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The Philadelphia Orchestra turns its London concert into a memorial, with "God Save the Queen"

The Philadelphia Orchestra with conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin at Royal Albert Hall in London on Sept. 8, 2022.
Todd Rosenberg
Philadelphia Orchestra
The Philadelphia Orchestra with conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin at Royal Albert Hall in London on Sept. 8, 2022.

The Philadelphia Orchestra offered an impromptu memorial tribute to Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday in London. The orchestra was scheduled to perform Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony and works by Samuel Barber and Valerie Coleman at the fabled BBC Proms in one of the final concerts of its European tour.

Ticket holders were reportedly lining up to enter Royal Albert Hall when Buckingham Palace announced the Queen’s passing. Though the concert was immediately canceled, the audience was admitted to the hall for a very brief performance. After a moment of silence, Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducted a somber rendition of “God Save the Queen.”

Then, as a hush fell over the massive hall, the orchestra played “Nimrod” from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations – solemn and poignant music that captured all the complicated emotions of the moment.

Though not composed with any funereal intent, “Nimrod” has traditionally been played at major memorial events in Britain, such as the annual national service of remembrance, dedicated to those who lost their lives in war, and state funerals, notably that of the Queen’s late husband, the Duke of Edinburgh. In a mere five minutes, it encompasses mourning, consolation, nostalgia, and patriotic feeling.

Here is a 2014 performance at the Royal Festival Hall in London by Academy of St Martin in the Fields, as part of a concert celebrating the 90th birthday of the Academy's founder, Sir Neville Marriner.

After The Philadelphia Orchestra’s performance, both orchestra and audience departed in silence. The BBC has also canceled the final performances of the Proms on Friday and Saturday.

Melinda has worked in radio for decades, hosting and producing classical music and arts news. An award-winning broadcaster, she has created and hosted classical music programs and reported for NPR, WQXR—New York, WHYY–Philadelphia, and American Public Media. WRTI listeners may remember her years hosting classical music for WFLN and WHYY.