The Guardian says the BBC Proms are dull and posh

The Guardian says the BBC Proms are dull and posh


norman lebrecht

July 05, 2019

From today’s editorial:

… the Proms has joined Ascot, Wimbledon and Glyndebourne as a magnet for conspicuous consumption. People who own Royal Albert Hall seats are reportedly reselling tickets, with a pair of stalls seats for the Last Night of the Proms going for about £2,500. Harrods Estates is marketing a 12-seater box in the same hall, available to buy on a leasehold of more than 840 years, for £3m – a snip if you want to avoid rubbing shoulders with cheap-seat plebs.

… Guardian critic Andrew Clements laments that this year’s Proms features too much easy listening, but little to challenge the ears. Beethoven, and other dead white men whose once-revolutionary works make up much of the classical canon, wrote music to be heard appreciatively, not used as audible spa treatment, still less as tools to neutralise delinquency. They deserve better.

Hard to disagree.





  • M McAlpine says:

    Well as the Guardian is read by posh middle class people who guiltily hold left wing views while sending their kids to public schools, the article should have a guilt-filled readership.

    • Norbert says:

      Well the Guardian is really read by very very few people these days – the circulation figures are out-of-this-world dreadful….and continue to fall.

      They have been losing serious stacks of £ for ages. The issue is that the few who do read it, are a self selecting metropolitan elite, who are disproportionately influential in media, politics, law, and broadcasting / journalism etc….

    • Christopher Culver says:

      The Guardian is now an international newspaper read by a very wide range of people, including many members of the precariat in the USA and on the continent. A lot of the old stereotypes of that newspaper are no longer valid.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Wrong. They have the begging bowl out. And deservedly so. Just another activist rag dressed up as intelligent bourgeois.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      The woke Left – the only readers of “The Guardian”. They just need to get out more. It’s a grievance-fuelled rag, if ever there was one.

      • John Sorel says:

        Was that way five years ago, Sue. Things have moved on. It’s now being manipulated for very different reasons

        • Paul Brownsey says:

          Hmmm. I have sent the Guardian several brief letters, relevant to something in the news, that question the “LGBT” initialism. None has been published. Now I’m trying to keep clear of the-prophet-is-being-silenced mode, but, even so, I cannot recall a word anywhere in the paper that remotely questions the appropriateness of lumping together gay people and trans people as though they were essentially the same.

          • John Sorel says:

            Of course, Paul – they never reply! They are not interested in views other than own pre-formed, pre-purchased viewpoint. Their agenda was decided three years ago – in return for the funds to keep publishing it. As if you had a choice?

            Other than the Torygraph/Times/DailyWail united front. Or Guardian-lookalike views in the non-Independent (‘We Tell You What’s True’).

      • Fred says:

        “The woke left” — Oh come on, surely you can do better than that? Woke isn’t an insult as many uneducated people on the right believe it is, it stands for awake to social injustice. Which I guess you don’t care about?

        Keep reading the Daily Mail, you know, the “grievance fuelled rag”.

    • George Porter says:

      Clichéd rubbish. If you want to know what Guardian readers think, read the comments on the article.

      • Anonanon says:

        Comment sections are always a self-selecting sample size that tends to bias towards those with the biggest axe to grind

    • John Sorel says:

      The Grauniad hasn’t held any ‘left-wing’ views for the last 3-4 years. It’s now edited by former Fashion Editor Kath Vyner. She quickly got her talons into ‘lefty’ cartoonist Steve Bell – even deleting cartoons which displeased her, after they had been published online the same morning. The rest of the Graun stable could be described as ‘controlled opposition’ – kept carefully in check by the hawkish Simon Tisdall.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    Sir Henry Wood constantly introduced music at the Proms where the ink was barely dry: Debussy, Ravel, Schoenberg, RVW….. the list goes on and on.
    Where’s the equivalent of that now ? Where’s the daring ?

    I think the Grauniad article makes a good point, unfortunately. I think the last prom I attended was Le Marteau sans Maitre 5 or 6 years ago

    • The View from America says:

      Try working your way through this.

    • fflambeau says:

      I see the thrust of the article not as an indictment so much of the Proms programming, although that is also evident in it, but the wholesale “takeover” of the Proms as a commodity by the uber rich. A plaything “to do”.

