BBC in deepening disarray over Proms fiasco

BBC in deepening disarray over Proms fiasco


norman lebrecht

August 26, 2020

A YouGov poll today reports sweeping condemnation of the BBC for silencing two anthems in the Proms. Some 58 percent opposed the move; only 9 percent support it. I write today in the Telegraph that this is the first time the BBC has ever censored the Proms.

Among other things:

The season costs the BBC £10-11 million, half of it recouped in ticket sales. The net £5m cost, providing hundreds of hours of free broadcasting, is peanuts compared to the corporation’s football outlay. The BBC gets a very good deal out of the Proms.

This summer, however, it has proved unequal to the task. Months of dither yielded two September weeks of concerts in an empty Royal Albert Hall. Nobody was happy, but Covid got the blame. Then, this month, other concerts began to stir. The Wigmore Hall announced 100 performances ‘with or without audiences’. Cadogan Hall, half a mile away from the RAH, is selling tickets for September. First off the mark was the former Proms chief Roger Wright, now chief executive of Britten-Pears Arts, who revived the Aldeburgh Festival with outstanding musicians and avid audiences.

Last week the cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, with his pianist sister Isata, performed to 150 people at Aldeburgh. Next month, they will appear at an empty Royal Albert Hall. Sitting at their Aldeburgh recital was Alan Davey, the BBC executive who has been unable to organise an audience at the Proms. He told all around him how wonderful it was, without explaining why the BBC, with all its clout cannot organise a Proms concert with an audience. This looks like a shocking dereliction – a failure of nerve, imagination, ingenuity, sensitivity and initiative. While concert givers up and down the country are welcoming audiences, the BBC sits back and blames Covid – both for the empty Albert Hall and for the Rule Britannia fiasco….

Read on here.



  • Rob says:

    The directors of the BBC and The Proms should be considering their positions and the TV Licence ransom ditched. Enough of this farce!

  • If you cannot put on a concert with a socially distanced audience in the Royal Albert Hall of all places, then you shouldn’t be putting on concerts at all. If that building can’t handle a socially distanced audience of any size, it’s a failure of planning, implementation and execution of gigantic proportions. The worst of it is that people’s jobs are on the line here and it’s as if they just don’t care.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      I have been saying this at every opportunity: ten days ago the Lucerne Festival Orchestra under the 92-year-old Herbert Blomstedt performed live in front of a near capacity audience. The concert was transmitted by ARTE and showed all the concertgoers wearing masks and sitting in serried ranks in the hall. All part of the same social bubbles? Come off it! Have you heard of a sudden outbreak of Coronavirus in Lucerne ten days later? I don’t think so! So why is it that the Swiss are allowed to do this and enjoy a live concert and the Brits are not?

      • MRK says:

        Because, obviously, the Swiss Federal Council has managed the pandemic far better than the absurd and flapping excuse for a government which we have in Britain. Additionally, criticising the BBC for the decision (which is implicit in AH and ES’s comments) is disingenuous and patently ridiculous as, in all probability, the Royal Albert Hall will have had a far greater say over whether audiences are permitted inside rather than the BBC. Good lord, the right-wing of politics really does seem to be amply littered with blathering troglodytes, as evidenced by the bleatings of Messrs Hall and Solomon.

        • Alexander Hall says:

          I would not descend for one moment to the imbecile invective you have obviously grown up with but I take objection to your assertion that you know what my politics are. Like many other cowards on this site, you hide behind anonymity.

          • MRK says:

            You imply that by including your full name people are supposed to know who on Earth you are. ‘Hall’ is hardly a particularly unusual and distinctive name so, in practice, you are also an unknown to everyone.

        • When you resort to ad hominem attacks, you have no argument. I made no mention of politics whatsoever. I merely referred to concert planning and management. Yet you managed to twist my words and call me a “blathering troglodyte”. You have clearly never been involved in staging a concert performance of anything because your obvious lack of knowledge is plain for all to see.

        • If the Concertgebouw Orkest can manage to return to live concert performances before a socially distanced audience in a smaller auditorium in Amsterdam, why can the BBC not do so in a larger auditorium in London?

  • Allen says:

    “The net £5m cost, providing hundreds of hours of free broadcasting, is peanuts compared to the corporation’s football outlay.”

    That’s interesting, as so many people like to focus on classical music’s public subsidy.

    Football has always been indirectly subsidised, in spite of its economies of scale.

  • Kenneth Griffin says:

    And 8% think they shouldn’t be performed at all. So 17%, in total, opposed the traditional singing. And 25% “don’t know”.

    In a supplementary YouGov poll on the same day, asking how many of the words you actually know, the results were: 4% None, 21% Most, 54% Some, 21% None.

    Which means that the majority of the 58% of those polled who support the public singing of the words, only know some or none of those words.

    So, most of the supporters admit to being part of an ignorant mob.

    Which should surprise no one.

    • Allen says:

      Some people here are extremely quick to use the word “ignorant”. They must have a lot of ego invested in their own perceived superiority.

      Sorry to deprive you of your “gotcha” moment, but that is why we have the printed word and why, for example, churches have hymn books.

    • James Weiss says:

      You must have trouble with math. 75% said they know some or all of the words. I daresay those who are opposed know none of the words and are just parroting what their “woke” leaders tell them. Sheeple.

      • Bill says:

        Their “woke” leaders. Yeah, right. Maybe mommy will lend you the pearls again so you can clutch them under the bed.

