With the Last Night of the Proms closing this years season, an opportunity to reflect presents itself.
This season was something of a relief, pointing the way back to live music. The welcome return of an old friend framing the summer months with live performances from a range of different artists and ensembles.
There is a danger that the Proms return signals a return to normality. We still need to care about the people who bring us the music we enjoy. Music is still in danger thanks to the systematic erosion of music education, and the catastrophic incompetence behind the post-Brexit ‘arrangements’. Don’t let’s allow COVID nor the perception the pandemic is over mean we ignore the other clusterfucks that threaten the UK’s music scene.
The season has not been without its low-points for me. Never before have I walked out of a concert mid-broadcast. And I’m truth I miss the grandeur, the range of visiting international orchestras, and the roar of a packed auditorium.
But whilst the Proms is always easy to criticise, that it was staged this year in the way it has – a compromise amid constantly shifting guidelines and mitigations is a testament to the commitment of the planners, producers and marketers. I don’t imagine for a moment this was the season Proms Director David Pickard was thinking of when he applied for the job a few years back.
Amid a year of increased digital streams mounted by orchestras and ensembles mid and post-pandemic, the Proms has had to up its game visually too. It’s a rare thing I don’t bitch and moan about TV coverage at the Proms. Those involved would agree. This year however has seen some high quality direction, tasty shots and some delightful inserts snd packages. Credit to Guy Freeman and Ben Weston, Bridget Cauldwell and their team.
My final word on this years season is a personal one, an illustration of how the Proms has delivered for me what it always has: refuge.
Mid-summer my family suffered a catastrophic event which we’d all feared but hadn’t quite prepared for. In the resulting grief, the opportunity to immerse myself in live music either in person or broadcast has been gratifying. To be able to discover detail in new music by George Lewis, Charlotte Bray, and Daniel Kidane has distracted me from dark thoughts. Víkingur Ólafsson did quite wonderful things, so too the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Props too to Manchester Collective.
But particular credit to English Baroque Soloists, John Elliot Gardiner, and the Monteverdi Choir. A special evening that reminded me how chromatic Handel really is. A special evening.
It’s not been easy for anyone. But the Proms has been much-needed and very much-appreciated. It’s reconnected me with friends and colleagues, distracted me from stuff, and provided some inspiration too.
I raise a glass. Thanks BBC Proms.