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The Very Best of the Very Best Fest

"It's a party," says Brian Newhouse of Classical Minnesota Public Radio. "People blow noisemakers, the beach balls are in the air, the inflatable 8-foot bananas are flying by … It's great, and I love that."

It may sound like a description of a night in Ibiza, but Newhouse is actually talking about the Last Night of the Proms-the final concert at the BBC Proms. While the word "prom" is typically relegated to high-school dances in the U.S., the same word has long been proudly applied to Britain's musical extravaganza, considered the world's greatest classical music festival.

Begun by Sir Henry Wood in 1895, the Proms (which became the BBC Proms in 1927) is a series of 73 concerts designed to make classical music accessible to the masses. Wood's vision continues to this day. "It democratizes classical music first by the ticket prices," Newhouse says, "which are only £5 [approximately $10] per night. Then the use of technology: radio, television and the Internet take the concerts everywhere."

American Public Media-the national production and distribution arm of Minnesota Public Radio-holds the exclusive rights to broadcast the BBC Proms in the U.S. Among other artists, the BBC Proms programming will highlight performances by American orchestras, including the Minnesota Orchestra, St. Luke's Orchestra of New York, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Philadephia Orchestra. The Last Night of the Proms broadcast is characterized by passionate performances and an audience singalong. Throughout the series, the depth of talent and the breadth of musical selections are truly compelling. Host Newhouse, together with Executive Producer Silvester Vicic, look forward to sharing the BBC Proms experience with American listeners.

"There's always something new to be revealed," Vicic says, "whether a piece was written 300 years ago or 20 minutes ago. All have something really important to say to us, all of the time."

Thousands come out to London's Royal Albert Hall each night to hear the music. "The lineups for rush tickets snake around the building," Vicic says. "They're filling a 5,000-seat hall every night."

Newhouse is impressed by the public's embrace of The Proms. "The thing I love about it is discovering and tapping into the kind of 'everyman' passion for classical music that's there," Newhouse enthuses. "And then of course there's the music, which ain't bad, either: the Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, András Schiff..."

"It's the electricity of Royal Albert Hall," adds Vicic. "For the price of turning on your radio, you've taken a transatlantic trip and for two hours, nothing else really matters."

(This article also appeared in the September 2006 "Plugged In" section of Minnesota Monthly.)