If you find yourself in London this summer, you can’t miss The Proms. The eight-week long season of orchestral music is happening at the Royal Albert Hall this 19 July to 12 September 2019
If you love classical music, you’d love The Proms, the world’s largest concert series. It was founded in 1895 when it became clear that classical music was the sole domain of the well-to-do, and the concerts were a smashing success from the start. Organised and broadcast by the BBC, The Proms were held first at Queen’s Hall before relocating to the Royal Albert Hall for good, when the former was wiped out by the Blitz.
The Proms is held annually for eight weeks in the summer, and it can be a bit of a challenge to secure tickets. You’d have to be smart about it, and why shouldn’t you? This year marks 150 years since its founder, Henry Wood, was born. The Proms has also gone international, with some of the greatest exponents of world music and the world’s top orchestras taking the stage. The season begins on 19 July 2019, opening with Karina Canellakis conducting Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass. The performance of John Luther Adam’s choral piece In the Name of the Earth on 8 September will be special, as would the celebration of conductor Martyn Brabbins’ 60th on 13 August.
But whether your taste runs from Mozart or Nina Simone, there’s always something for you. I spoke with David Pickard, the director, and asked him about the “secrets” of securing tickets. His stance is, if you want to get in, you almost most certainly will. Here’s how.
Get to the Royal Albert Hall first
The starting point, of course, is the Royal Albert Hall box office. The Royal Albert Hall, from its brick-and-terra-cotta façade to its velvet seats and gilded boxes, is worth a visit on its own, even if you’re not there for the music.
The Hall, which sits in Kensington across the street from the Prince Albert Memorial, was dedicated by Queen Victoria in 1871, and has seen every great musician you can think of – Sinatra, Eric Clapton, The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Luciano Pavarotti and every orchestra you can think of. It’s not just music – it’s history that you get to experience.
You can buy a ticket and take a seat, but the really fun thing to do is to stand and “Prom around” with a few thousand of your newest friends. This has been a Prom tradition for decades. You’d also get to participate in some silly traditions like joining in a singalong when the concertmaster arrives to tune up the orchestra, or shouting, “Heave, ho!” when the grand piano is opened for a soloist.
It may sound silly, but when a few thousand people do it all at the same time, it’s pretty special.
It doesn’t matter if it’s “sold out”
The simplest approach, of course, is obviously to visit the Royal Albert Hall website and look for the dates you’re interested in.
Don’t fret if the concert you want appears to be sold out. You still have options. Most people don’t realise that there are plenty of returns.
When they opened the hall in 1871, they invited people to take ownership of their seats, and the heirs of those individuals still control more than 1,200 of the seats. Chances are if they can’t go, you can. Keep checking the site – they may give up their seats for the day that you want.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again
The morning of each concert, you’ll also find an additional 1,400 tickets available for purchase – some on the website, starting at 9am, and others for which you have to queue, typically starting around 4pm. If you get there by 4pm, there’s an excellent chance you’ll get in.
If you want to attend the iconic last night of The Proms season, then you may need to camp out the night before if you haven’t been fortunate to find tickets already. But for any other night, it’s a near certainty that you will get in if you try those three approaches – checking back frequently online, hitting the website promptly at 9am the day of the show you want to see and then queuing up in the afternoon.
If you want to “Prom around” and be with the standees instead of the grandees, you’ll need to pay only £6 (S$10.50) for your place. That’s a smaller number than the booking fee you might pay for any other concert on any other website at any other venue.
Sure, you can open your wallet and spend a bunch of money and get great seats. But if you are willing to keep refreshing the Royal Albert Hall website, or invest a little bit of time outside the Hall the afternoon of your show, you’ll find that classical and world music never sounded so good as when you’re on your feet, “promming” around at the Royal Albert Hall.