A “bluesy” interpretation of Jerusalem annoyed traditionalists watching a pared-down Last Night of the Proms, which featured poignant versions of its signature patriotic anthems.
After a row over their lyrical content, drawing in Downing Street, Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory were both sung to an empty Royal Albert Hall by a small choir, selected from the BBC Singers.
However a reworking of Proms classic Jerusalem, by Belize-born British composer Errollyn Wallen that fused elements of blues and African music with the original tune, raised some eyebrows.
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Wallen said her “radically different” version of Sir Hubert Parry’s 1916 hymn was dedicated to the Windrush generation and inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.
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By toning down the patriotic element she was trying to “get closer to what I feel is the original meaning of [William] Blake’s text – very searching and asking questions.”
The BBC was accused of “trashing” and “murdering” the hymn on social media. Proms host Katie Derham assured viewers that the traditional version would be played later in the programme.
Overall, viewers praised the subdued Last Night, shorn of its usual flag-waving. The South African soprano Golda Schultz performed alongside 44 socially-distanced members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Finnish rising star Dalia Stasevska.
Musician Rev Richard Coles, commentating for the BBC, praised “one of the most moving and memorable concerts I’ve ever attended, and the only one where I’ve seen a cameraman moved to tears.”
Highlights included Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti, stepping in as a late replacement for an ill soloist, who played Vaughn Williams’s romantic pastoral favourite, The Lark Ascending.
The BBC originally said only instrumental versions of Rule, Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory would be performed amid claims their lyrics celebrated colonialism and slavery. New Director-General Tim Davie was forced to reverse the decision after pressure from politicians and viewers.