The Last Night of the Proms isn't really a concert: it's more like going to the cast party for the Proms season. The choir, orchestra and a fair bit of the audience are in tail coats and brightly coloured evening dresses, there's an abundance of balloons, party poppers and things making rude noises, and the hall is transformed by the waving of literally thousands of flags (between numbers, of course, there's proper hush during the music). Not much point in doing a sober, serious, musicological review, then, so here are a dozen memories, in no particular order.

© BBC / Chris Christodoulou
© BBC / Chris Christodoulou

Lang Lang may look like a caricature, but that doesn't stop him being a seriously good pianist. The Great Musician has a permanently ecstatic expression, every movement is exaggerated, and whenever his left hand has a moment that isn't playing anything, it's providing backup for the conductor. But the critics who say "he's just a showman" are wrong: if you shut your eyes (or just focus on his hands when they're playing), you realise that he's a superb pianist. His Liszt concerto got more dynamic contrast than I thought possible in the cavern of the Albert Hall. The Chopin was less impressive, but the Liszt Consolation no. 3 he played as an encore was understated and lovely.

By the way, Liszt would have loved it. Even at the height of his showboating fame, Liszt can hardly have imagined the scene of thousands of people in this giant, opulent hall sitting perfectly quiet to hear one of his intimate piano pieces. If he's turning in his grave, it's in a misguided attempt to make room to do some high fives.

Warning: newly commissioned poetry can damage your concert. The newly commissioned "poetic accompaniment" to The Young Person's guide to the Orchestra was toe-curlingly embarrassing, a lengthy version of the stuff you get on greetings cards. The elegant and much loved Jenny Agutter did her best to redeem it, but it was beyond hope.

Susan Bullock deserves her billing as Great Wagnerian Soprano. Her voice is immaculately smooth in every part of her register at every level from pianissimo to fortissimo, and she can do all the emotions from tenderness to supreme authority. Oh, and the scarlet ball gown was fab.

The Royal Albert Hall: 1, Gardner and the BBCSO: 0. The end of Götterdämmerung is supposed to be the transformation of our world as the home of the Gods is engulfed in flames. Gardner's feel for the music, tempi and co-ordination of the orchestra may have been spot on, but you need overwhelming power to deliver Wagner's apocalyptic vision, and the orchestra didn't deliver it.

Susan Bullock also deserves her official billing as a Good Sport. Anyone gets my vote who can engage in a sort of Wagnerian scat-sing on top of Rule Britannia while wearing a giant plastic shield, spear and flashing breastplate, together with continual attempts (and failures) to stop a large winged helmet from falling off. And while it's true that her rendition of Climb every mountain was, as my neighbour put it, "more Brunnhilde than Julie Andrews," I'm not sure the song was any the worse for it.

The "most affecting moment" award goes to the BBC Symphony Chorus. Just when I was least expecting it, there was an exquisite gem in the shape of Percy Grainger's beautiful setting of the folk song Mo Nighean Dubh.

I don't get Peter Maxwell Davies. I understand that I'm supposed to revere Maxwell Davies, but on the basis of this work, I just don't see it. I found his Musica Benevolens, newly commissioned for the occasion, to be an incoherent ramble: the orchestral bits made no sonic sense to me and the words, however well intentioned, were another text out of the school of greeting card poetry.

Bartók's Miraculous Mandarin is truly miraculous. Whenever I have one of my "I can't cope with 20th century music" moments like the above, I need to remind myself of works like this: passionate, erotic, unpredictable and sweeping you along with the narrative.

Here's the bit you may not have worked out from the telly. A favourite Last Night party trick involves releasing a long cylindrical balloon upwards. The balloon makes a nice "whee" noise as it gradually transforms into a spermatozoidal shape before collapsing exhausted back into the cheering prommers. There was a sort of informal competition for whose balloon could reach highest: one managed to hit the circular lighting rack right at the top of the hall, and another got trapped in a microphone cable on the way down.

The Last Night is a rare chance to flaunt being British. As a nation, we don't do much in the way of jingoistic pomp - something to do with being bankrupted by two world wars and losing an empire - and this is just about the only chance we get to wave a lot of flags and sing patriotic songs far too loud. The atmosphere is fantastic and it's great fun to be part of it. Mind you, although Union Jacks and home nation flags were in the majority, there were interlopers. Someone in front of me was waving a flag from a Bundesliga football match - why?

We've got the wrong National Anthem. For a start, and I'll probably ruffle feathers by saying it, I wish the Proms would ditch Rule, Britannia - it's a ridiculous anachronism, and Susan Bullock did the only thing possible by playing it for laughs. In stark contrast, by far the most uplifting part of the evening was singing Jerusalem. Blake's text is charged with high ideals, Parry's music raises it to a higher plane still, and singing it at the top of your voice with thousands of other people raises your spirits and pride like nothing else. It makes me genuinely proud to be British in a way that God Save the Queen never can, although the choir nearly accomplished the impossible with a wonderfully intense pianissimo rendering of the first verse.

So that's it, folks, for another year. I must confess that when I first saw this year's Proms programme, I wasn't all that excited, but I couldn't have been more wrong: our reviews on these pages have shown fabulous variety and some top notch quality. It's been a memorable year, and I hope many of the enthusiastic Proms goers follow Gardner's exhortation and go to see a lot more music between now and next July. For me, I'll be starting off on Monday with the Royal Opera's season opener of Puccini's Il Trittico, and I can't wait.

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