Traditional pieces sung during Last Night of the Proms following controversy

The traditional songs Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory have been sung during the Last Night of the Proms, after weeks of controversy over the event.

The BBC previously said the pieces would be performed without lyrics but executed a U-turn following heated debate over the decision.

A reduced orchestra of 65 instead of the usual 300 performed live at the Royal Albert Hall – but without an audience due to coronavirus restrictions – with the singers placed in the stalls to ensure social distancing.

The concert featured South African soprano Golda Schultz with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under its principal guest conductor Dalia Stasevska.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti stepped in to perform during The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams after Lisa Batiashvili pulled out due to illness.

Introducing the show, host Katie Derham said: “Our orchestra, singers and some very special guests are standing by for an evening of classical treats, show songs and all your traditional favourites.”

The show was screened in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea to a socially distanced audience of hundreds.

Benedetti Sessions – Glasgow
Violinist Nicola Benedetti (Jane Barlow/PA)

The original plan would have seen the traditional pieces, seen by some as controversial because of their perceived ties to imperialism, performed without lyrics.

Some of the lyrics deemed controversial in the songs include the Rule, Britannia! lines: “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves”, and: “The nations, not so blest as thee / Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall / While thou shalt flourish great and free: The dread and envy of them all.”

Ms Stasevska, the conductor, spoke out amid the controversy to say she played no role in the decision to strip the pieces of lyrics.

The run-up to the Last Night saw musicians, media industry figures and even Prime Minister Boris Johnson weigh in to the debate over the pieces.

The BBC Proms later said that “both pieces will now include a select group of BBC singers. This means the words will be sung in the hall, and as we have always made clear, audiences will be free to sing along at home.

Tim Davie
Tim Davie, new director-general of the BBC (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“While it can’t be a full choir, and we are unable to have audiences in the hall, we are doing everything possible to make it special and want a Last Night truly to remember.

“We hope everyone will welcome this solution. We think the night itself will be a very special moment for the country – and one that is much needed after a difficult period for everyone.”

The U-turn came after director-general Lord Hall was succeeded in the role by Tim Davie, the former chief executive of commercial arm BBC Studios.

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