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Beethoven's Funeral March from his Eroica Symphony conducted at a deliberately slow tempo by Christoph Eschenbach Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Britannia and the British Seasons - were taken out of the programme, at the end of the evening an individual stood by the organ console and sang Land of Hope and Glory alone. Perhaps his own tribute to Elgar

I, too, can now say that I have been a "promenader" at the Promenade Concert on 21 August 2001, really because all seats have been sold. So, feeling very English, I queued for hours in the sunshine, but after two hours I felt very bad with the cold wind and two people in the queue kindly took me inside and found me a seat. It was all exciting and I felt that I now belonged to some special club as part of the British establishment. It is the promenaders who really love their music - not those who pay for expensive seats.

I went to many Proms during the "Proms" season in 2001, but I shall talk about the one of 21 August. The concert was conducted by the new Chief Conductor, the American - Leonard Slatkin, with Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano), and Stephen Hough (pianist). The programme comprised of 5 pieces. First, Copland's El Salon Mexico was actually of a lively and colourful dance-hall in Mexico City; Copland's visit there inspired him to write the composition and it is his attempt to re-capture the overwhelming impact of music and dance, with its opening of "bullfight" trumpets and fizzing cymbals. (Copland's centenary is being celebrated this year. ) Barber's Adagio for Strings was the second piece. Bernstein's Symphony No 1, Jeremiah, inspired by the biblical lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah and written at the height of the Holocaust incorporating an ancient Hebrew chant as a modern lament for the Jewish people was the third piece. The fourth piece was Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and the last was Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements. A touch of colour was brought to the proceedings by the American and Russian flags placed behind the orchestra because the program was dedicated to American and Russian music. Pianist Stephen Hough gave a particularly poetic performance of the Rahmaninov.

Another Prom that I was privileged to attend was that held on 11 September 2001, the day of the terrible, earth-shattering news from New York. On that day I had had my picnic by myself in front of the Albert Memorial (Queen Victoria's monument to her husband Prince Albert; it was completely refurbished a year or so ago and it is now floodlit at night). In the evening I took my seat in the RAH and the conductor spoke about the sad events of the day and I had to wait until the interval to ask my neighbour what had actually happened. Later, I saw the Evening Standard with the tragic pictures. As a tribute to those who had died the original overture was changed to that of Beethoven's Funeral March from his Eroica Symphony conducted at a deliberately slow tempo by Christoph Eschenbach. The same deathly mood was evoked by pianist Helene Grimaud in Beethoven's Emperor Concerto No 4 and her own bitterness was felt in her pounding of the Steinway in the passionate cadenza, giving a special poignancy to the evening.

The Last Night of the Proms is really the highlight of the Proms Season and in 2001 it came on 15 September. As always it was a night of great emotion but in view of the events of 11 September more subdued that usual. Slatkin, himself an American, felt that this time music should play its healing role and he movingly said, "I promise you that every note, every bar, every phrase tonight comes from our hearts and our souls to all of you". The programme was dedicated to America and the US Ambassador was present. It was also broadcast in America. Hundreds of American flags as well as the Union flag were draped around the seating or held by the promenaders. A drum-roll announced the opening of The Star Spangled Banner and everybody stood and sang its salute to "the land of the free and the home of the brave". The second half - in spite of the grief - was left to Beethoven to reaffirm live with his immortal Ode to Joy (played at Beethoven's own funeral) from his 9th and last symphony, followed by Jerusalem:

"And did those feet in ancient time Walk upon England's mountains green? And was the Holy Lamb of God On England's pleasant pastures seen? And did the Countenance Divine Shine forth upon our clouded hills? And was Jerusalem builded here Among these dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of morning gold! Bring me my arrows of desire! Bring me my spear! O clouds unfold! Bring me my Chariot of Fire! I will not cease from mental fight; Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand Till we have built Jerusalem In England's green and pleasant land. " (Words by William Blake, 1757-1827)

Towards the end of the evening Slatkin gave a moving speech followed by one minute of silence.

Although other Last Night programme "regulars" - Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Britannia and the British Seasons - were taken out of the programme, at the end of the evening an individual stood by the organ console and sang Land of Hope and Glory alone. Perhaps his own tribute to Elgar, that most English of composers, as everyone filed past.

[The Proms (or Promenade Concerts) are a particularly English institution accredited to Sir Henry Wood who conducted them from their beginning in 1895 until his death in 1944, although the idea was originally imported from Paris in the 19th Century. In 1927, responsibility for the organisation was taken up by BBC television. Amongst the most popular and greatly loved was Sir Malcolm Sargent who attracted a young and enthusiastic audience to the RAH. He was the Prom's Chief Conductor during the last 16 years of his life. He died in 1967 shortly after conducting his last Prom. He was a very sick man and advised not to conduct but he insisted upon doing so. Because of his dapper and always immaculate appearance, a red carnation always in the button-hole of his dress-suit, he was affectionately known as "Flash Harry". ]

On the same night - 15 September 2001 - I again felt very English when I attended The Proms in the Park held in Hyde Park and sponsored by Renault and hosted by Terry Wogan with a live link to the Last Night of the Proms. Amongst the artists - Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, Maria Friedman and the BBC Concert Orchestra, but for me the highlight was Jose Carreras. (Carreras has successfully recovered from leukaemia and now presides over the Jose Carreras International Leukaemia Foundation, which is one of his greatest priorities. He says, "is my way of paying my debt to society when I was ill. It is wonderful to be able to show the people that are suffering from the disease, families of the afflicted, that this is something that you can beat". )Carerras said, "I was six. I had been to the movies to see The Great Caruso with Mario Lanza. At home the next day, I began to sing some of the areas I had heard. When my parents heard me sing, they decided to send me to the Conservatory in Barcelona".


Verinha Ottoni




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