Britain's Prom concerts keep classic charm after 120 years


The London-based Proms are celebrating their 120th year and the world's biggest classical music festival continues to draw in crowds by mixing top performers with accessible ticket prices.

Star soloists and concert-goers alike hail the atmosphere at the BBC Promenade Concerts, with their quirks, traditions and sense of occasion.

Staged at the 5,500-capacity Royal Albert Hall, the circular, domed 1870s Italianate masterpiece in London, the eight-week series of concerts are firmly entrenched in the British cultural landscape.

Part of their charm is the tradition of "Promming": turning up on the day for the 1,350 standing places costing £5 ($7.80, seven euros).

"Prommers" can therefore watch from right in front of the orchestra.

"The good thing is that the best position in the house is the cheapest," Lord of the Rings actor Ian McKellen told AFP after a performance of interludes from Benjamin Britten's "Peter Grimes".

"Five pounds, compared to 60 pounds where the Queen sits," he said, pointing to the boxes at the back. "It's a whole reversal of the norm."


- Sense of occasion -


Promming veterans and first-timers alike form an orderly queue for the standing tickets.

"I saw the Proms as a child on television so I'm quite excited to be here," said Leanne Schmidt, from Yorkshire in northern England.

Daniela Cechova, a psychologist from Slovakia's capital Bratislava, brought her 15-year-old daughter Nela.

"I wanted my daughter to experience the same experience I did 15 years ago. I came three times in five days. It was breathtaking. The music and the building are fantastic," she said.

Christian Holt, a Londoner, has been promming around 20 times, drawn by the "variety and quality" of the concerts, plus the cheap tickets on the day of the concerts.

He said: "The acoustics are OK. I've heard better. That's the one thing I'm not massively keen on."

Naik Lashermes, 30, a Frenchwoman living in London, has gone Promming a dozen times in five years.

"It's the quality of the musicians, plus the fact that it's virtually for free. It's the ambience of a festival in the world of classical music," she said.

The red-upholstered hall rises 135 feet (41 metres) from the arena floor, through the stalls, three tiers of boxes, a circle and then the standing gallery at the top. The stage thrusts out into the arena.

Some Prom-goers go straight from work with their briefcases, some don cocktail dresses for the occasion, while others wear t-shirts and baseball caps.

Some stand arms folded, soaking in the music, while the more romantic types put arms around their partners.

People of all ages and nationalities make up the audience, while latecomers are not admitted until an interval.


- Broadcast worldwide -


The Proms are back on BBC World Service radio after a five-year break, with six programmes mixing performances with themes and topics from the concert series.

The 2015 season began on July 17 and culminates on September 12 with the traditional Last Night of the Proms, a patriotic singalong and a unique celebration of Britishness.

On August 10, the 120th anniversary of the Proms first concert, British star violinist Nicola Benedetti performed Erich Wolfgang Korngold's "Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35" (1945).

Afterwards, there were shouts of "Bravo!", while some even ululated. The rumble of foot-stamping for an encore spread throughout the hall.

Benedetti said playing the Proms was "the best thing, ever".

"It's like no other in terms of the strength of the feeling coming from the audience," she told AFP.

"It's not really comparable to anything else, just in terms of the collectiveness.

"You don't feel like you're just giving something to people, but that they're giving back to you."

At the stage door afterwards, orchestra members bid each other farewell and eager music students quiz performers for technique tips.

Eva Malmbolm, from Sweden, a viola player in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, said playing the Proms was "a bit of a pressure cooker".

"It really focuses you when you realise there's 5,000 people staring at you," she told AFP.

"It's electric, an amazing atmosphere and a very exciting place to play. I don't think anybody leaves without a smile on their face."




New Zealand to create massive marine sanctuary PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 29 September 2015 13:25


New Zealand unveiled plans to create a South Pacific marine sanctuary the size of France, saying it would protect one of the world's most pristine ocean environments.

