Are the Proms so Wonderful?

The 2007 season of Promenade Concerts in London is nearly over. It has been an extraordinary season. Claiming to be the greatest Music Festival in the World, there has been plenty of evidence that the boast is well founded. The number of concerts, the variety of music and the state –of- the- art performances has been remarkable. I have been able to go to only three concerts but have seen others on BBC TV and listened to them on the radio. The season has ended with the visits of world-class orchestras– the Royal Concertgebouw of Amsterdam with Bernard Haitink, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim and the hand-picked Lucerne Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado, the Boston Symphony with their conductor James Levine among them. The famous -or infamous- Final Night’s jamboree conducted by the BBC Symphony’s conductor Jiri Belohlavek for the first time, will bring the season to a sweaty and for some tearful end. We have heard some amazing performances.

My only caveat is the immense self-congratulatory hype that surrounds the presentation of the concerts.

Everything has to be so wonderful. The performers are wonderful and there are interviews with some of them in the intervals to show how wonderful they are. ‘Experts’ are also interviewed and their breathless wonder is so unbounded that it almost falls out of the screen. The music is wonderful and of course the audience is wonderful. There is a notable absence of any critical comment. I noticed just once that the American tenor Tom Randle nearly confessed that he wasn’t a Wagner fan, but under the guidance of the front man that evening, quickly qualified what had been a genuine opinion rather than a bland endorsement of the sort we have become accustomed to.

Perhaps it’s all to do with trying to attract young people to classical music or to entertain people rather than informing them.

I suppose I am media-resistant, but this is not sour grapes. I think the presentation this season, building on the last few years, insufficiently serves the music and is in danger of diverting one’s attention in over projected chatter between people who seem more interested in each other than in engaging with the viewer or listener. The Proms are wonderful, but could the trumpeting be left to the performers next time?

And it has been an amazing season!