Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The BBC Proms are an eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical music concerts held annually in Central London, predominantly in the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington. With over 100 events it is probably the biggest classical music festival in the world.
"Proms" is short for "promenade concerts", and the concerts are distinctive because cheap places are reserved for those prepared to stand throughout the performance in the arena or gallery. These groups are called the "Promenaders" and many will attend every concert during the season, either buying a season ticket or paying each day. Some have attended for years on end and being a Promenader for 40 years is not uncommon. They are notably unruly on the Last Night but have the reputation as the quietest audience in the world the rest of the season. The concerts attract performers from all over the world.
The first Proms concert was held on 10 August 1895 in the Queen's Hall in Langham Place and was arranged by Robert Newman. The idea was that people who perhaps would not normally attend a classical concert would be attracted by the cheap ticket prices for those standing, and the more informal atmosphere than usual (eating, drinking and smoking were all allowed).
However, it is the conductor Henry Joseph Wood whose name is most closely associated with the concerts. He was the conductor at that first concert, and was largely responsible for expanding the repertoire heard in later concerts, such that by the 1920s the concerts had grown from being made up of largely more popular, less demanding works, to presenting music by contemporary composers such as Claude Debussy, Richard Strauss and Ralph Vaughan Williams. During the Last Night of the Proms, Wood's bust in front of the Organ is crowned with a laurel wreath by representatives of the "promenaders".
In 1927, the BBC -- later based at Broadcasting House opposite the hall -- took over the running of the concerts, and when the BBC Symphony Orchestra was formed in 1930 it became the main orchestra for the concerts. At this time the season would consist of nights dedicated to particular composers; Mondays were Wagner, Fridays were Beethoven with other major composers being featured on other days. There were no Sunday performances.
However, with the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the BBC withdrew its support. The Proms continued though, under private sponsorship, until the Queen's Hall was gutted by an air raid in 1941 (its site is now the St Georges Hotel). The following year, the Proms moved to their current home, the Royal Albert Hall, and the BBC took over once more.
From the 1950s, the number of guest orchestras giving concerts in the season began to increase, with the first major international conductors (Leopold Stokowski, Georg Solti and Carlo Maria Giulini) performing in 1963, and the first foreign orchestra, the Moscow Radio Orchestra , performing in 1966. Since that time, almost every major international orchestra, conductor and soloist has performed at the Proms.
The other major conductor associated with the Proms was Sir Malcolm Sargent who was Chief Conductor between 1948 to 1966. The charity founded in his name continues to hold a special 'Promenade Concert' each year shortly after the main season ends.
The Proms continue today, and still present newly commissioned music alongside pieces more central to the repertoire and early music. The last night of each season is traditionally in a lighter 'winding-down' vein, with more popular classics being followed by a series of patriotic pieces in the second half of the concert, including Hubert Parry's setting of William Blake's poem Jerusalem, Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 (Land of Hope and Glory) and Rule Britannia. Leonard Slatkin, chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra until recently, expressed a desire to tone down the nationalism of the last night somewhat, and since 2002 Rule Britannia has only been heard as part of Henry Wood's Fantasia on British Sea Songs (another piece traditional to the last night) rather than separately.
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