The BBC Proms is a great national institution, the highlight of a summer cultural calendar that ranges from country house opera to the Edinburgh Festival. For eight weeks every year since 1895, first in Queen’s Hall, Langham Place and latterly in the Royal Albert Hall, some 70 concerts have been staged annually and almost always to packed or near-full houses. They have combined performances from the established classical repertoire with specially commissioned pieces. By any measure, they are triumphant success, arguably the world’s greatest music festival and far more than the flag-waving antics of the Last Night.
The Proms do not have to be made 'more accessible' or modernised. The music is all.
And yet in recent years the tendency to mess around with anything that smacks of tradition or which can be caricatured as intellectual has infected the Proms just as it has other aspects of national life. The organisers have felt compelled to draw in new audiences with themed concerts centred on television favourites like Doctor Who, CBeebies, Sherlock and Strictly Come Dancing.
Traditionalists who have been appalled by such innovations have largely kept quiet for fear of being denounced as killjoys or, worse, elitist. Yet it turns out that they were right. The programme for this year’s Proms has largely abandoned such demotic gesturing after the BBC conceded there was no evidence that audiences for these concerts develop a lasting love of classical music. David Pickard, the Proms director, says he still wants to “find new ways of getting new audiences”. But the Proms are open to everyone and are exceptionally cheap for those prepared to stand. They do not have to be made “more accessible” or modernised. The music is all.