Last Night of the Proms: Stars prepare for spectacular finale

Sakari Oramo leads the BBC PromImage copyright

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Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo will conduct the concert for the second year in a row

After two months and 74 concerts, the 2017 Proms season draws to a close on Saturday with the world-famous Last Night concert.

Led by Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo, the celebration will spill across the UK with events in Enniskillen, Glasgow, Swansea and London’s Hyde Park.

At the Royal Albert Hall, anti-Brexit campaigners are planning to hand out thousands of EU flags to the audience.

They say the action is “in support of EU musicians” who play in the UK.

A similar attempt last year did not overwhelm the Last Night celebrations, as fans waved flags from all around the world – Germany, Australia, Denmark, Wales and Cornwall – alongside the more traditional Union flag.

Earlier this summer, the Royal Albert Hall was forced to deny it had “banned the EU flag” from concerts, following several press reports.

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Performers at the Last Night include percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie (Northern Ireland), Kinks star Sir Ray Davies (Hyde Park) and Swedish soprano Nina Stemme (Royal Albert Hall).

“It’s a dream I didn’t dare dreaming when I was a young student,” said Stemme, who will reprise her award-winning performance of Tristan and Isolde. “And now it’s coming true. Who would ever have thought this?”

We spoke to the Swedish star and other stars of the Proms to find out what the spectacular evening has in store.

The composer – Lotta Wennakoski

Composer Lotta Wennakoski gets to open the Last Night concert, with the world premiere of her latest work, Flounce.

What’s the story behind the piece?

I was commissioned by the BBC – and then I was asked to give them a title before I had written anything! So I have a little place where I collect words and sentences I like – and there, I happened to have the title Flounce, which I like because it has two meanings. So I chose the title first and then I began to elaborate my material, according to those two meanings.

How do you approach writing for the Proms?

I knew it was the opening number, so I knew it shouldn’t be too introverted. And I also knew it’s a special concert that’s characterised by lots of shorter pieces, so I thought ‘OK, this is not the place for meditation’, so it had to be festive and, on the other hand, careful.

Presumably once it’s played, you can relax and enjoy the night.

Yes! That’s the best thing! Because usually the composer cannot really listen to anything before their own piece.

Is there anything in the programme you’re looking forward to?

I’ve printed out the words for Britain’s National Anthem because I want to sing along as accurately as possible! In fact, I actually know some of it in Finnish – because when I was in school we had to sing all the anthems. I remember some of it still [she sings] “Jumala suojaa hallitsija

I know the Soviet Union anthem in Finnish, too!

The comedian – Jason Manford

Best known as a TV presenter and stand-up comic, Jason Manford will be singing songs from the musicals at Glasgow’s Proms in the Park. It’s the first time he’ll perform the music he’s recorded for his debut album, A Different Stage.

I’m glad you chose something low-key to launch your singing career.

I know, it’s crazy isn’t it? When they asked me, I was like, “Er, are you sure?” But I know I can do it. Fundamentally, I wouldn’t do it if I was blagging it.

So there won’t be a Milli Vanilli moment?

The music stops and Alfie Boe comes out from behind a curtain? No, there’ll be none of that.

I mean, I’ve heard of this auto-tune magic, but no-one’s shown it me yet.

So what will you perform?

We’re going to do Hushabye Mountain from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which I should know by now, having sung it 500 times [in the West End]. And we’re doing Stars from Les Mis.

I have to say, you sing it better than Russell Crowe.

Well you know, that’s not a compliment! I’m not the sort of person to complain, but he phoned that in, didn’t he?

I remember I went to see the film on the night it was released because I’m a huge fan. It was like one minute past midnight, with all these Les Mis uber-fans – and they were cheering every song, until he sung that. It went so quiet in the cinema; and at the end, when Javert jumps off the bridge, the crowd cheered!

But I’m sure he’s not bothered what I think.

Have you ever been to the Proms before?

