The last night of the Proms (Photo: BBC Music)
The Last Night of the Proms (Photo: BBC Music)
The Last Night of the Proms (Photo: BBC Music)

On Wednesday October 14, the BBC Proms are coming to the cinema in the U.S. for the first time, as the famous Last Night of the Proms is broadcast to more than 230 cinemas across America. It’s the crowning event of a world famous festival of classical music broadcast from the Royal Albert Hall in London, and this year’s concert features the Grammy Award-winning tenor Jonas Kaufmann, the soprano Danielle de Niese, and the pianist Benjamin Grosvenor.

Marin Alsop will lead the orchestra through a varied bill, including the works of Shostakovich, Richard Strauss, and Puccini as well as a singalong medley from The Sound of Music all building towards the main event, the famous grand finale of the Last Night; three British patriotic classics that are always accompanied by a sea of waving flags from the audience; “Rule Britannia,” “Jerusalem” and “Land of Hope and Glory.”

Here’s a trailer:

This event marks the 120th anniversary of the Proms, which began during the era of Queen Victoria. The first Proms concert took place in London’s Queen’s Hall on August 10, 1895. The event was put together by the businessman and promoter Robert Newman, who wanted to offer the best in classical music to people who would normally not be able to afford to attend by keeping ticket prices as low as possible.

He contacted the musician Henry Wood and explained that he wanted a series of nightly concerts that would educate the general public in the finest music, starting with the popular tunes and working in some more obscure and socially improving selections. As audience members were encouraged to walk in off the streets and pay a shilling (five pence) to enter, the three-hour-long concerts were billed as Mr Robert Newman’s Promenade Concerts.

So from the start the concerts were a mixture of the high and the low, the popular and the academic, the familiar and the experimental. Amid the nights devoted to giants such as Wagner and Beethoven were works by new composers including Debussy, Rakhmaninov, Ravel and Vaughan Williams. This tradition has continued right up to today, with further innovations along the way, including performances of complete operas, performances of music from non-Western cultures (notably India, Thailand, Indonesia and Japan) and the introduction of themed nights—children’s music being a particular favorite— and more popular music forms such as jazz and gospel.

This year’s Proms included a night devoted to electronic dance music (named the Ibiza Prom after the island home of dance music), and another devoted to the U.K.’s swelling grime scene. In both cases, the orchestra played each song with the same dedication as it would apply to works by Mozart or Brahms.

There’s also a tradition of Doctor Who Proms (in 2008, 2010 and 2013), showcasing not only Murray Gold’s scores for the TV series and the use of popular classics in the show, but also the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s sterling work in creating the Doctor Who theme. And of course, there are always special guests:

There have been other changes down the years. In 1941, the Queen’s Hall was destroyed by German bombers, so that year’s Prom (a cut down affair) took place for the first time at the Royal Albert Hall, where it has remained ever since. There are now over 70 concerts in the main Prom every year, although it is always the flag-waving pageantry of the Last Night that ties the whole event together.

The BBC Proms are a national treasure, a celebration of music in all forms, and one that still adheres closely to Robert Newman and Henry Wood’s original template.

For more details on Last Night of the Proms, visit the Fathom Events website.

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By Fraser McAlpine