I admit this year’s promenade concerts at the Albert Hall mostly passed me by. I watched Handel’s Dixit Dominus which was amazing but that was it. And we normally skip the Last Night because it’s terribly jingoistic and increasingly nationalistic. But the programme was Piazzolla centric and not to be missed. And accordion player Ksenija Sidorova stole the show with a fantasie on a Piazzolla theme and then a performance of the famous Libertango.
As we watched we realized something was different! Instead of wall to wall Union Jacks there was a sea of blue EU flags which was just as prominent as the UK flag. As well as waved flags, there were banners hung from the balconies and people wearing very smart blue berets adorned with twelve five-pointed golden stars. Now the Last Night is always terribly nationalistic. After the interval there’s the time honoured sequence of old favourite music including Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Brittania etc. The audience sings along waving flags and generally having a great time. One wonders if they ever reflect on the lyrics that are glorifying Britain’s colonial past? This year was no different except that the sea of flags gave different messages.
Later we gathered that the Musician’s Union had supported a protest by musicians and supporters because of the post Brexit situation where musicians and associated trades people no longer have free movement across Europe. There has always been great collaboration right across Europe with musicians constantly travelling to events in both directions. Last year the Independent reported that, “Musicians have revealed how Brexit is already killing off their tours in the EU, as they warn the industry may not survive tough new immigration rules. No less than 71 per cent say their bookings for everything from classical orchestras to rock bands were drying up – even before coronavirus struck, closing down venues and putting concerts on hold. Some are being told “EU nationals only”, because of vast red tape and extra expense to be imposed by new visa rules when the UK leaves the post-Brexit transition period in January.
“British nationals have already joined other ‘third country nationals’ on the lowest rung of hiring desirability.
This is catastrophic for careers and livelihoods,” one told a new survey revealed by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM).
Another said: “Noticeable drop off in bookings from EU27 countries since 2016. At present I have now no future bookings at all.”
So from early Saturday, EU supporters were out in force around the Royal Albert Hall explaining to the crowds of music lovers what their problems are and handing out blue flags, berets and banners. And they were clearly hugely popular.
I’m with Simon Rattle who said in a recent interview with the Radio Times that he avoided conducting the Last Night because of its “jingoistic elements”. The conductor – who announced earlier this year “he would be leaving the London Symphony Orchestra and relocating to Germany – said nationalistic aspects of the event left him “uneasy”.
Finally we note that it was reported that the BBC attempted to portray a balance. But they failed, and I am delighted to see the great British public recognising the huge harm being done by Brexit.