  • Ana Paula Russo says:

    Excuse me, but is there something wrong with Anglo Saxon people that are now filled with Guilt?
    Why? You managed to free yourselves from ancestral, catholic guilt and now you seem to miss it…
    Poor T. Arne, had he known the mess these people were to create in the XXI century I’m sure he would have used a more bucolic text.
    It’s getting all too ridiculous!

  • Ralph Bateman says:

    In Hannover next week, there’s a perfect socially-distanced work being performed, in a park. It’s Stockhausen’s Sternklang, where the five groups of players are widely distanced from each other – in front of an outdoors audience. PS: if visibility is good, the players at one point read sounds directly from the positioning of the stars

  • MRK says:

    Honestly Norman, how crushingly dense and tedious can you be?? “He told all around him how wonderful it was, without explaining why the BBC, with all its clout cannot organise a Proms concert with an audience” – er, perhaps because the Royal Albert Hall is closed and if a venue decides that it does not want to open for whatever reason then no concert promoter, including the BBC, has any power to force them to do so.

    Now, why might the RAH not want to open? Myriad reasons which you, snivelling hack that you are, will have no idea of and not be privy to. Public Liability insurance concerns will, likely, play their role as will understandable concerns about maintaining a viable one-way system throughout the venue, as has been required by every other recently-opened public space.

    I find it baffling that Lebrecht has been asked to write for the Telegraph given that, as reprehensible as its politics may be, it is still a legitimate newspaper whilst Slipped Disc is a sort of musical equivalent of the Daily Mail or Murdoch media. One feels revulsion and loathing whilst reading it but it does, at least, provide a useful understanding the sordid, braying under-belly of the British musical scene.

  • Alan Hawthorne says:

    The BBC must not remember that the first ‘B’ in BBC stands
    for British. Come on guys stand up and be proud.

  • wasteland says:

    Continental Europeans wonder why the British remain devoted to seemingly crude nationalism and jingoistic patriotic bluster. One of the main reasons was the relatively small number of British deaths during the two world wars. In WWI, the British lost 700,000, a horrific number but about half the number France lost at around 1.35 milliion. Germany lost 1.77 million.

    In WWII, the British lost 384,000 and about 70,000 in the Blitz, a terrible number but dwarfed by Germany’s 6 million and the the Soviet Union’s 27 million.

    These enormous losses on the continent changed peoples’ thinking about nationalism and the jingoism that so often accompanies it. And so vividly and cringingly put on display during the Proms. We see that the far smaller losses in the UK and USA did not effect the same change of consciousness. Hence the continental view that these two countries remain locked in a stupid and anachronistic form of jingoistic patriotism and nationalism, and most sadly, the murderous militarism that goes along with it.

    Given Britain’s history of thought that was so often quite enlightened, we would all like to think the British are better than that, but it appears they aren’t.
    Brexit is a manifestation of this jingoistic culture, and another nail in the coffin of British enlightenment.

    • Allen says:

      In that case, please explain the wording of La Marseillaise, and the overt militarism of the Bastille Day Celebrations.

    • V. Lind says:

      I find your suggestion rather distasteful. And the numbers interesting. It would not appear to count the Germans dead at German hands. Or the fact that most of the casualties of other nations were at German hands.

      But as long as Germany came out of WW II with a less jingoistic national anthem…

    • east coker says:

      The same goes a fortiori for the United States and its “exceptionalism,” of course.

    • patrick G says:

      In France we had two world wars played partly on our home with considerably more casualties, particular during WW1 , and we have the most “bloodthursty” national anthem of all!

  • J Morris Jones says:

    Beside any debate about the text of the works in question, I’ll be very interested to tune in to hear the arrangements of the ‘traditional’ items of the Last Night that have been commissioned in the light of the Covid regulations – in other words, ‘chamber orchestra’ versions of the pieces.

    In the original ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ Elgar has a battery of percussion for example in the latter chorus and coda that includes timps, gran cassa, cymbals, side drum, and triangle, sometimes all scored to play at once. In past years at the concert these elements of the score were sometimes used quite forcefully to add to the sound in the hall, given the massive audience. The ‘new normal’ version will thus be most interesting to hear.

    The Proms are now known as the ‘BBC Proms’ and the BBCSO always plays at the Last Night. Just as an observation, if the formula of the programme for the concert is changed perpetually in a way that discourages a core audience from attending, then other orchestras, contractors and so on could mount their own version of the event to replace it, and with sufficient backing, televise it too.

    It’s also the case that the idea that the ‘Last Night’ has to be an obligation of the chief or guest cond. of the BBCSO is a fairly recent invention. In the 70s and 80s, neither Boulez nor Rozhdestvensky conducted it, and Pritchard did so only once. The directors tended to be other established figures from other orchestras: Del Mar, Groves, Loughran.

  • Could someone please explain to me: who, exactly, would actually be singing ‘Rule Britannia’ or ‘Land of Hope and Glory’? As I understand it, there is no choir involved in the concert, and there is no audience. Perhaps the ghost of Sir Malcolm could rustle us up a heavenly chorus…?

  • Simon Scott says:

    If this was my site I would never allow anybody to use pseudonyms. It is cowardice. Period.

    • Fiddlist says:

      Simon says.

    • Mathias Broucek says:

      For people in employment, using your own name is not necessarily helpful

      I am an occasional media spokesman for my employer (unrelated sector) and I therefore choose not to say who I am when commenting on the internet as my views and my employer’s may not coincide

  • patrick G says:

    This is a senseless farce and the predators should pay for this with their jobs.

  • Fiddlist says:

    Leave it to the English to Brexit, then allow a Finn to “cancel” one of their own traditions.