Prime Minister John Key on Monday said the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary would cover an area of 620,000 square kilometres about 1,000 kilometres off New Zealand's northeast coast.

Announcing the plans at the United Nations in New York, Key said the Kermadec area was home to thousands of important species, including whales, dolphins, seabirds and endangered turtles.

"(It) is one of the most geographically and geologically diverse areas in the world," he said in a statement.

"It contains the world's longest underwater volcanic arc and the second deepest ocean trench at 10 kilometres deep."



Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 September 2015 13:27
Dashes of sportswear at Paris Fashion Week PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 02 October 2015 07:04

Sportswear permeated the spring/summer 2016 womenswear collections of Chloe, Carven and Paco Rabanne on the Paris catwalks Thursday, while Balmain unashamedly celebrated sexy women.


Chloe's hippie sportswear

Chloe mixed a long floaty skirt studded with small flowers and a two-colour tracksuit top, or wide black pants with sleeveless t-shirts.

The label's British artistic director Clare Waight Keller also paired jogging pants with zipneck tops, and -- for a more feminine look -- matched the same trousers with sleeveless tops or a white transparent blouse.

American actress Jada Pinkett Smith, wife of Will Smith, seemed to approve from her front-row seat.


Sporty lingerie at Paco Rabanne

Over at Paco Rabanne, sportswear was thrown into the mix with lingerie, best illustrated by a slipdress with a form of suspenders attached -- the effect was of a 1950s swimming costume.


Last Updated on Friday, 02 October 2015 07:07
Sneezing monkey, 'walking' fish found in Himalayas: WWF PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 06 October 2015 15:49



A monkey that sneezes when it rains and a "walking" fish are among more than 200 species discovered in the fragile eastern Himalayas in recent years, according to conservation group WWF. WWF has compiled a survey of wildlife discovered by scientists across Bhutan, northeast India, Nepal, north Myanmar and southern Tibet in a bid to raise awareness of the threats facing the ecologically sensitive region. The species include what the WWF

described as a blue-coloured "walking snakehead fish", which can breathe air, survive on land for four days and slither up to 400 metres (a quarter of a mile) on wet ground.

Others include an ornate red, yellow and orange pit viper that could pass for a piece of jewellery, a fresh-water "dracula" fish with fangs and three new types of bananas.

In the forests of northern Myanmar, scientists learned in 2010 of a black and white monkey with an upturned nose that causes it to sneeze when it rains.

On rainy days they often sit with their heads tucked between their knees to avoid getting water in their snub noses.

One-fingered Japanese climber fails to summit Everest PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 08 October 2015 11:59



A one-fingered Japanese climber who was attempting the first summit of Mount Everest since this year's deadly quake said Thursday he had turned back before reaching the summit.

This is the fifth season Nobukazu Kuriki, who lost nine fingers on the mountain in 2012, has tried to scale the world's highest peak and he is the only climber making the dangerous attempt this year.

Climbers have abandoned Everest after an earthquake-triggered avalanche killed 18 people at the mountain's base camp, and regular aftershocks since have increased the chance of avalanches.

"Did my best, but figured will not be able to return alive if I go further due to strong wind and heavy snow," the 33-year-old wrote on his Twitter account.

Kuriki said continuing his attempt to scale the 8,848-metre (29,029-foot) colossus in those conditions would leave him dangerously exposed, with not enough time to return safely to camp.



His overnight ascent had taken him well into the "death zone" -- the height above 8,000 metres notorious for its difficult terrain and thin air.

"Decided to climb down at around 8,150 metres... I truly appreciate everyone's support," he added.

Scaling Everest has been all but abandoned this season following April's earthquake, which killed nearly 8,900 people and devastated large parts of Nepal, including the capital Kathmandu.



Last Updated on Thursday, 08 October 2015 12:01
Rare grey pearls fetch $5.27 million in Hong Kong auction PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 08 October 2015 12:08



A rare grey pearl necklace that once belonged to a British aristocrat sold for HK$41 million ($5.27 million) in Hong Kong on Wednesday, auctioneers Sotheby's said.

