets are sold), alternatively through a lottery ballot system, or the last few £5 standing tickets can be obtained by queuing outside on the day (the Proms starts at 7:30pm).
The final sold-out concert is within the hall itself, but there are also £30 ticket outdoor concerts held in several locations around the UK. Along with Proms in the Park just across the road from the hall, other locations this year include Hillsborough (Northern Ireland), Swansea (Wales), Dundee (Scotland) and Salford (England). A live big-screen link up allows everyone to join together for the grand finale.
The Last Night of the Proms completes a season of seventy six classical music concerts taking place from early July through to early September at the RAH. Six additional concerts of Chamber Music are held at Cadogan Hall bringing the total attendance to the Proms to just over 300,000 people in 2010. The option of cheap tickets and an informal atmosphere is intended to attract a wide ranging audience – including those that would normally run a mile at the sight of anyone carrying an instrument that needs to be blown in order to make it work. There are a wide range of themes throughout the season, including special family-friendly Doctor Who concerts. The Proms are so popular that an average of 92% of tickets are sold to the evening performances.
Prices for seats in the boxes can cost a lot less than they would at any other event in the RAH. It’s less painful to the wallet, but not to the knees when it is discovered that people are packed in like sardines into these tiny spaces. The induced claustrophobia sometimes results in these boxers taking a stroll upstairs to the more spacious Gallery. Here it is possible to stretch out on the floor, eyes closed, taking in the wonderful sounds being created by the variety of instruments below. Absolutely no speaker or amplifier in the world can reproduce the gorgeous sounds that melt the hearts of the audience when the Orchestra begins to play in the RAH.
It hasn’t always sounded this good. Since the RAH was opened in 1871, there has been a running joke that the RAH was the only place where performers were guaranteed to hear themselves twice thanks to the notorious echo. The Proms have taken place every year since 1895 and have been hosted at the RAH since 1941 (after being bombed out of the Queen’s Hall in the Second World War). The echo wasn’t quashed until 1969 when large sound diffusing discs were hung from the ceiling.
Here’s to a grand musical tradition spanning over a century.
Altogether now – Rule Britannia! Britannia rules the waves!