Britain's Proms: music for everyone in Olympic UK

LONDON Thu Apr 19, 2012 2:09pm EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - In London's Olympic year, the BBC Proms is mounting an Olympian effort to attract audiences to its 92-concert summer season, and to be sure they can get there amid the crush of athletes and hundreds of thousands of fans flooding the city.

"It's an international musical festival which happens to take place in the UK," Proms director and BBC Radio 3 controller Roger Wright said at a news conference on Thursday launching the 118th Proms season.

The Proms open on July 13 and run until early September, providing a rich feast of concerts, chamber music, opera, musicals, world music and, most famously, the flag-waving, singalong pageantry of the Last Night of the Proms.

Wright said the Proms season is largely a celebration of Western music, but he paid tribute to the growing international television and radio audience for Proms concerts.

He also said he thought the Proms and the Olympics, which run concurrently for much of the summer, though on opposite ends of London, would create a great buzz around the city.

"I think we've just got to be really pleased that it's going to be an exciting and busy summer and if there are any issues that get thrown up about transport, frankly, that's like every summer we ever have," Wright said.

"If you take some of the ideals of the Olympics, of aspirations for excellence, of youth and internationalism, then those are things you can attach to the Proms and have been attached to the Proms for some time."

Highlights include the nine Beethoven symphonies, performed for the first time in 60 years during one Proms season by Daniel Barenboim and his Arab-Israeli West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, and a program of "Musical Marvels" by well-known composers and featuring the Wallace & Gromit animated characters.

BBC orchestras and ensembles play many of the concerts but there will be appearances by top international orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic with Sir Simon Rattle, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra with Bernard Haitink and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly.

The Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, under Marin Alsop, will be the first Brazilian orchestra to appear at the Proms.

The fabled last night of the Proms, on Sept 8, a celebration of music and all things British, for which tickets are in such high demand they are awarded by written application, will feature Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja, singing Puccini arias as well as Elgar's "Land of Hope and Glory".

Violin virtuoso Nicola Benedetti will play the Bruch violin concerto and the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus will be conducted by Jiri Belohlavek, who is leaving the post as the orchestra's conductor.

In a year when Queen Elizabeth celebrates her Diamond Jubilee, the Proms pays tribute to her 60 years on the throne, on opening night, by having four British conductors, Martyn Brabbins, Sir Mark Elder, Edward Gardner and Sir Roger Norrington, "pass the baton" conducting an all-British program.

In keeping with the summer season, there are plenty of crowd-pleasers on offer, including a performance of the Broadway musical "My Fair Lady" and an evening marking the 70th year of the eternally popular BBC radio program Desert Island Discs.

"From Congolese street musicians to a recreation of (French King) Louis XIV's Baroque orchestra, the season provides a range of diverse musical offerings," the BBC said in a press release.

The season, though, also offers up a cornucopia of music for hardcore music heads, hundreds of whom queue each night outside the cavernous Royal Albert Hall to snap up the coveted "Promming" tickets that permit entry to the centre-most listening area, right in front of the stage, on a standing-room-only basis for 5 pounds ($8).

For them, the season will celebrate some of the world's most eminent living composers including Pierre Boulez, whose works appear alongside the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra's Beethoven symphony cycle.

British composers whose birthday years will be marked during the season include Oliver Knussen and Simon Bainbridge at 60, and Hugh Wood and Alexander Goehr at 80. There are also 150th-birthday tributes to Debussy and Delius.

($1 = 0.6226 British pounds)

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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