On September 12, 2009, we went with my sister-in-law Heather to the Last Night of the Proms in Hyde Park. This is an annual event, with open air concerts followed by screens showing live performances from the Royal Albert Hall.
The weather was perfect, with a warm afternoon and pleasant evening, and with clear skies so we could see some stars (despite the London light pollution), and the planes flying overhead. There were around 40,000 people in the park, and it was well organized. People sat around in groups, enjoying their picnics, many of them drinking. There were people of all ages, though not many children, and from several countries (based on languages heard and flags displayed).
The event opened with three tribute groups, demonstrating the most sincere form of flattery. The Counterfeit Stones (performing Rolling Stones material), the Emperors of Soul (Motown songs), and Gary Mullen and The Works (Queen). Of these, I most appreciated the latter, partly because I'm more familiar with Queen material.
As it began to get dark, the BBC Concert Orchestra played and we heard the singers Garoar Thor Cortes and Katherine Jenkins.
Then the quartet of young classical musicians, Escala, performed three songs. Finally, there was a concert by Barry Manilow, which was far removed from my musical taste. Obviously, a large part of the audience was there especially for this show, and there was a lot of dancing and singing along.
It was nearly ten by the time the live relay from the Royal Albert Hall started. We heard the usual list of rousing patriotic material, and the crowds sang along and waved their flags. I felt ambiguous about this. To me, music is universal and should unite the world. Of course, it can be used to reflect or arouse nationalistic sentiment, but to me this seems somewhat unnecessary. On the other hand, this event was somewhat self-consciously ironic and very good natured. It wasn't the sort of nationalism that could make outsiders feel unwelcome. In fact, the conductor at the Royal Albert Hall was an American, David Robertson.
The event finished with fireworks, and we managed to get out through the crowds, catch a taxi to the station and get the last train back to Kent.