Last Night of the Proms review – party falls flat as BBC miss chance to speak upSeptember 14, 2020
Royal Albert Hall/Radio 3/BBC1
Despite desperate cheeriness from assorted guests and committed performances from all musicians, this event is about more than the music, and 2020’s concert failed to reflect current times
The decorations on the conductor’s podium weren’t promising. Neatly covered with paper streamers, a single L-plate half-buried among them, it was an overconscientious attempt to reproduce the gently anarchic silliness of classical music’s most famous closing-night party. The Last Night of the Proms is not just another concert. It’s an event all about its audience: its joyous, inflatable-toting, flag-waving, singing-and-knee-bobbing crowd of prommers, who whistle, whoop and drink their way through the evening. This year they were entirely absent.
Certainly, watching it on TV, the Last Night felt like a party to which no one had turned up, its organisers trying extra hard to make it “fun”. Presenter Katie Derham was joined not only by actor Adjoa Andoh and Rev Richard Coles (both warm, articulate commentators), but also via video by four other guests – comedian Mel Giedroyc, singer Lesley Garrett, jazz musician Jacob Collier (and his mum) and David James, an ex-footballer who used to play the cello. They were occasionally flashed on to our screens though hardly given a chance to speak. As the concert wore on, Garrett swayed ever more manically underneath a union jack umbrella. The camera work was just as hyperactive, cutting incessantly between close-ups of performers and dizzying lurches across the stage. By the time we were spun around as the Hornpipe from Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs accelerated, I felt distinctly nauseous.