“If music be the food of love, play on”
(William Shakespeare – Twelfth Night – c1601-02)
This is, of course, one of Shakespeare’s best-known quotations.
I’ll leave it to the academicians specialising in The Bard to debate the exact meaning in the context of the play but to me it summarises beautifully the importance of music in the life of London. London has always been about music and enjoying it to the full – and I’m happy to say that today that tradition remains alive and well – in fact, very close to our Kensington hotel.
I’m particularly proud of the role Kensington plays in the modern-day proliferation of music in the capital and indeed the wider United Kingdom. That’s because our borough is home to the world-famous Royal Albert Hall, widely regarded as one of the best concert venues in the world and our Kensington hotel is very conveniently located for visiting it.
Back in the middle of the 19th century, Prince Albert, the German husband of Queen Victoria, had a great vision involving the building of a vast London home for the sciences and arts. Sadly, he passed away before his dream was fulfilled but the round architectural masterpiece he inspired was eventually built and opened in 1871.
Originally intended for multi-disciplinary use, over more recent time it has become associated more and more with concerts and chief amongst those are The Proms.
In one sense, I can easily describe The Proms. They’re a series of concerts by some of the world’s greatest orchestras and artists playing a vast variety of classic and more modern music. They run for around 8 weeks from mid-July to mid-September and there are usually around 80-100 individual concerts. As you might imagine, many visitors to our Kensington hotel love “taking in some proms” as it’s known.
However, to describe just the bald facts misses a critical point about The Proms – and it’s one I like to make to my guests at this time of year.
The Proms were and are about the ‘democratization’ of music. Now that’s a clumsy word but it’s entirely appropriate here. I’d like to explain a little more.
In 19th century London, music was largely divided into ‘the popular’, which was aimed at poorer working-class people and ‘serious’, which was inevitably formal and predominantly aimed at the upper and middle classes. Generally, poorer people weren’t considered to have an appetite for ‘serious music’.
Today we laugh at such views but they were widespread at the time. It took a number of brave men and women to break that down.
Two of those were Robert Newman (1858-1926) and Sir Henry Wood (1869-1944). Today, Newman’s role in establishing The Proms is sadly largely forgotten but he was important in arranging the first low-cost ‘serious’ music concerts aimed at poorer people way back in 1895. They eventually evolved into The Proms.
Wood is now known as the father of The Proms. A relatively ‘local lad’ born in Oxford Street, not that far really from our Kensington hotel, he drove forward a campaign to make concerts by the world’s best performers available to and affordable by all.
He established today’s formats for The Proms, so beloved by Londoners, Britons and visitors alike.
If you’re wondering, ‘The Proms’ is short for ‘The Promenades’ and attendees are known as ‘Prommers’ or ‘Promenaders’.
So why not share, together with us, something of this unique experience so close to our Kensington hotel? You too could become a Prommer – I have been many times and loved every minute of it!