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Audience stars in Britain's Last Night of Proms

By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - Chinese piano superstar Lang Lang wowed them, Wagnerian soprano Susan Bullock got a laugh as a "British Brunnhilde," but the stars of the Last Night of the BBC Proms were standing in the middle of the Royal Albert Hall.

The 700 or so "Prommers" who pay 5 pounds ($8) each for standing room in the cavernous, sold-out 5,000-seat oval hall on Saturday night gave almost as good a show as they got from the soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner and the 140-strong BBC Symphony Chorus.

Sporting everything from British Union Jack vests to horned Viking helmets, and armed with a formidable array of noisemakers, flags and spluttering balloons launched in a valiant but vain attempt to reach to the hall's vertiginous ceiling, the Prommers kept up their side of the bargain for a high-spirited celebration of the end of the Proms season.

They cheered the stagehands and the musicians tuning up, and generally set the tone for an event on the musical calendar as important for some as the Wagner festival in Bayreuth or Vienna's New Year's Concert.

Nor is it just for natives or anglophiles.

Anne Bucht said she'd flown to London on short notice, and at considerable expense, from her home in Malmo, Sweden, after her daughter Amelie, married to an Englishman, called to say she'd got two tickets at the last minute.

"I waited for it for 20 years," said Bucht, who usually watches the concert on Swedish television to revel in "the joy of everyone," and because Sweden has nothing like it.

Gardner, whose podium was mischievously bedecked with coloured streamers and big, white "L" signs that learner drivers display on their cars, paid special tribute to the Prommers, some of whom queued for as long as 10 hours to buy a ticket entitling them to stand for a concert lasting at least three hours more.

"It's you, the Proms audience, that needs to have the biggest accolade. With your vociferous, passionate, sometimes unruly support you really guarantee that the Proms remain a cornerstone of our cultural identity in this country," he said to an outburst of cheering, applause and blaring noisemakers.

SEA OF UNION JACKS

The final Proms concert traditionally includes a large dollop of Britannica, including rousing audience singalong versions of Elgar's "Land of Hope and Glory," the stirring "Jerusalem" by Hubert Parry, not to mention "Rule, Britannia!" and "God Save the Queen" to end the formal programme.

Although it is a blatant celebration of Britishness, at least one Irish, one French and one American flag joined the sea of waving Union Jacks.

The first half of the concert was devoted to a heady international mix, including a new concert overture written by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Bartok's "Miraculous Mandarin" suite, Bullock singing Brunnhilde's immolation scene from Wagner's "Gotterdammerung" and, in recognition of the composer's 200th birth year, Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1.

Soloist Lang Lang, whose latest CD is called "Liszt - My Piano Hero," put all his stunning technique, plus the dramatic body language for which he is famous, into a performance that Liszt, who practically invented the concept of showman, probably would have applauded.

But it was Bullock, the daughter of a policeman who hauled home a junked piano that spurred his daughter into a career in music, who brought down the house in her show-stopping, and previously secret, "British Brunnhilde" outfit featuring a red-white-and-blue winged helmet, a huge red rose on a white shield and a spear that shot off a shower of confetti.

"There's so much depressing stuff going on around us all the time that I think on one Saturday night in the year people should come together and have a good old singsong and join hands and have fun and just celebrate for a change," she told Reuters in an interview the day before the concert, which was her first appearance at the Last Night of the Proms.

(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

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