Get ready for a season of great music at the Albert Hall and beyond.
This year marks the centenary of the operational BBC, and, now that the pandemic appears to be no longer front page news, the Proms returns with a celebratory business as usual season. Artists from outside the UK are back in force, the Royal Albert Hall’s platform is once more open to full-sized orchestras, and large choral works are with us again.
Much of this spirit of a celebratory return to normal is summed up in the work programmed for the first night on 15 July: Verdi’s 1874 Requiem. This will be the 26th performance of the work at the Proms since its first appearance in 1906 and its fourth outing as a first night opener. This year it’ll be directed by Sakari Oramo (the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s Chief Conductor), and the usual BBC forces will be joined by guests Crouch End Festival Chorus, Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, Jenifer Johnson, Freddie De Tommaso and Kihwan Sim.
The theme of popular large choral works continues through the season with performances of Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony (Prom 10), Brahms’ German Requiem (Prom 17), Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony (Prom 49), Bach’s Mass in B minor (Prom 57), Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius (Prom 59), Beethoven’s 9th symphony (Prom 61) and Missa Solemnis (Prom 69).
The big, much-loved symphonies are here too, with performances of Sibelius’ 2nd (Prom 34), 5th (Prom 52) and 7th (Prom 42), Rachmaninov’s 2nd (Prom 14), Dvořák’s 9th (Prom at SAGE), Mahler’s 1st, 4th and 7th (Proms 66, 24 and 62), Shostakovitch’s 15th (Prom 25) and Beethoven – in addition to the 9th there are the 3rd (Prom 70), 4th (Prom 37), 5th (Proms 22 and 23 – from Aurora Orchestra, who, as usual, will perform it without scores).
Two British composers feature this year. Ralph Vaughan Williams was born 150 years ago, and his music is celebrated in a range of pieces from the well-known – Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (Prom 2) and The Lark Ascending (Prom52) – to some less familiar pieces such as his concerti for oboe (Prom 37) and tuba (Prom 39). The much sidelined genius of Ethel Smyth (1858–1944) is also celebrated this year, for no other reason than it’s about time. Her opera The Wreckers is in Glyndebourne’s summer season, and the company brings it, in a semi-staged version, to The Proms on 24 July. Smyth’s Mass in D enjoys an outing at Prom 44 and her concerto for the unusual combination of violin and French horn gets an airing at Prom 14. Some of her chamber works feature in the Proms in Birmingham and Glasgow. 2022 also sees the centenary of the birth of the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis. One of the luminaries of 20th century modernism, his works were often inspired by mathematical models, and are complex and challenging. A number of his pieces are featured in this year’s programme: at the Belfast Prom on 18 July and at Proms 20 and 22.
“…the Proms returns with a celebratory business as usual season”
On the subject of opera, aside from Smyth’s The Wreckers mentioned above, Prom 19 on 30 July, presents a chance to experience a concert performance of Puccini’s Il tabarro. Eclipsed by its Il trittico sibilings (Gianni Schicchi and Suor Angelica, the comedy and the tragedy) this melodrama set in Paris is rarely performed, but it is definitely worth the effort, if only for the glorious duets. Purcell’s only full opera Dido and Aeneas is given a concert performance by La Nuova Musica in the late-night Prom on 19 July. An unusual event (described as ‘an operatic spectacle’) on 3 September at Printworks London juxtaposes arias from Handel operas with works by Philip Glass, and features the ENO Orchestra, countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, live painting, beatboxing, dance and a light show.
This year also sees a change in venues outside of Kensington Gore, and the 13:00-14:00 lunchtime slots at Cadogan Hall have moved to venues elsewhere in the UK, in a gesture to spread The Proms more widely across the nation. These performances are on: 18 July (Hebrides Ensemble at The Waterfront Studios, Belfast); 25 July (piano recital in Truro’s Hall for Cornwall); 1 August (Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien at St George’s, Bristol); 15 August (Carlon Wind Quartet at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Cardiff); 22 August (Dudok Quartet Amsterdam at Liverpool’s St George’s Hall); 29 August (Claire Barnett-Jones and Simon Lepper at Bradshaw Hall, Birmingham); 5 September (Trio Gaspard at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Stevenson Hall, Glasgow). On 23 July at 19:30, SAGE, Gateshead hosts an evening Prom: Folk Connections, with music from Dvořák and John Adams.
In the early music category, apart from the aforementioned performances of Bach B minor Mass and Dido and Aeneas, there is a smattering of pieces throughout the programme (for example, Coronation anthems by Handel in Music for Royal Occasions, Prom 10, or The Sixteen’s late-night Prom on 24 August) and a full performance of Handel’s oratorio Solomon with Iestyn Davies in the title role at Prom 43 on 19 August.
Another feature of this year’s programme is music for ‘Cinderella instruments’ – those instruments rarely given the chance to shine in concerti or solo works. Works in this category include Vaughan Williams’ Tuba Concerto (Prom 39), George Walker’s Trombone Concerto (Prom 40), Kalevi Aho’s Eight Seasons (concerto for theremin and chamber orchestra, Prom 25), and, on 8 August (Prom 30), Gavin Higgins’ BBC commission, Concerto Grosso for Brass Band and Orchestra, featuring Tredegar Band and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
As always, new commissions abound, and 24 new works by the likes of Hildur Guðnadóttir (Prom 8), Sally Beamish (Hive, a harp concerto in Prom 9), Anna Thorvaldsdottir (ARCHORA, Prom 34) and Marius Neset (Geyser, Prom 63) are programmed.
In terms of music that falls outside Radio 3’s usual diet there is plenty to satisfy. Radio 1’s Relax at the Proms is the late-night Prom on 16 July, and the following evening, Prom 4 features Cynthia Erivo and the BBC Concert Orchestra. 1 August (Prom 21) sees the first Prom (From 8-Bit to Infinity) to feature music from the online/computer gaming industry. On 22 August (Prom 47) Shiléa and the Jules Buckley Orchestra celebrate Aretha Franklin’s 80th birthday with a collection of her greatest hits, and 28 August (Prom 56) sees Siyabonga Mthembu, ESKA and Metropole Orkest perform The South African Jazz Songbook.
Finally, to that celebration of the BBC’s centenary. Arguably, that the Proms continues to provide a wide-range of first-class live listening is celebration enough, but the BBC have commissioned a specific piece, The New Noise from Public Service Broadcasting (whose 2019 Prom The Race for Space was highly successful). As well as pre-recorded electronic music, the piece will involve live performance and snippets of archival material from BBC broadcasts across its century of operation.
• A full list of Proms events can be found on the BBC Proms website. General booking opens at 09:00 on Saturday 21 May.