Last Night at the Proms (In a Field)

Every year the BBC stages a weeks long classical music festival, The Proms, at the Royal Albert Hall in London. My company owns a box in this venue, and in years past I’ve succeeded in nabbing tickets to a few nights. This year the private equity firm that now owns the company is either filled with classical musical nuts or the box has been disposed of in the latest wave of cost cutting. Either way, no Proms tickets have been forthcoming.

Lucky for me I noticed a sign for a “Last Night at the Proms” charity event on a bicycle ride around the Cotswolds yesterday. We packed a picnic and headed off to the cricket pitch in Naunton in the early evening, one of about three rain-free and mild ones we’ve had this summer.Like our evening of outdoor opera earlier this year, British picnicking prowess was on full display. I watched as one trio in front of us planted two stakes in the ground then laid a third across the top, half expecting them to next produce a whole pig for roasting from their wicker basket. Instead they used their “spit” to hang a colorful array of paper lanterns, which later illuminated important activities like wine pouring.

Husband spotted his doctor sitting in front of us, which stopped him from rolling a cigarette until the end of the evening. I coveted his family’s serious picnic utility chairs – chrome with handy side tables attached – on which they balanced healthful plates of poached salmon and rice salad. Never mind our dinner was composed entirely of cheese and wine.

The London Gala Chamber Orchestra started the evening off with “Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld” which somehow morphed into the can can. My musical education continued as I learned “O Danny Boy” is really called “Derry Air.” The evening progressed in this vein of familiar enough to clap or sing-along tunes, both of which the conductor heartily encouraged. Such let yourself loose occasions are rare for the tone deaf like me, and I belted out “I Could Have Danced All Night” with abandon.

The crowd had worked itself into a champagne frenzy for the firework finale set to “Jerusalem” and “Land of Hope and Glory” complete with flag waving. This was mostly of the £1 plastic Union Jack variety, but a group that had clearly done this before was equipped with large Scottish, English and South African flags. I’ve heard people dismiss this behavior as jingo-istic in the past (flag waving and Jerusalem are also a traditional part of the “real” last night at the Proms) but from my foreigner’s point of view it all seemed harmless enough. The only hint of sinister was when an overly enthusiastic middle aged gent rushed the stage during “Rule Brittania” to stare into the soprano’s eyes at uncomfortably close range. If I’d had an American flag I would have joined in and had the Fourth of July experience I’d been deprived of last month. I don’t think anyone would have minded.

The evening ended with a reprisal of the can can during which the audience was invited down front. One pink chinoed toff found himself flat on his back in his haste to descend the hillside. The effective combination of Champagne consumption and embarrassment got him back on his feet in plenty of time to high kick his heart out.

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