BBC Proms in the Park
After a two-month programme of concerts, ranging from Verdi concertos to the music of Doctor Who, 2013’s Proms came to a close last night in typically joyous, flag-waving fashion. The celebrations extended well beyond the walls of the Albert Hall, with a number of Proms in the Park taking place across the country. As ever, London’s was held in Hyde Park.
Some 40,000 people packed into the arena, armed to the teeth with picnic blankets and umbrellas. Union Jacks were poised and ready for action. The first man onto the stage was Tony Blackburn, who didn’t inspire too much flag waving, but fortunately was only hosting the night’s introduction. After playing compère to The Red Hot Chilli Pipers and boy band Blue, who wisely trotted out a greatest hits set rather than plugging their forthcoming album, Blackburn passed the baton to Sir Terry Wogan.
The ever-perennial broadcaster is as much a part of the Proms as Elgar or a string of bunting, and he received a rapturous welcome. With the BBC Concert Orchestra lined up behind him, he stitched together the night’s performances with his usual mixture of winking self-deprecation and bumbling charm.
While Wogan marshalled proceedings, the orchestra provided the musical backbone for the evening in consummate fashion, taking their turn in the spotlight with a number of popular standards. Conductor Richard Balcombe led his 80-piece ensemble through stirring renditions of the Star Wars theme and Walton’s Orb and Sceptre. Joseph Calleja, a Proms veteran, was clearly enraptured as he took centre stage. The Spanish tenor sang La Vie En Rose, Besame Mucho and banished any lingering memories of Westlife with his rendition of You Raise Me Up.
In a night populated by elder statesmen of the entertainment world, Barry Humphries was undoubtedly the best dressed. He was next up, trotting onstage in full Dame Edna Everage regalia, the vibrancy of his turquoise dress matched only by that of his lilac hair. “Hello possums!” came the familiar greeting, followed the cheeky number My Public. It was Dame Edna who provided the one cringe moment of the evening – an offhand remark about Terry Wogan being “safe” perhaps flying a little too close to the wind, given recent events.
If the Dame had provided a bit of cutting-edge humour, then Nigel Kennedy served up some musical rock ‘n’ roll. The virtuoso violinist’s punky stylings always seem a little out of place in front of an orchestra of tuxedos and last night was no different. Joining him to play his own composition, the beautiful, lilting Melody on the Wind, was Mostafa Saad. A 15-year-old from Palestine, he and Kennedy made for a thrilling duo, bringing to mind Kennedy’s own emergence into the public eye in his teenage years.
The next hour took on a distinctly rocky flavour, kicking off with the cast of the West End’s Let it Be. The fab four look-a-likes made their way through a host of Beatles classics, from She Loves You to Hey Jude. Their Liverpudlian accents may have sounded distinctly dodgy, but their playing was anything but. After Hey Jude had inspired a sea of waving arms (and a few lighters), the stage was set for the evening’s headliner: the ever dapper Roxy Music alumni and Marks and Spencer model Bryan Ferry. He brought his own orchestra with him – a collective of saxophonists and trumpeters who excel in capturing the sound of the roaring 20s. Recently asked by Baz Luhrmann to oversee the soundtrack to The Great Gatsby, Ferry sashayed his way through jazzy takes on Love is the Drug and A Hard Rain’ Gonna Fall, before closing with the iconic Let’s Stick Together.
Hyde Park took a breather for the second half of the night. The big screens relayed the last couple of hours from The Albert Hall, including Nigel Kennedy, who had rushed through London traffic and was now standing next to conductor Marin Alsop, decked out in an Aston Villa shirt. Jerusalem and God Save the Queen were belted out with customary gusto and the night came to an end with a glittering display of fireworks.
The BBC Proms in the Park is a unique experience; there is no other event that brings together the worlds of classical and popular music with such aplomb. It’s a family-orientated event, and given the glut of greying radio presenters involved, it’s certainly easy to deride it as fusty or middle-class. Nonetheless, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a superior evening out, or better experience the feeling of utter goodwill and community emanating from the audience. Long may it continue.
Photos: Rich Tee
For further information and next year’s dates visit the BBC Proms website here.