Last Night of the Proms, with its patriotic ritual and party atmosphere, is different to the rest of the season. One former director hated it so much he would slip away at the interval before the flag-waving began. Petroc Trelawny, who presents the Proms on Radio Three and BBC4, selects four Last Night milestones.
1. A popular ritual is dropped
When Roger Wright became director of the Proms, in 2008, one of his first moves was to drop the ritual performance of Sir Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs. It was a bold decision: after it was dropped in 1953, a group of Promenaders formed a protest committee and made posters emblazoned with the slogan, “We want sea songs”. The work had caused concern a decade earlier when Lady Jessie, Wood’s partner, said its inclusion “turned the season into a music hall rabble”. The Sea Songs return tonight after a four-year hiatus.
2. Concerts halted by the war
The increasing number of air-raids on London in 1940 led to the Proms being abruptly abandoned a month earlier than planned. It was also the last Proms at the Queens Hall, the Regent Street venue where the concert series had started in 1895. An incendiary bomb destroyed the building in May 1941. A bronze bust of Sir Henry Wood was found undamaged in the rubble and is now displayed each season at the Royal Albert Hall.
3. Contemporary controversy
This year sees the premiere of sparks by young composer Mark Simpson – but contemporary classical music hasn’t always been well-received. The most controversial Last Night premiere came in 1995 with Panic, an 18-minute saxophone concerto written by Harrison Birtwistle. The Proms programme described it as a “bold choice”. John Drummond, then Proms director, said “the BBC switchboard was swamped with several thousand protesting calls”.
4. Last minute changes
American conductor and composer Leonard Slatkin had to create a new programme following the events of 9/11, which took place just four days before the Last Night in 2001. The work that had been planned to open the second half was John Adams’ unfortunately titled Short Ride in a Fast Machine. Its inclusion was also cancelled in 1997 when it was considered inappropriate in the wake of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.