Expectation is always high for the announcement of the BBC Proms programme, and with the gloom of the arts cuts, the world’s biggest music festival rides back into spotlight at just the right time. After all, 2010 was a record-breaking high for the world-renowned classical music series. Ticket prices are as reasonable as ever (£5 for prommers), but the question is, can the BBC team replicate the success and again increase ticket sales for the 90-odd concerts?
Initial signs are encouraging. The usual mix of international orchestras and artists, innovative programming and new audience-pulling initiatives are bursting out of the new brochure. While there is no firm theme for the Proms, there is a youthful streak running through this year’s programme. Nineteen-year-old pianist Benjamin Grosvenor is the youngest soloist ever to have performed on the first night, while conductor Ed Gardner is the youngest last night conductor for over a century. Other young artists featured include pianists Lang Lang and Alice Sara Ott, and composer Gabriel Prokofiev, whose Concerto for Turntable and Orchestra is a first.
There’s way too much on offer in SW7 to sum up, and even after trawling through the series to look for highlights, it’s hard to know where to start. Here’s just a few ideas:
If you’re looking for top-end quality, there’s Bernard Haitink and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, who together perform two concerts of Brahms (Proms 47 and 49 on August 19 and 20). Our own London Symphony Orchestra provides another highlight: Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with a starry set of vocal soloists (Prom 67, September 4).
For large-scale events, two particular concerts need mentioning. July 17 (Prom 4) sees the biggest Prom ever: 1000 performers, including two (yes two) orchestras tackle the “Gothic” Symphony by little-known 20th-century British composer, Havergal Brian. The other event is the day before, Prom 2 on July 16. Rossini’s opera William Tell is performed by an Italian orchestra conducted by Royal Opera House music director Antonio Pappano. This massive but rarely performed work features over 200 performers.
For those looking beyond classical classical music, there are several proms to choose from. There’s a film music concert (Prom 38, August 12), a comedy prom with the brilliant Tim Minchin (Prom 40, August 13) and a Horrible Histories family prom (Prom 20, July 30), in a collaboration with the CBBC TV series. The biggest excitement, however, is reserved for the "people's prom", on September 2 (Prom 64), when the Budapest Festival Orchestra will take requests shouted from the hall.
If you’re looking for left-field concerts, look no further than a late-night prom (Prom 36 August 10), a celebration of the music of radical American minimalist composer Steve Reich. His trance-like piece Music for 18 Musicians should sound incredible in the Albert Hall.
See here for the BBC Proms website. Booking opens on May 7.
Image: Katie Derham, the face of the BBC Proms on BBC Two, with young pianists Benjamin Grosvenor and Alice Sara Ott at the launch of the BBC Proms 2011 on 14 April 2011 (c) BBC / Mark Allan