BBC Proms 2021: why it’s great to have the live concert experience back

It’s time to demystify classical music, and there’s no better chance to do that than at the Proms, writes Nick Hely-Hutchinson

It will not have escaped the attention of classical music lovers that tonight marks the return of the BBC Proms.

The Last Night of the Proms is now a firmly established title all on its own.

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But the First Night this year is surely the most significant since the BBC started broadcasting them in 1927.

We all know that live music is back. But you will not find a better celebration, a more substantial festival, than the Proms to drive home the message.

We do not need to rehearse the difficulties which the hospitality sectors have undergone over the last 18 months. The arts, whose contribution not just to our economy but our very well-being, have for decades been underrated by governments of every colour.

Royal Albert Hall lit up for the last night of The Proms

They are mistakenly viewed as some kind of choice for the privileged, dispensable, a luxury for the chosen few, rather than the unquantifiable benefit they unfailingly bring to the spirit and mental health of mankind.

Nowhere is that bond of togetherness demonstrated better than in the coming six weeks of BBC Prom concerts. There will be differences with previous years, of course: the logistics of flying in international orchestras after the pandemic make those visits almost impossible.

But the UK is blessed with many international artists who have chosen to make their home here and some big names will feature. It’s a roll call of our very finest, be they veteran conductors Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Mark Elder, Sir John Eliot Gardiner; or the next generations in Nicola Benedetti Benjamin Grosvenor, and Vikingur Olafsson; or the Kanneh-Mason siblings - seven of them! - all of whom will be taking part.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason at the Royal Albert Hall in London

And why is the live performance so important?

Well, would you rather watch your favourite sport on television on your own or in a stadium with others?

Nothing beats the atmosphere, the frisson, of a live performance. You could go to up to 10 Prom concerts for the same price of one Premier League football ticket. And some would have you believe that classical music is in accessible and expensive: it’s not. It’s very often a matter of choice and priorities.

Here’s the real point. Even if you choose to go to a concert to listen to music you already know, I can guarantee you will hear something different, something you haven’t heard before.

No version, no interpretation is the same; and that is why listening, really listening is so beneficial. Full appreciation of classical music will never be derived by putting it on in the background as you focus on something else, like reading or doing a crossword: one of those activities will not get your full attention.

At the Proms you will not be conflicted with any such diversion. You will, instead, be sharing with a few thousand other people, the joy, tension, excitement, emotions, and so much more, which nothing but a live performance can bring.

And make no mistake: the performers feel it too. The joy in their faces as they share the experience will only add to your enjoyment. It’s an intoxicating combination. Don’t pass it up.

Let me try and demystify any negative prejudices you might have by following my podcast on perfectpitch.buzzsprout.com.

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