    • Una says:

      Well, it isn’t a contemporary music festival, and the BBC work their socks off so often to do first (and last) performances of things that often audiences just tolerate – I know, I took part in a few as a BBC Singer. The Proms in Henry Wood’s days was a totally different festival and far smaller and no TV broadcasting, no late night Proms; Cadogan Hall didn’t even exist, and no Proms in the Parks around the whole of the UK, and just foe Londoners like me. Now it is diverse of world
      wide appeal and attendance. The Hall is invariably full when it never used to be. Empty some years ago for Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto. I only went as I’d never heard it live as a set work years before hfor my music degree. I have been attending the Proms since 1963 when a young girl, and never missed a year, even from the north. If I wanted ‘easy listening’ I need go no further than Leeds. I love the Proms, the variety, and that it’s so affordable so everyone can go if they choose to hear world-class orchestras and soloists.

    • Robin Smith says:

      If you check the programme there are many world premieres and UK premieres still.

      • John Sorel says:

        [[ there are many world premieres ]]

        Yes, that’s true, Robin. The Daleks had never had an RAH appearance before the Proms gave them their big chance. Next year the Sea Songs suite is being replaced by the theme from Captain Pugwash.

  • Rob says:

    Since about the late 90s, Proms programming has steadily gone downhill. The musicals, Cbeebies junk has probably put more bums on seats, but those of who remember the great Proms programming under John Drummond will have probably voted with with our feet. I no longer watch the last night, it is puerile. What was once a great music festival has turned into a creep show with its house entertainers.

    • John Sorel says:

      [[The musicals, Cbeebies junk has probably put more bums on seats]]

      The same can be said of All-In Wrestling, which returned to the RAH last year.

    • fflambeau says:

      The musicals and movies cannot be dismissed: they have created some great music too with great composers. And didn’t Marin Alsop deliver a well-regarded (and highly critical) talk on the last night of a recent proms?

    • Robin Smith says:

      “The musicals, Cbeebies junk has probably put more bums on seats”. It’s not compulsory to attend these. Surely it’s a good idea to encourage people to go and see what’s on offer whilst knowing they will actually enjoy the fare on offer on that particular occasion.

  • Player says:

    An absurd parody of white, privileged, self-loathing guilt. Is this really real?

    • Michael James says:

      I suspect so. The world is now full of humourless, puritanical self-parody.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        And finger-wagging moralizers who’d put Mary Whitehouse to shame. Don’t forget that. If you cannot participate you really can only censure. And if you cannot succeed at the game you need to change the rules. Both of these are traits of the Grauniad readership.

        • Fred says:

          Finger wagging moralisers? Or holding the rich and right wing to account? You seem to think that the Guardian is making a personal attack on you for some reason.

          You talk about moralising and outrage, just here you are doing the same.

          You’re outraged because a newspaper journalist has made a few points about something you love and know that what they are saying is true.

      • Edgar says:

        The world may be “now full of humourless, puritanical self-parody” – except here in Boston, where one still suffers the miserable effects of Puritanism (such as : no alcohol sold anywhere until after 12 noon on holidays). I know. I live here. How I wish the place was settled by Italians! We’d be drinking Prosecco well before noon, especially on, and never limited to, holidays and Sundays! What glorious fun that would have been!!

        As for this year’s Proms: I checked out the BBC website and found nothing that piqued my curiosity. No a single concert of which I feel I will miss something when I don’t listen to it.

        But then: who needs Proms when the country itself, and especially its political class-conscious elite (think Eton) has embarked on hitherto never before witnessed nervous breakdown and self-destruction?

        “Rule Britannia”? Not. Maybe the Proms need to exit together with what will be left drifting alone as UK after Brexit… (Oops! That was a political statement. Verboten by the BBC during Prom Season….;-) )

  • Rgiarola says:

    A foreigner could interpret it by analogy as The Proms is Tory, and support Brexit, since Guardian is bashing it. Seems to be like an editorial rule lolololol

  • Caravaggio says:

    And Rule Britannia is a noxious, obnoxious, chauvinistic and offensive colonial supremacy little ditty. It ought to soon leave the planet for good.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I think it’s great fun and always enjoy it. A relic from the past, but the people love it. (Never see too much ‘diversity’ in the Proms audiences anyway!)

    • Allen says:

      The Last Night is a party, nothing more, with few stabbings.

      If you want truly obnoxious, try Drill.

    • Paul Brownsey says:

      It used to be sung ironically. Now, alas, too many people have sentiments that it expresses … though it is heartening to see how many people from other countries, to judge by the flags waved at the Last Night, have come to see the Last Night as a sort of celebration of internationalism after all. Just as golliwogs became much-loved dolls, so this “noxious” ditty gets its charge reversed and singing it becomes an emblem of internationalism!

      • John Sorel says:

        It’s the culmination of Arne’s masque ‘Alfred’ (1740) – and refers to the apperance of the British Isles from out of the sea in a long-distant past.

