Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

At Last, a Woman Takes Centre Stage

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

At Last, a Woman Takes Centre Stage

Article excerpt

When, late in the evening of Saturday 7 September, it was time for Marin Alsop to speak with her voice rather than through her hands, the first female conductor of the Last Night of the Proms did what every successful sports star knows is a sure-fire route to spontaneous applause--she praised her audience. You might even call them her fans.

She also thanked her parents for creating an environment in which music was ever-present when she was growing up in the United States and reminded all those who'd doubted a woman should be conducting the Last Night that--and I paraphrase--it was absurd that we should be speaking about firsts for women in 2013.

Her point was well made and her performance was first-rate, serious yet sympathetic to the occasion, both sombre and frivolous, and to the expectations of the 6,000-strong audience in the Royal Albert Hall, there to participate as well as listen (those standing had paid only [pounds sterling]5 for their tickets and wanted to be entertained; many others who wanted tickets were turned away at the door).

I ye long reit ambivalent about the Last Night of the Proms. As a boy, when there were only three television channels, I resented how it clogged the Saturday evening BBC1 schedule and delayed the start of Match of the Day, invariably beyond my bedtime. Later, I was irritated by all the exaggerated pomp and circumstance--the flag-waving and the Union Jack hats and waistcoats, the jingoism and post-imperial hysteria.

I'm more forgiving now and understand the Last Night for what it is, the culmination of a summer-long festival of live classical performance, which this year included the first ever complete performance of Wagner's Ring cycle at the Proms, with Daniel Barenboim conducting--one more of the cultural glories offered up by Mr Putin's irrelevant small island. …

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