The string of pearls was part of the collection of Viscountess Cowdray, Lady Pearson.

The buyer, a private collector from Hong Kong, made the winning bid by phone.

Viscountess Cowdray, who died in 1932, was famed for her collection of furniture and works of art, as well as jewellery. The pearls were first put up for auction in 1937.


Last Updated on Thursday, 08 October 2015 12:11
Armani looks back to the future PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 29 September 2015 13:27


Giorgio Armani had three important things to say on Monday: yes, he can do colours other than grey and beige, no, he is going nowhere and no, he has not had a nose job.

The first point was made by his Spring-Summer 2016 womenswear collection, an unexpectedly colourful affair suffused by various hues of red (flame, lacquer and geranium, since you ask).

The second and third were made by Armani himself at the launch of a self-penned book about his extraordinary life and career, told largely through a total of 410 pictures, many of them previously unpublished snaps from his private archive.

Among them is one of him as a baby -- looking remarkably similar to how he does today, at the age of 81.

Asked why he had chosen that image for the cover, the designer replied: "Yes, there was a reason for that: the nose.

"Many have said, quite impertinently, that Armani had a nose job and that it made him look younger. Well, that nose you see there is the same as this one."

- 'He'll never retire' -

Armani also found impertinent a question about where he imagined his multi-billion-euro empire being in 30 to 40 years.



That did not however stop him answering in terms which suggest that, while he has begun planning for what happens after he has gone, retirement is not on his immediate agenda.

"In any case I won't be there," he said, admitting that, without him at the helm, it might be difficult for his company to remain the independent, private structure it is now.

"Independence is a beautiful thing. You can choose everything from the light you have in your office to the kind of fashion you make.

"But independence also means having the means to preserve your independence. As long as I am alive, I think, independence will be there. After, immediately after, perhaps we will prepare the ground for a more modified, more controlled independence.

"But it will depend on what fashion is at that time and the position we find ourselves in."




Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 September 2015 13:31
New direction for Cavalli as youth takes over in Milan PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 27 September 2015 10:46



Norwegian designer Peter Dundas spearheaded a youthful revolution in Milan on Saturday, laying out his new vision for Roberto Cavalli as other top brands also embraced rejuvenation.

The Cavalli collection was one of the most eagerly awaited of the week, being the first to take place without the company's eponymous founder who has ceded control to a private equity group.

They brought Dundas in from Emilio Pucci and the Norwegian did not waste any time in signalling a dramatic break with the past.



The rock and roll edge to the brand and its sensual, sexy core remained intact but there was some carping in the Italian media that something of its essence had disappeared.

"The new start signals the end of glamour," reported La Repubblica, although its review was broadly favourable and noted that it was too early to say if Dundas was going to give Cavalli the kind of fillip enjoyed by Gucci since Alessandro Michele took the reins there at the start of the year.

The biggest change came with the virtual axing of red carpet-style night gowns from the collection in favour of lighter and more easy-to-wear nightwear such as one ultra-short dress featuring a long train.

Alongside that there was a range of accessible denim items featuring frills, tie dye and chain fringes.


- Maintaining Cavalli's soul -



"My first task since arriving here has been to think of something different that still maintains the soul of Roberto Cavalli," Dundas said.

"Today's women are freer and looking for easier, perhaps more sporty clothes."

Relaxed, comfortable clothes were also in vogue at Bottega Veneta, which put together a very sporty collection featuring high-tech jogging pants, hooded sweatshirts and fitted gilets.

Creative director Tomas Maier took inspiration from sailing for evening dresses made from a single piece of fabric modelled on a length of sail and held together by what looked like nautical rope.



Last Updated on Sunday, 27 September 2015 10:48
Victims, horror of Oregon shooting remembered at Sunday service PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 05 October 2015 10:28



In Roseburg, the small western US town thrown into the national spotlight last week by the shooting of nine students, it was time to reflect and pray Sunday.

