Tim Hughes raises a glass to a lively tribute to the Duke of Wellington

Almost 200 cannon, 40 kg of gunpowder, 12 horses, 120 soldiers in Napoleonic uniform, 60 musicians – one Spitfire and a UNESCO World Heritage Site...

When it comes to laying on a concert, Adam Slough doesn’t mess about.

The concert director of the Blenheim Palace Battle Proms doesn’t believe in half-measures, making his musical extravaganza a sight – and sound – to behold.

“We love to put on a show and this will be the biggest and best yet!” he says, talking from the lawns of the Duke of Marlborough’s baroque stately home on the edge of Woodstock.

“This will be our 11th year at Blenheim – and they are getting more popular every year. These concerts have become a fixture in Oxfordshire’s summer calendar.”

While always a good excuse to wave around the Union flag, this year’s event, on Saturday evening, presents an extra-special reason to get out the red, white and blue, marking, as it does, the 200th anniversary of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. It’s a suitably fitting celebration given the palace’s own place in British military history – having been granted to the 1st Duke of Marlborough as a gift from a grateful nation for his own victory over the French and Bavarians at the Battle of Blenheim.

“It is particularly resonant this year because we’ll be having a Napoleonic theme,” says Adam.

“The music includes Wellington’s Victory – or Battle Symphony – by Beethoven, which celebrated the Battle of Vittoria in the Spanish War of Liberation and features 193 cannon.

“There are muzzle-loading reproduction cannon, all made by us to patterns used in the Napoleonic period of 1799-1815. They are loaded with gunpowder, packed with sand, and fired with pyrotechnic wires by the musicians on stage.

“Firing 193 cannon in six minutes makes quite a bang. There will also be musket fire and fireworks thrown in. It will be quite spectacular.”

He goes on: “We’ll also be celebrating Wellington’s victory with extra skirmishes by historical re-enactors and displays of cavalry skills at arms – with horsemen showing off their skills with sword and pike.”

The event includes a display of tent-pegging, in which horsemen grab pegs from the ground at full gallop.

“It’s a real art and a marvellous sight,” says Adam. “The riders lean right out of the saddle. They have to be very good on horseback.”

A choreographed musical ride will be accompanied by Franz Von Suppé’s Light Cavalry Overture – performed by the New English Concert Orchestra, led by Douglas Coombes. The evening also commemorates another military anniversary – the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

The programme includes a performance by a 1940s-style girl group The Rockabellas – billed as today’s answer to the Andrews Sisters – and an aerobatic display by a Spitfire flown by what is believed to be the world’s only practising female Spitfire pilot – Carolyn Grace.

The display, to the emotive strains of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No 5 and Nimrod, will be preceded by a gun salute from an original 1917 13-pounder field gun manned by six gunners.

More ear-popping explosions come in the shape of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture – complete with 27 more shots courtesy of The English Field Artillery Company.

More sedate moments come in the shape of The Swan, from Saint-Saens’ The Carnival of the Animals, Antonín Dvorvák’s New World’ Symphony No 9, music from Puccini’s La Bohème, Charles Gounod’s Faust.

The evening culminates in a Last Night of the Proms-style sing-along to such favourites as Hubert Parry’s Jerusalem, Thomas Arne’s Rule Britannia and Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No 1.

The whole thing finishes with 30 minutes of fireworks.

Oxford Mail:

  • Skilled: A Napoleonic horseman draws his sword

“It’s all good fun,” says Adam, a classically-trained cellist who stages concerts at stately homes across the country with his music-loving mother and gunsmith father.

“It’s a great reason to pack a picnic and a bottle of champagne and join the fun at what is certainly the prettiest stately home in the country. Many people make a real effort with their picnics,” he goes on.

“It’s never just a soggy sandwich in a plastic bag. People go to town with hampers and buckets, or even wheelbarrows, of ice.”

A capacity crowd of 9,000 people is expected on Saturday.

“It’s a true spectacle,” says Adam.

“We have an aeroplane, cannon, music, horses, fireworks and the infantry. It has huge appeal to all ages – all in a quintessentially British setting.

“It’s also a great way of introducing kids to classical music.”

Referring to the display of patriotism – Union Jacks will be on sale to those overcome by national pride – he says: “We tend to underplay our British sense of identity and ask ourselves whether we should be waving flags.

“But that’s just British humility. The truth is, people love it. The Americans do it all the time.”

He adds: “This will be our 11th concert at Blenheim, and will be the biggest one so far. Many of those coming will be regular Battle Prommers who know what spectacle is in store, but many others will be new to the concert.

“With the commemorations of the Battle of Waterloo, this really is the year to come. It will be a breathtaking evening.”

Blenheim Palace Battle Proms Picnic Concert is on Saturday.
Tickets are £36 for adults (£17 for children) from battleproms.com