What happened at Last Night of the Proms 2019
How Last Night of the Proms was celebrated at the Royal Albert Hall and at Proms in the Park around the UK
After 58 days, 85 concerts, 191 conductors and 83 orchestras, choirs and ensembles, the Proms 2019 season came to a close with Last Night of the Proms on Saturday (14 September).
With events in Belfast, Glasgow and Swansea, as well as in London at the Royal Albert Hall and Hyde Park, there was plenty to enjoy as we bid adieu to what has been a spectacular summer of music.
As you can tell, those backstage were very excited about what was in store...
Things got off to a lively start
There are few honours greater than opening proceedings at Last Night of the Proms. This year saw the Last Night Prommers treated to the world premiere of a BBC commission, Woke by Daniel Kidane, a piece that its composer stated was intended to "awaken and arouse an audience" and "excite their senses".
But there was a double meaning too, with Kidane drawing on the more modern meaning of the word "woke", to be aware of social injustices. Kidane himself recently described his new work as "a musical call for greater empathy and a willingness to try something new – whether musically or culturally" and "a recognition that classical music needs more diversity".
Dedicated to Kidane's father and featuring a rare cameo from the ancient instrument, the bullroarer, we were treated to an opening performance that was both lively and thought-provoking. Kidane said that he wanted the audience to "walk away with a heightened sense of excitement but also be aware of social injustices, especially in the racial field”.
We were transported to the Moon
We've witnessed many great space-themed Proms and intergalactically-inspired works over the course of the 2019 season, so it was only fitting for Last Night of the Proms to offer up one more great tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing.
The BBC Singers served up a wonderful a capella rendition of Laura Mvula's Sing To The Moon, a reworked version that was specially arranged by Mvula herself. The LNOP audience was transported far away with the choir’s repetition of the refrain: "Sing to the moon and the stars will shine / Over you, lead you to the other side /Sing to the moon and the stars will shine /Over you, heaven's gonna turn the time.”
Star Jamie Barton made quite the entrance
While it was not widely recognised during the composer's lifetime, the melody from Habanera from Carmen by Georges Bizet has gone on to become one of the most instantly recognisable pieces from the Romantic period. It's an irresistible piece and, as Rob Adediran, Executive Director of London Music Masters, noted: has "such a beautiful melody... injected full of drama and pathos.”
What better a way for one of the night's big stars, the ever-charismatic American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, to introduce herself at Last Night? And what an entrance she made too...
Barton has been described as having a voice that you could "eat with a spoon... big, expansive [and] sinfully rich", and the Last Night Prommers were more than happy to get multiple helpings of Barton's irresistible tones.
After the beguiling intro of Carmen, Barton went on to showcase the true versatility of her range with a moving and mournful rendition of Saint-Saëns’ 'Mon Cooeur s’ouvre a ta voix’ from Samson et Dalila.
Barton was having as much fun as we were
You just love to see a performer who gives their all and just can't hide exactly what a performance means to them. For her last appearance in the first half, which saw her sing Verdi's 'O don fatale' from Don Carlos, Barton's face was an image of sheer joy and pure emotion as she smiled (with perhaps more than a hint of relief!), fully knowing that there would be no way she'd be able to top that sublime outing.
We let loose to the can-can
Following the interval, things really start to let loose at Last Night. So it was perfect, then, for Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld to lead us into a riotous second-half. After all, its famous overture is perhaps best known for soundtracking the can-can dance - and whether seated, Promming or enjoying from home, all of us were instantly taken to the 19th century Parisian cabaret of the Moulin Rouge. Ooh la la – what a treat indeed!
Somewhere Over The Rainbow was extra special
The 2019 Proms season had already treated us to one Judy Garland tribute during the Warner Bros Prom, and we got another extra special homage to the late icon during Last Night, with Jamie Barton singing a song that meant a whole lot to her personally.
"Judy Garland songs are so much part of my heart," Barton said before her performance. "I've never gotten to sing Somewhere Over The Rainbow before so I'm so excited... The Wizard Of Oz captured me from the time I was a kid. The story of a girl coming from an ordinary place and literally stepping into a technicolour life. It's a beautiful story of learning to love who you are, where you come from and being proud of all of that."
We were captivated by her take on the Harold Arlen classic, with Katie even remarking that it "might go down as one of the all-time greatest versions of the song".
We all came together for a good ol' singalong
2019 marks the 150th anniversary of Proms founder-conductor Henry Wood's birth and one of the many lasting traditions he helped introduce was the second-half singalong, what conductor Greg Beardsell describes as "the best example of classical music karaoke ever".
While some of the song choices may divide audiences, Beardsell points out that the sheer act of singing along helps bring us all closer together. "The great thing about communal singing is that it allows you to put [differences] to rest," he says. "For a couple of hours on one summer's evening, we join together in music."
And the most show-stopping moment...
Kicking off the closing sequence, star-of-the-show Jamie Barton sang Rule, Britannia! triumphantly holding the LGBTQ+ rainbow flag aloft at the end of her performance, to the audience’s great delight.
Three cheers for Sir Henry!
Seeing as it's 150 years since Henry Wood's birth, we couldn't close the Proms 2019 season without paying tribute to Sir Henry, with conductor Sakari Oramo leading three cheers for the man without whom the Proms may never have become the institution it remains today.
Meanwhile, over at Proms in the Park...
At Hyde Park, some of music's biggest names convened for Proms in the Park, with a line-up boasting the likes of The Lighthouse Family, Bonnie Tyler, Jack Savoretti, Chrissie Hynde and more.
The sun was shining, the tunes were in abundance and everyone had a mighty great time - as you can very well see in the video below...
At the Copa...
Proms in the Park was headlined by none other than Barry Manilow and, in his honour, we were treated to a dazzling rendition of Copacabana backstage.
We even got a Les Mis/Hamilton crossover
Moments from musicals are always a big winner at Proms in the Park and 2019 delivered with a double-whammy, with the stars of both Les Misérables and Hamilton taking to the stage. Carrie Hope Fletcher and Shan Ako performed I Dreamed A Dream / On My Own from Les Mis, while Jon Robyns delivered a rendition of You'll Be Back from Hamilton.
Backstage, there was even a bit of a Hamilton/Les Mis crossover moment!
But that's not all!
Last Night celebrations brought in events across the UK, with revellers in Swansea, Belfast and Glasgow all getting in on the action.
Among the highlights included silky smooth saxophonist Xhosa Cole, the BBC Young Jazz Musician 2018, in Swansea, violinist Stephanie Childress' spectacular rendition of Vivaldi in Glasgow and Elisabeth Brauss' spellbinding Beethoven's 2nd piano concerto.