Ahead of the ASO’s Last Night of the Proms this April at Festival Theatre, conductor Guy Noble discusses what makes this concert such a fan favourite!
Explain the history of the Proms.
It was in 1894 – the manager of the Queen’s Hall, London, Mr Robert Newman, proposed to the young conductor Mr Henry Wood, his plans of a series of concerts to be held over the English summer. Newman hoped the concerts “…would educate the people about classical music and hopefully make it more popular.” And so, with Mr Wood at the helm, the first of the Proms, or as they were then known “Mr Robert Newman’s Promenade Concerts” was performed in London on August 10, 1895.
One-hundred and nineteen years, and much history later, The Proms (now the BBC Proms) has become one of the world’s most prestigious music festivals! Consisting of over 70 concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, The Proms encompasses symphonic staples performed by major British and international orchestras, to contemporary jazz and pop – even once a world premiere of Dr. Who in Concert.
Why do you think the Last Night of the Proms is so popular?
I think it is because of the interactive nature of the concert – how many other classical concerts have the opportunity to clap along, and also sing along? It’s quite unusual!
What is your favourite piece to conduct in the Last Night of the Proms?
Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 – aka Land of Hope and Glory. It is the end of the concert, the audience sings, the orchestra is fired up and usually we have balloons or glitter at the end. It is a festive moment.
Last Night of the Proms is a fairly relaxed performance, where the audience is encouraged to clap and sing along. Do you enjoy the non-formality of the concert?
Absolutely. My whole career is about challenging that formality, but it happens within a context where we pay great attention to the music and how it is played. I suppose it is like a top notch restaurant, we still have the starchy table cloths, the beautiful quality glass and china, the best dishes carefully prepared, but as a waiter I try and deliver it all to the table with a sense of fun.
The prommers are renowned for festooning themselves in everything from Union Jack vests, suits and socks to Viking helmets, while carrying an array of flags – mainly U.K, what’s the most unusual outfit you’ve seen in the audience?
Once we had a young couple sitting in the audience wearing Will and Kate masks. Every time I turned around to talk they were doing their slow Royal wave at me.
Do you have a particular outfit, costume you’ll be donning for the concert?
You’ll have to wait and see!
There will be no Rule Brittiania this year – why is that?
The orchestra were feeling a bit uncomfortable about the words of Rule Brittannia, and I must admit last time I conducted it it did feel anachronistic. I think the Proms in London are a special case, it is a big musical party at the end of a long series of concerts, but when we do a Last Night without all the other nights preceding, Rule Britannia starts to feel a bit out of place in modern Australia. Some people may disagree with that decision, but we will still have the Pomp and Circumstance March No.1, Jerusalem and the Fantasia on British Sea Songs, so the fun has not been removed.
The program also features Peggy Glanville Hick’s Sinfonia da Pacifica – what made her a remarkable composer?
The ASO is the only orchestra in the country pursuing a policy to include more female composers. Peggy’s music is rich and interesting and I think audiences should be exposed to more of it. In classical music familiarity definitely does not breed contempt – the more you hear something the more you grow to love it. I hope we can introduce Peggy’s music to people who have not heard it before.
Explain in musical terms what Peggy’s piece is like?
Sinfonia da Pacifica was begun in 1952 on a boat traveling from New Orleans back to Australia – it has a great rhythmic energy, a quirky tune and is entirely tonal and melodic.
Don’t miss Last Night of the Proms at Festival Theatre, Fri 1 & Sat 2 Apr