The Proms Return: the oldest and biggest festival of the summer is online
The first in the world to “stream” the concerts of a major classical music festival on the radio, for nearly a century, the BBC Proms will have its 127th season live again, after a 2020 season forced by the recorded music-only pandemic.
From July 30 to September 11, live broadcasts will again be broadcast daily on BBC-3, with most concerts starting at 7:30 p.m. UK Summer Time (11:30 a.m. Pacific Time), with the festival returning to the 5,000-seat Royal Albert Hall, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary, and Cadogan Hall.
The concert series which began as The Promenades in 1838, under the direction of Arthur Sullivan as one of its directors, took its present form in 1895 and became a BBC enterprise in 1927.
Defying COVID-19, Brexit and travel restrictions, the 2021 season will feature 52 concerts over 44 days, with 30 orchestras and ensembles, more than 100 soloists and conductors and more than 2,000 musicians. As impressive as these numbers are, it is actually a reduction from the usual season of 75 concerts over an eight week season; and the programs are shorter than they have been in recent years, some are less than an hour.
But the biggest combined impact of COVID and Brexit is the shift from one of the richest international festivals to an almost entirely British event: Of the 30 participating orchestras, only one is foreign: the Mahler Chamber Orchestra of Germany; Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla and Semyon Bychkov are the only foreign conductors.
Some highlights of the season:
July 30: First Night will premiere by James MacMillan When the sweet voices die, complementary piece to that of Vaughan Williams Serenade in music, the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dalia Stasevska. The program, which lasts less than an hour, also includes Poulenc’s Organ Concerto.
August 1: The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, with its young principal conductor Maxim Emelyanychev, performs Mozart’s last three symphonies, composed in just two months in the summer of 1788.
August 2: Elim Chan conducts the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in a concert of music by Purcell, Saint-Saëns, Brahms and Elizabeth Ogonek.
August 5: Gražinyte-Tyla conducts the Birmingham City Symphony Orchestra to the music of neglected British composer Ruth Gipps, with Thomas Adès The Symphony of the Exterminating Angels, and Brahms’ Symphony No. 3.
August 8: The BBC National Orchestra of Wales with Principal Conductor Ryan Bancroft performs Dvořák’s Symphony No.9, that of Ives Three locations in New England, and the world premiere of Augusta Read Thomas’ commissioned by the BBC Dance folds.
August 10: World premiere of the program commissioned by the BBC Parallel universes by Britta Byström, inspired by cosmologist Max Tegmark’s notion of a “hierarchical multiverse” and Sibelius’ Violin Concerto with Jennifer Pike, BBC Young Musician of the Year. John Storgårds conducts the BBC Philharmonic.
August 12: Vladimir Jurowski makes his last appearance as principal conductor of the London Philharmonic – a post he has held for 14 years – in a Stravinsky concert ‘ Card game, Walton ‘Cello Concerto, with Steven Isserlis, Les 14 canons de Bach du Goldberg variants, and Hindemith ‘ Mathis der Maler Symphony.
August 16: Opera evening with sopranos Sally Matthews, Natalya Romaniw and Nardus Williams; mezzo Christine Rice; tenors Nicky Spence and Freddie De Tommaso. Ben Glassberg conducts the BBC Philharmonic.
August 22: Simon Rattle conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in a concert marking the 50th anniversary of Stravinsky’s death.
August 28: Patricia Kopatchinskaja is the soloist of Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto, with Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
August 30: George Benjamin conducts the Mahler Chamber Orchestra at the world premiere of his Orchestral Concerto, Ravel’s Piano Concerto and an “opera medley” by Oliver Knussen.
September 11: Last Night of the Proms, tenor Stuart Skelton and Latvian accordionist Ksenija Sidorova join the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sakari Oramo for a program of short pieces by Gity Razaz, Thomas Arne, Edward Elgar and Hubert Parry; with the conventional festival closer to Auld lang syne and Britten’s arrangement of the national anthem.