BBC Proms’ live concerts begin amid row over singing of traditional songs


The live music leg of the BBC Proms kicks off on Friday after days of controversy over the Last Night.

This year’s performances mark 125 years since the first season of the classical music event.

Musicians will perform live at the Royal Albert Hall – but without an audience due to coronavirus restrictions – across the final two weeks of the season, ending in the much-talked about Last Night of the Proms.

The run-up to the Last Night has seen musicians, media industry figures and even Prime Minister Boris Johnson weigh into the debate over the singing of Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory.

Appledore Shipyard to reopen
Appledore Shipyard to reopen

The traditional songs, which some find controversial because of their perceived ties to imperialism, will be played without lyrics at this year’s Last Night, however the BBC has confirmed they will be sung again in 2021.

Mr Johnson has said he found the decision difficult to believe.

“I think it’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions, and about our culture, and we stopped this general bout of self-recrimination and wetness,” he added.

However the BBC’s outgoing director-general Lord Tony Hall insisted the decision to remove the lyrics was a “creative” one, but confirmed the issue of dropping songs because of their association with Britain’s imperial past had been discussed.

Top Gear Season 28 Premiere – London
Top Gear Season 28 Premiere – London

There will be no live audience to sing along and wave flags because of coronavirus restrictions.

Proms conductor Dalia Stasevska has said she played no role in the decision not to sing the lyrics to the songs.

A YouGov poll for The Times found 55% of people oppose the BBC’s decision to strip the song’s lyrics, 16% think the instrumental compromise is the best solution and 5% think the songs should not be performed at all.

The festival will begin on Friday with a performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra at London’s Royal Albert Hall which will feature Beethoven’s Eroica symphony.

There will also be performances later in the calendar staged in locations including Salford Quays and Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall.

The 2020 programme will feature a mixture of live and archive performances which will be broadcast across a range of BBC platforms, including BBC Radio 3, BBC Four and iPlayer.

The Last Night will be performed on September 12.