The tragedy was very much still present at New Beginnings Church of God.

Pastor Randy Scroggins's daughter, Lacey, survived the shooting by playing dead and hiding behind the dead body of one of her classmates.

"The God who was good for us yesterday is still the God who is good today, even if we do not understand what happened," Scroggins told the church.

The pastor paid tribute to the victims, aged 18 to 67, and in particular to Rebecka Carnes, whose grandparents were on hand for the service, and Treven Anspach, whose body knocked down and hid his daughter during the melee.

Before the service, Scroggins shared Lacey's story. He said that when the shooter, Chris Harper Mercer, first entered their classroom, Lacey thought it was a joke or a security exercise.


Then the shots started. Their instructor, Lawrence Levine, fell first, followed by students, one by one.


Last Updated on Monday, 05 October 2015 10:30
The next 2 years are going to be even hotter because of continued global warming PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 14 September 2015 17:27


Man-made global warming is set to produce exceptionally high average temperatures this year and next, boosted by natural weather phenomena such as El Nino, Britain's top climate and weather body said in a report Monday.

"It looks very likely that globally 2014, 2015 and 2016 will all be amongst the very warmest years ever recorded," Rowan Sutton of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, which contributed to the report, told journalists.

"This is not a fluke," he said. "We are seeing the effects of energy steadily accumulating in the Earth's oceans and atmosphere, caused by greenhouse gas emissions."

The rate at which global temperatures are increasing is also on track to pick up in the coming years, ending a period of more than a decade in which the pace of warming worldwide had appeared to slow down, the report said.

This "pause" has been seized upon by sceptics as evidence that climate change was driven more by natural cycles than human activity.

Some scientists, however, argue that there was no significant slowdown, pointing instead to flawed calculations.

The 20-page report from Britain's Met Office, entitled "Big changes underway in the climate system?", highlights current transitions in major weather patterns that affect rainfall and temperatures at a regional level.

An El Nino weather pattern centered in the tropical Pacific Ocean is "well underway", the report says, and shaping up to be one of the most intense on record. Very strong El Ninos also occurred over the winters of 1997 and 1982.

Set to grow stronger in the coming months, the current El Nino -- a result of shifting winds and ocean circulation -- is likely to result is dry conditions in parts of Asia and Australia, as well as southern and sub-Saharan North Africa, the Met Office said.

By contrast, the southwestern United States -- including parched California, suffering from an historic drought -- has a strong chance of seeing higher-than-average rainfall.

El Ninos also affect tropical storms, making them less likely in the North Atlantic and more intense in the West Pacific, where they are known as typhoons.

Overall, an El Nino is also likely to add a little heat to the general impact of global warming.

Meanwhile, warming sea surface temperatures along the North American west coast point to a reversal of another natural pattern called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.


Last Updated on Monday, 14 September 2015 17:30
US singer Pharrell faces protest at S.African concert PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 21 September 2015 15:46



Grammy award-winning American musician Pharrell Williams will face a protest by thousands of Palestinian supporters at a concert in Cape Town on Monday, organisers of the demonstration said.

Members of pro-Palestinian group Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) are campaigning against the singer's partnership with major South African retail group Woolworths, over its imports from Israel.

The South African branch of the BDS movement vowed to hold "the largest protest any artist would have faced since the end of apartheid" at Pharrell's concert at Cape Town's Grand West Casino.

On Friday the group won a court battle against an attempt by Cape Town authorities to limit the number of demonstrators to 150, and said it expected 40,000 people to turn out.

Earlier this year, Pharrell became Woolworths' new style director "in a ground-breaking collaboration across a series of sustainability-focused projects", the upmarket retailer said.

BDS accuses Woolworths of importing Israeli agricultural produce from the occupied territories, a charge the company denies.



Last Updated on Monday, 21 September 2015 15:48
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