        If you don’t like classical music, you can naff off to Bakeoff instead – probably more your thing? You’ll be in good company – your hero David Cameron similarly failed to identify the composer of Rule Brittannia.

        • Paul Brownsey says:

          You tell me that David Cameron is my hero? Is it your habit to invent lies about other people?

          Here’s one about you. Every night, before you go to bed, you strangle a puppy.

          • John Sorel says:

            And Arne’s masque ‘Alfred’ is a masterpiece of English baroque music, which you denigrate out of ignorance, Paul.

  • Silversled says:

    Very hard to disagree. In over 50 years of going to the Proms I can’t remember a season as uninteresting, uninspiring and uninviting as this year’s programme.
    There are very few young people who seem to ‘prom’ regularly the way my generation did back in the 1960s and 1970s, so I fear for the future of the entire event. It’s just another area where that mythical ‘new audience’ so beloved of music administrators around the world has completely failed to materialise.

  • George Porter says:

    The oped is unattributed. Are you implying that Andrew Clements is the author?

  • George Porter says:

    Going by the comments on it, most online Guardian readers think the oped is abysmal (which is true).

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    Also imperialist, colonialist, nationalist, and . . . noisy.

  • MacroV says:

    Not being a longtime follower of the Proms, I can’t compare it to its alleged golden years, but compared to many festivals its programming still strikes me as fairly interesting, if not exactly cutting-edge.

    If Last Night tickets have become the province of scalpers, there’s an easy solution: Don’t go; that’s never been the show for those seeking novelty.

  • Kolb Slaw says:

    The Guardian is irrelevant to everything.

  • fflambeau says:

    Here’s another good quote from that article:

    “The philosopher and composer Theodor Adorno wrote: “Art keeps itself alive through its social force of resistance; unless it reifies itself, it becomes a commodity.” In this sense what he called the culture industry (including Hollywood movies, pop music and TV) has done a reverse takeover of what Adorno called serious music.”

    What the writer of the article doesn’t mention is that The Observer too has become a “commodity.”

    • John Sorel says:

      The same Frankfurt School Theodor Adorno best known as a cultural Marxist. Adorno’s other achievements in life include being a failed composer, and writing a tract telling the working classes how they ought to spend their evenings after a heavy day at the factory. (Adorno never worked a single day in his idle wastrel life).

  • Allen says:

    The make-up of an audience is defined as much by those who stay away as those who turn up, although I’m suspicious of people who seem able to detect from a distance the mindset and social background of 2000 to 5000 people in an auditorium.

    The Proms are accessible. In fact many concerts and opera performances are more accessible than some people want to believe. Excuses are made by those too lazy or narrow minded to bother.

    As for the article? Well, it’s the Guardian. Find something associated with Dead White Males and tear it to pieces.

  • Harvy says:

    Last season, my son and I attended three Proms at six quid a throw, including the Boston Symphony, experienced artistry of the highest order for little more then the price of a pint. I attended one of the Berliner’s performances, again for £6. The audience I observed were far from an elite, rather, ordinary folk accessing great music in a welcoming and informal environment open to all. I’m not British, but I came away from this experience rather impressed at, for want of a better word, how ‘democratic’ this had been. In the context of the UK’s current political internecine challenges, there is much hope!

  • Walter Heldoorn says:

    Dull is The Guardian,not The BBC Proms.

  • Una says:

    They say that anyhow. I’ve got the programme here since April, a professional musician, now live in the North so can’t just jump.on a tube to get there. Spoilt for choice as to when I can go, stay a few days with friends and go. Some people just love criticising, and particularly the Proms, as if doing so makes them feel and sound superior, pseudo more knowledgeable and musically better educated than anyone else. Snobbery!

  • Michael James says:

    Wherever people are enjoying themselves, expect the humourless puritans at The Guardian to pontificate haughtily against it.

  • Paul Brownsey says:

    Why can’t a society dedicated to inclusiveness accommodate those who quite like to listen to Beethoven, without those people being subjected to sneers and jeers both at themselves and at ‘the canon’?

  • Patrick says:


  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    I don’t see why Esther Cavett got over 20 thumbs down for this very pertinent point :

    Wood’s pioneering spirit has definitely been lost

  • John Sorel says:

    From the Grauniad Letters Page:

    Alan Davey defends the work of the BBC, Stephen Pettitt says most classical music-making functions on a frayed shoestring, Sue Clark believes interest in classical music is fostered through exposure and participation from an early age, and Paul Michell claims the Guardian’s treatment of classical music is like filling the books pages with Jeffrey Archer reviews