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Proms is short for Promenade concerts, informal and inexpensive concerts where Promenaders (Prommers) stand to listen. Today, the Last Night of the Proms has up to 900 Prommers standing in the central Arena and a further 500 standing, sitting or even lying down in the Gallery.
Sir Henry Wood, who conducted the very first Prom on Saturday 10th August 1895, conducted every Prom for half a century. In his memory, the Proms are now officially called "BBC Music presents the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts".
The Proms is full of traditions, staples and in-jokes. In 1901, Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 was first performed and was an instant hit! Given a double encore, Pomp and Circumstance is now a staple of the Last Night of the Proms.
As the Proms’ maestro, Sir Henry was the driving force behind many new arrangements of well-known pieces to suit the orchestra he was working with. He was also a champion of lesser known, or underplayed pieces, arranging them in exciting and accessible ways for the public.
Critics complained about Sir Henry's enthusiasm for arrangements. In response, Sir Henry played a joke on them. “I got very fed up with them, always finding fault with any arrangement or orchestrations that I made … ‘spoiling the original’,” he said.
For the 1929 Proms, he claimed one of his orchestrations of a Bach piece was the work of a Russian composer called Paul Klenovsky. Klenovsky, an entirely fictional composer made up by Sir Henry, was widely praised for the arrangement.
The press, he said later, “fell into the trap and said the scoring was wonderful, Klenovsky had the real flair for true colour – and performance after performance was given and asked for.”
It took five years for Wood to reveal the truth, after which the Times published a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Klenovsky.
Until 1941, the Queen's Hall was home to the Proms. But with the Blitz, came tragedy. On the 10th May 1941, future Proms conductor, Sir Malcolm Sargent, led a performance of the Enigma Variations and The Dream of Gerontius. This was the last performance the Hall would ever know.
That night an intensive air raid destroyed or seriously damaged a number of iconic buildings, including the chamber of the House of Commons, British Museum and Westminster Abbey.
A single incendiary bomb hit the Queen's Hall, engulfing the auditorium in a fire that destroyed the entire building. The Hall was reduced to rubble and the London Philharmonic lost thousands of pounds' worth of instruments. But like the Blitz spirit, the Proms could not be snuffed out so easily.
In the aftermath of the destruction, the only object that remained intact was a bronze bust of Sir Henry Wood. The bust was recovered from the ruins of Queens Hall and placed before the organ in the Royal Albert Hall, signifying it as the Proms' new home.
This year, over the last two months, there have been 74 concerts in the Royal Albert Hall and 13 in Cadogan Hall. This weekend, the 75th and final concert takes place: the Last Night of the Proms. This year will also include four Proms in the Park celebrations around the UK.
Sir Andrew Davis, the popular former steersman of the Last Night, returns to direct the evening.
This Last Night includes an extended nautical theme. In addition to the traditional favourites, this year includes Stanford’s Songs of the Sea, featuring star Canadian baritone Gerald Finley.
Another British classic, Blest Pair of Sirens, which honour the ‘harmonious sisters, Voice and Verse’, joins Jerusalem to commemorate the centenary year of the composer, Hubert Parry's, death.
For those planning on Promming in the Capital, make Grange Hotels your choice of overnight stay. With outstanding 4 and 5 star hotels within walking distance of the Royal Albert Hall, you can end the biggest musical night of the year in luxury and style.