Last night I watched Last Night of the Proms on TV and it was a historic occasion, as Marin Alsop became the first woman to conduct the orchestra on the last night. Numerous articles have been published in recent weeks about Marin Alsop and being chosen to lead the last night and in many ways it is staggering that it has taken over 100 years for a woman to lead this celebrated occasion.
As usual it was a “pot pourrie” of music ranging from Vaughan Williams, Massenet, Bernstein (a wonderfully driving version of his overture Candide) to various opera arias sung by the undoubted star of the evening Joyce DiDonato the mezzo-soprano.
She also did a wonderful version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” which is not usual last night faire but welcome none the less. Nigel Kennedy was on hand to play a wonderfully controlled “Lark Ascending” and in the second half (suitably attired in an Aston Villa football shirt) a rousing “Csardas”……………eccentric? yes…………..weird? yes…………….but no one can doubt the musicianship of this oddball violinist. The evening ended with the traditional “Land of Hope and Glory” followed by “Jerusalem” with the BBC choir in full voice.
As usual the audience at the Albert Hall was a sea of flags, English, UK, German, Swedish, Norwegian, USA………….and many, many more which makes a mockery of Nicholas Kenyon’s remarks about the proms becoming “horribly English”…………..and to think that this cretin was in charge of the Proms for so many years. I have watched the Last Night for a good number of years and this year it felt different……….but I can’t quite put my finger on what it was.
I think it may have been that Marin Alsop took the music seriously whereas in previous years male conductors seem to have treated it just as a “knees up” without any regard for musical quality………..a kind of end of term bash and lets get out of here! I also liked her brief but very sincere speech at the end of the prom and particularly her slight dig at Vasily Petrenkos recent comment about the unsuitability of women to conducting.
But more importantly her plea for the support of the arts and a recognition of its place in a civilised society. So, another year gone and I look forward to next years programme………and perhaps a greater presence of women on the conductors rostrum. So well done Marin Alsop………..you have nothing left to prove! Outstanding moment for me was the BBC Symphony Chorus singing Bernstein’s “We’ll Make our Garden Grow” form his opera Candide. Style icon and cool dude of the evening………the Indian guy in the BBC Symphony Chorus with the Union Flag turban………now that really is cool!