Promenade concerts began at the end of the 18th century, and originally were held outdoors in London’s pleasure gardens, where the audience was free to stroll around while the orchestra was playing. In 1927, the BBC took over producing the concerts, and it is now a yearly festival of mainly classical music in the UK, with the final night being broadcast in many countries around the world.
During their studies at Antwerp University in the 1980s, Jan Van Esbroeck and Jan Vereecke took on the challenge to organize a classical concert for their fellow students. When compiling the program, they decided to add contemporary (pop) music to the concert in an effort to increase the appeal of their show. Inspired by the atmosphere that reigns at the ‘BBC Last Night of the Proms’, they dubbed their concert ‘First Night of the Proms – classic meets pop’. It took place on October 19th 1985, in front of more than 13,000 music lovers at the Antwerp Sportpalace.
Based on the incredible success of their first show, they decided to do 2 shows in 1986, which both sold out. In 1990, they were asked to produce a Night of the Proms-show in Apeldoorn, Holland, and the success caught the attention of Heineken. Between 1991 and 1998, numerous ‘Heineken Night of the Proms’ took place in Rotterdam, Zurich and Madrid, and the increased number of shows gave way to the booking of international talent; Joe Cocker, Christopher Cross and Jennifer Warnes in 1992, Sting, Gary Brooker and Colin Blunstone in 1993, and Toto and Paul Young in 1994.
By 1995, the Night of the Proms -tour had grown to 20 shows in 5 countries, with such artists as Bryan Ferry, Al Jarreau, Roger Hodgson from Supertramp, and a then unknown blind tenor from Italy : Andrea Bocelli, who rose to stardom overnight. Bocelli used a recording of his duet ‘Miserere’ with John Miles from Night of the Proms on his ‘Romanza’-album that sold 20 million copies worldwide, and is considered his breakthrough album, launching his career worldwide. Bocelli also made a surprise appearance on the 1996 Night of the Proms tour in Antwerp, to thank the Antwerp audience for their warm support.
1996 marked the start of a 15-year collaboration with Nokia in Germany, Austria and Denmark with the ‘Nokia Night of the Proms’ establishing itself as leading cultural brand, and resulting in further growth in Europe. Simple Minds in 1997, Lisa Stansfield and Level 42’s Mark King in 1998, Status Quo, Zucchero and Natalie Choquette in 1999, and Chrissie Hynde and UB40 in 2000 provided for unforgettable musical highlights for thousands of loyal music lovers.
This unique combination of classical and pop music attracts performers from all genres, and audiences of all ages and musical taste to participate at the shows, and to date, well over 10,000,000 people have attended one of the 900+ shows since its inception in 1985. Since the start of the new Millennium, James Brown, Meat Loaf, Michael McDonald, Shaggy, Mick Hucknall, Seal, David Garrett, Sinead O’Connor, Robin Gibb, Donna Summer, The Pointer Sisters, Nile Rodgers & Chic, Macy Gray, Tears For Fears, Gloria Estefan, Toto, Foreigner, and many more artists have enjoyed public acclaim and musical fulfillment during their participation.
Since 1991, Il Novecento, Robert Groslot, Fine Fleur and the Electric Band, supervised by John Miles have proven to countless music lovers that classical music can be as powerful and enjoyable as pop and rock music, and to often skeptical performers that a symphonic orchestra can really ‘rock’ !