Proms conductor denies role in decision to play songs without lyrics after ‘threats towards family’

The conductor behind the BBC’s upcoming Last Night of the Proms says she played “no role” in the decision for some traditional songs to be performed without lyrics.

Dalia Stasevska said there had been a lot of “false speculation” about the decision that led to “abuse and threats towards me and my family”.

A row had broken out over the weekend when The Sunday Times reported the BBC was mulling cutting Rule, Brittania! and Land of Hope and Glory from its annual classical music event.

The Proms is watched live by an audience of over 6000
Image: The Proms is watched live by an audience of over 6000

The debate was reportedly initiated due to the Black Lives Matter movement, with bosses reconsidering the songs’ inclusion because of their perceived association with colonialism and slavery.

The corporation later confirmed the songs would be played, but not sung.

There will be no live audience to sing along and wave flags because of coronavirus restrictions.

Ms Stasevska said in a new statement on Thursday: “I have played no role in deciding the traditional elements of the programme, I recognise these are an important part of the event.

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“I’ve been wrongly portrayed as a person who tries to influence political debates – this is not true. I am an artist, I want to be able to speak through my work to bring people together and build solidarity.

“When I first lived in London I remember falling in love with the city. The UK is such an inspiring place to work, and the BBC is an important part of that.

“I do not intend to enter the public debate.

“I am a professional musician with a fondness and respect for the UK.

“I am very much looking forward to performing again with the fabulous musicians of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in what is sure to be a memorable event in September.”

General view of the Royal Albert Hall in London during the Last Night of The Proms.
PM ‘cannot believe’ BBC Proms decision

Rule, Britannia! – strongly associated with the Royal Navy – is deemed problematic by some because of Britain’s role in the slave trade.

It has lyrics such as Britons “never shall be slaves”, and that “while thou shalt flourish great and free, the dread and envy of them all”.

Land Of Hope And Glory features the music of Edward Elgar and the lyrics of Arthur Benson, including “Thine Empire shall be strong” and “God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.”

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke out about the BBC’s decision, saying he found it hard to believe.

Boris Johnson talks about children going back to school
Image: Boris Johnson said he could not believe the BBC’s decision

He said: “If it is correct… I think it’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions and about our culture, and we stop this general bout of self-recrimination and wetness.”

He admitted that he had been advised against speaking out on the matter, but said: “I wanted to get that off my chest.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “Of course people can choose to debate the artistic decision the BBC made during a pandemic, but what isn’t right is to make personal attacks on artists.

“We are very lucky to have a proms at all this year and that is down to the artists that have made it possible.

“They should be praised. As we have always made clear, it is the BBC that is the decision maker. No one else. Hopefully we can all start focusing on the music which is about bringing us all together.”

The national anthem and Jerusalem will still be sung during this year’s event.

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