Symphony newcomers are sometimes apprehensive about whether they’ll understand the music, or know the etiquette for a concert, or what they should wear.
They learn that it’s proper to be respectful, appreciative, but above all, never to clap in the wrong place.
But this season’s closing concert by the Okanagan Symphony (Sunday at 7 p.m.) will be different.
For those who have never seen one live or on TV, be assured that The Last Night of the Proms is a celebration.
Dress outrageously, let your hair down, be loud, and be visible. Bring a flag to wave, the bigger the better. Ideally the Union Jack, but the Maple Leaf is OK — also something to rattle or blow. And if you’re sitting close enough, throw paper streamers at conductor and music director Rosemary Thomson.
The Okanagan Symphony Chorus will be coordinated by Joanne Forsyth, and the guest artist will be Dawn Mussellam, soprano. I’ve also been told that one major celebrity will be in attendance.
The promenade concerts have an illustrious pedigree.
In 1895, Sir Henry Wood started open-air concerts in London parks, where people could promenade with light classical music as a background. But soon the music became the important element, eventually the BBC became involved, and in 1941, Sir Henry Wood brought the concerts to The Royal Albert Hall.
The Proms comprise an eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical concerts and events, 70 in the Albert Hall alone.
There are concerts for special audiences — there’s even a Dr. Who Prom. In the classical music world, The Proms are the world’s largest and most democratic musical festival.
The tradition of “Promming” remains an essential part of the experience. The Albert Hall has more than 1,000 standing places. All the arena seats (orchestra stalls) are removed and more standing room is in the gallery. Promming tickets cost just $10, and many consider these to be the best because of closeness to the orchestra. (Even though you’re standing for three hours!)
Daily tickets are only available at the door, providing access to otherwise sold-out concerts, especially the Last Night. It’s quite normal for Prommers to line up all day, and for the last night some sleep outside for three weeks as to get the best standing positions. There’s even a voluntary committee to police lineup etiquette: Anyone caught “saving a space” for late-comers is sent to the back of the line.
Nowadays, the number of London concerts exceeds 100, so it’s hardly surprising that the Last Night is cause for celebration. It’s a chance for concert-lovers to go crazy, but in the nicest possible way.
The first half is always played straight. For Vernon there’s glorious music planned: nine short pieces including Handel’s Zadok The Priest, and Where’er You Walk (both are coronation pieces); also the Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s Il Trovatore.
The first movement of Vaughan Williams’ English Folk Song Suite will be led by a special guest conductor. Bob Walker was given the opportunity as an auction item. He’s also a violinist and will later join the violin section.
The fun starts in the second half.
A boating theme introduces three solos from Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, leading to the first classic Prom favourite: Fantasia on British Sea Songs with its legendary clarinet cadenza: Lastly Paddle Your Own Canoe.
Then follows another Prom classic: Parry’s Jerusalem, England’s unofficial anthem, much used at sporting events. It’s a sing-along and the words will be in the programme.
The grand finale is Elger’s Pomp and Circumstance March #1, better known as Land of Hope and Glory.
Before the concert starts, Thomson will be working with the chorus, so the pre-concert talk (6 p.m. in the Marie Fleming Hall, by donation) will be by yours truly.
Advance tickets are as usual available at the theatre box office, 250-549-7469, at the door from 6 p.m., and online at www.ticketseller.ca.
— Jim Elderton is a freelance writer who reviews the Okanagan Symphony season for the Morning Star in his column, Classical Notes.