Making the Last Night special...

On 15th September 2001 American conductor Leonard Slatkin led the BBC Orchestra in a dramatic rendition of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings at the BBC Proms. This was a change to the usual program of exclusively jingoistic ditties that is the regular fare at the Last Night of The Proms. Some questions readily arise:

  • Was it the proximity to the tragedy of 9/11 that made it so spine tingling?
  • Does the music carry such gravitas in itself that has made it one of the most popular classical pieces?
  • Was it because the Proms broke with traditions held since inception to invite an American to conduct the Last Night?
  • Was it the interpretation that Leonard Slatkin brought to the piece being an American and therefore relating more strongly to 9/11?

Furthermore, are we prepared to embrace the deeper notion that Barber, when composing his Op.11, sensed that this moment would arrive, when, one day, his piece would become a majestic incarnation, even though he would have clearly been unaware of the detail and extent it would be able to provide such succour to body, soul and spirit years later?

It is safe to assume that being present in the Royal Albert Hall at the time with the additional ambience and audio dynamics was definitely preferable to the somewhat diluted intensity of viewing on TV. Regardless, many, including myself, watched transfixed, sharing this special moment simultaneously, yet our experience was both tempered by production decisions and would have been spoiled by a disturbance such as a telephone call.

Watching on video now does not have the same sense, it certainly triggers recall but it is not of the moment. However, sometimes the corollary may apply as we consider whether some performances take on greater significance after the actual event as time passes as the cache builds from word of mouth. A reflection of the earlier oral traditions, perhaps?