By Hugh Lawson
LONDON (Reuters) - Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo brought the 120th season of the United Kingdom's BBC Proms festival of classical music to a close in London on Saturday with a plea for children around the world not to lose out on the opportunity to hear and learn music.
"Music is so many things. It is mathematics. It is science ... It is history. It is culture. It is physical education. Music is therapy for those who need it," Oramo told the flag-waving crowd of over 5,000 at the Last Night of the Proms.
He called for "children to have continued opportunities to be exposed to good and great classical music," lamenting the fact that in economic hard times "resources tend to go elsewhere."
He spoke after conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra through an eclectic evening of music ranging from Strauss and Ravel to an arrangement of "Ol' Man River" and an audience singalong of a Mary Poppins medley.
At the same time as the concert in the Royal Albert Hall, the BBC hosted open-air "Proms in the Park" events in central London's Hyde Park as well as in Swansea in Wales, Belfast in Northern Ireland and Glasgow in Scotland.
A number of politicians and others had called for these concerts to be used as a celebration of Britishness ahead of Scotland's referendum on Thursday, seen as too close to call, on whether to end its 300-year union with the rest of the United Kingdom.
Local papers reported that the BBC asked its performers and presenters to make no reference to the referendum to avoid accusations of bias.
"There’s no edict banning anyone from mentioning the referendum and as is standard, if it was editorially justified on the night it would be reflected," BBC spokeswoman Camilla Dervan told Reuters in an email. "But just as in previous years, presenters will be reminded that the BBC Proms is a music event, not a political platform."
There was nevertheless a certain irony to one of the evening's pieces: a rare performance of Richard Strauss's choral work "Taillefer" - sung in German, about the French conquering the English at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Dutch violinist Janine Jansen performed Ernest Chausson's "Poeme" and Maurice Ravel's "Tzigane", before conductor Oramo brought out his own violin and joined her in a comical duet of "La Cucaracha", alternately attempting to outplay and out-mock each other and bringing the evening alive.
A record number of orchestras performed at the Proms this summer, including first-time appearances for ensembles from as far away as Turkey, Iceland, Qatar, China, South Korea and Australia.
Saturday's performance came to a close with the audience singing along to traditional British songs "Rule, Britannia", "Land of Hope and Glory" and "Jerusalem," led by British baritone Roderick Williams in bowtie and tails, and a Benjamin Britten arrangement of the British national anthem.
The crowd then held hands and sang its own unaccompanied rendition of "Auld Lang Syne," all the more poignant ahead of Scotland's vote on Thursday.
The two-month season of concerts sponsored by the BBC, the national broadcaster, takes its name from the "Prommers" who get to stand right in front of the stage for the cheapest prices in the cavernous, oval-shaped Royal Albert Hall.
Two such Prommers, David Biddulph and Richard Rowland, dressed up in their red Kingston Rowing Club blazers and white caps, extolled the virtues of the classical music season from the packed arena floor.
"It gives you wonderful opportunities to come across new music," said Rowland.
"I haven't been to as many concerts as I'd like this year - only about a dozen!" said Biddulph. "It all proves that there are still some British eccentrics around."
(Editing by Lisa Shumaker and David Holmes)