Friday, August 17, 2007

Last Orders

Nitin Sawhney, in his notes to his Prom last week, makes reference to "images of exuberant flag-waving at the Proms... unnervingly imperious". Does this matter? If you're a regular patron of the Albert Hall of a summer, you'll know that this sort of image is unrepresentative of the Proms, that it's only the Last Night where the flags come out. It's only one night out of 70-odd, what harm is there?

Well, there's a lot of harm, because Sawhney is exactly the sort of intelligent, open-minded person the Proms should be attracting, and if his overriding impression of the season is one of an orgy of jingoism, then it's fair to say there's a major image problem here. It's not just the cringe-worthy sight of socially inadequate persons of questionable personal hygiene dressing up in tails and bawling along like the chinless wonders they are to Rule Britannia while draped in the Union flag, it's not that even someone with a classical background like Sawhney takes that as the image of the entire Proms season. It's that for the vast majority of people, this bunch of idiots represent the entire classical music world. This is the harm - all the talk of elitism, dumbing down, accessibility, artistic integrity, etc etc, is a side show to the real problem. The rot spreads beyond the actual event - look up listings at this time of year and you'll see a plethora of "Last Night of the Proms" events advertised, that strip the model of even the limited integrity it has and plump wholesale for the flags and rampant nationalism. If this is most people's only experience of classical music, no wonder they don't want to experience any more of it.

Tradition? Sloppy habits, as Mahler defined it. All this guff about the sacred tradition of the Last Night is just that, guff. The whole thing dates back no further than Malcolm Sergeant's tenure after the war, and the timing of its introduction tells you all you need to know about why it is as it is, and why it is so purely awful. This sorry sight of a nation in decline, drunk on nostalgia for its imperial past is an affront to all human dignity, and the most poisonous cup from which all classical music drinks. Why else was it such an affront to the Daily Mail and their like to introduce Harrison Birtwistle into the pantomime 10 years ago? Because for a moment they were confronted with the Now, a real Dionysian moment that showed up the moth-eaten pomp and that peculiarly stilted, forced "party" atmosphere so unique to the British in public around it as the shabby rot that it is. The single act that could do more than anything else to restore the reputation of concert-going would be to get rid of it. But that, alas, is only slightly less likely to happen than getting rid of the monarchy. And like that similarly archaic institution, it keeps us retarded, in thrall to an imaginary past and unable to grasp a future. We need to put the Last Night behind us, and face the dawn.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen to you brother! Blimey, it's been too long since we last chatted.