There has not been a Promenade Concerts season in 2020 and will not be. Whilst the return of live symphony concerts next month is to be welcomed they are emphatically not Proms. You simply cannot have a Promenade Concert without promenaders. It’s a non sequitur.
The relationship between audience and performer, be it in sport or in the Arts, is what makes a live event. The virus affected cricket and football this year has been strange and unreal. The players and others involved have done well and the sport has been as normal as possible – but it has been soulless and cynical. The latter because we know that the only driver has been financial.
To hold a symphony concert with players scraping and plucking and blowing within a few feet of one another in a time of social distancing seems perverse and it is clear that the restrictions will mean there can be no sort of normality. We will see how the orchestras cope – presumably there will be screens? You can hardly play the trombone in a mask.
To even think about holding a “Last Night. Of the Proms” is absurd. Audience participation, especially after the interval, is the key to this event. Without it it it’s not just not worth the bother. It’s also grotesquely disrespectful. The Last Night is a spectacular celebration, very silly and eccentric of course but a bit of a bonkers tradition. To think of putting it on in a year when there is nothing to celebrate defies belief. More than 60,000 British families are still in mourning. The Land we live in is more one of dread than of “Glory” and any “Hope” we may have is dashed almost every day.
The issue of the “patriotic” songs is a separate one. Certainly to have them this gruesome year would be an affront and is unthinkable. For the future a review is called for. As a nation there are signs that the iniquities of Empire are at last beginning to be understood and that we never did create a “green and pleasant land”. That our lonely future can be celebrated as any sort of Jerusalem looks preposterous. You don’t remove Britain’s image as an inward-looking laughing stock by waving flags and pretending that Britannia Rules. But then perhaps delusion is all we’ll have left.