No, not really. It’s never really been in my social calendar. I’ve seen it on telly, like everyone else. I love that family vibe. I love that people bring picnics and deckchairs. I just think that’s a terribly British way of doing things.

Have you checked the forecast for Glasgow?

I was going to mention that! Most of these events, you say to the organisers, “Oh, what’s the dress code?” and they’ll come back and say “lounge suit” or “black tie”.

This time, they came back saying, “make sure you’re dressed for the weather!”

The Soprano – Nina Stemme

Image copyright
Kristian Schuller

Regularly described as “the greatest dramatic soprano in the world,” Stemme will treat audiences to a reprise of her signature role in Tristan und Isolde.

You’ve played the Proms before but never the Last Night. How are you feeling?

For me, it’s a dream I didn’t dare dreaming when I was a young student. And now it’s coming true. Who would ever have thought this? It’s such an honour.

Tristan and Isolde has followed you around your whole career, ever since you performed it at Glyndebourne. What do you connect to in that character?

Everything – the psychological situations and the music. I can’t wait to see what Sakari Omoro brings out of it. It changes from one performance to the next and that’s the wonderful thing about music.

Did you see Juan Diego Florez’s costume at last year’s Last Night?

I had a little glimpse of it on YouTube. What an outfit!

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Juan Diego Florez dressed as Manco Capac, governor and founder of the Inca civilization, at the 2016 Proms

Have you got something similar planned?

It’s entirely up to us, so we’ll see what I can come up with! A little bit of craziness, and a little bit of theatre history as well.

Ahead of the first night, pianist Igor Levit said the one thing he needed before playing was chocolate. Do you have any rituals or essentials?

At the beginning, when I sang my first Isolde, I had to have a bowl of pasta but apparently my metabolism has changed!

I tend to go into myself, save my voice. I try to look perfectly normal from the outside – but I think my friends and colleagues can see through me.

Last Night is unique and a little bit bizarre. Is there anything else that compares?

I don’t think so! I haven’t come across anything like it – but if someone can come up with something similar, please let me know because it’s so wonderful. It’s musical craziness and I love it.

I’ve got family coming from Sweden, and my brother-in-law is preparing them for everything. They have flags and song texts. I think it’s wonderful.

The conductor – Richard Balcombe

For the sixth year in a row, Richard Balcombe will conduct the BBC Concert Orchestra at the Hyde Park leg of Proms In The Park; accompanying artists including Sir Bryn Terfel, Sir Ray Davies and pop group Steps.

You’ve done five of these now. How do you gear up for it?

It’s one of the most exciting dates I do, because of the sheer size of it. When you look out and see 35,000 people looking back, it sort of stirs the soul.

How long do you get to rehearse with someone like Ray Davies?

We had two sessions with him on Wednesday, and a soundcheck in the Park on Friday – so altogether nine hours.

That’s not a lot of timeā€¦

Actually, in terms of what the orchestra does regularly, that’s quite a decent time. For a regular Friday night performance, for example, we’ll have two rehearsals before the concert goes out live on the radio. They’re the finest, they read anything and just play it.

Do you ever wander out into the crowd at Hyde Park?

Yes, because my wife comes and we bring a whole group of people from our village, so during the pre-show entertainment, which starts about five, I go out and enjoy the atmosphere.

Of those five you’ve done before, what’s been the highlight?

Getting the chance to work with artists like Sir Bryn Terfel, Joseph Calleja the tenor, Vittorio Grigolo – the absolute cream of the crop in terms of classical musicians – but also the chance to be on the stage with Kylie Minogue or Bryan Ferry or The Jacksons. It’s an absolute privilege.

Is there any part of you that thinks, “I’d love to be in the Royal Albert Hall tonight?”

Haha! No, there’s part of me that wishes I was there but I’m just so happy doing what I’m doing. We contribute a big part to the success of the whole evening, by linking up to the parks through the country, I’m just really happy to be doing my bit.

The Last Night of the Proms will be broadcast live on BBC One, Two and Radio 3 from 19:15 BST.

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