Opera + Classical Music Features

BBC Proms 2023 Preview – back to normal Part 2

A round up of this year’s forthcoming BBC Proms season, that includes Simon Rattle’s swan song, celebrations of Rachmaninov, Pejačević, Ligeti, Byrd and Coleridge-Taylor, 23 premieres and an expansion into all four nations of the UK.

BBC Proms 2023

BBC Proms 2023 (Image: BBC)

Last year’s Proms season was full of fireworks in celebration of a return to normal after curtailed listening during the pandemic. This year, it’s a return to a different kind of normal, and the programme, at first glance, feels a little tame; there are crowd-pleasers there, for sure, that will put bums on seats, but some of the rest of the programming feels a little dry, a little worthy – as if put together by a well-meaning but somewhat academic algorithm.

Nonetheless, there will be something there for everyone, Certainly, the big names are out in force. Simon Rattle, who is returning to Germany, makes a departure Proms appearance conducting the London Symphony Orchestra for Mahler 9 on 27 August. András Schiff makes a return to play concerti by Schumann and Bartók on 12 and 13 August. Rufus Wainwright brings his signature brand of ‘Baroque pop’ back to the Proms for two concerts (‘Want One‘ and ‘Want Two‘) on 5 September Guest ensembles include: Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Pekka Kuusisto for a programme of Beethoven Tarrodi and Vivaldi on 16 July; Boston Symphony Orchestra under Andris Nelsons for Strauss and Prokofiev on 25 July and Ravel/Simon/Gershwin on 26 July; Pygmalion under Raphaël Pichon for an interestingly interspersed version of Mozart’s Requiem on 7 September

This year also sees a greater spread of the ‘Proms diaspora’ with a whole weekend of Proms at Sage, Gateshead, including appearances by Self Esteem (21 July), the Royal Northern Sinfonia (22 July), Reginald Mobley (23 July) and finishing with CBeebies’ ‘Ocean Adventure’ (23 July). Cities in each of the four UK nations host at least one chamber concert: Stile Antico in Derry/Londonderry on 15 July; The Gesualdo Six in Aberystwyth on 30 July; Laura van der Heijden/Jâms Coleman in Dewsbury on 6 August; Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective in Truro on 27 August; Heath Quartet/Steven Osborne in Perth on 3 September. On 8 September the Proms go to the circus in a big-top themed concert at Great Yarmouth’s Hippodrome.


Featured composers

Sergey Rachmaninov was born 150 years ago, and this year’s season includes eleven of his works, including three of the four piano concerti (18 July, Stephen Hough6 August, Benjamin Grosvenor; 8 September, Nobuyuki Tsujii) as well as his almost-concerto ‘Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini’ (4 August, Yuja Wang). All three symphonies are also on the menu on 2 August, 9 August, and 31 August. His choral work The Bells features in a Prom from the visiting Hallé orchestra and choir on 26 July.

György Ligeti was born 100 years ago, and to mark this seven of his works are being performed, including his 1963-5 Requiem and Lux Aeterna featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey on 11 August, and his violin concerto and Concert Românesc (20 August). 

The first prominent female Croatian composer Dora Pejačević died 100 years ago, and six of her works feature, including the Symphony in F-sharp minor (14 August).

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the deaths of two of the great English Renaissance composers William Byrd and Thomas Weelkes. These are being marked by Proms in Derry/Londonderry on 15 July and in Aberystwyth on 30 July.

This year’s Prom programme also features music by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Britain’s first significant composer with African origins. Sadly, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast (hugely popular in its time, and eminently suited to a big Royal Albert Hall revival) is not scheduled, but some of his delightful chamber works are, including his Four Noveletten for String Orchestra performed by Chineke!, a champion of the composer’s works, on 1 September, and his 1893 Nonet in Truro on 27 August.


Large choral works

These include Orff’s Carmina Burana (27 July), Rachmaninov’s The Bells (26 July), Mendelssohn’s Elijah (29 July) and Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast (4 August), and Mahler 3 (19 August) and Beethoven 9 (23 July) both have choral components.



This year’s selection is somewhat eclectic, and begins with the Glyndebourne Festival’s production (semi-staged) of Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites (7 August); others are Kurtág’s Endgame (17 August), Schumann’s rarely performed Das Paradies und die Peri (22 August) and Berlioz’s epic The Trojans (3 September).


Early Music

Aside from music celebrating the anniversaries of Byrd and Weelkes mentioned above, pickings are a little slim this year. The main event is probably Handel’s oratorio Samson on 23 August, but Iestyn Davies and The English Concert bring us some late-night Bach cantatas on 25 August, and on 6 August John Butt and the Dunedin Consort present an interesting programme of short works by J. S. and C. P. E. Bach, along with Mozart’s Mass in C minor completed earlier this century by Clemens Kemme.


New works

This year’s programme includes 23 premieres of which 15 are commissions/co-commissions. These include Helen Grime’s Meditations on Joy (23 July), Ivan Karabits’s Concerto for Orchestra No. 1, ‘A Musical Gift to Kyiv’ (2 August), and Begin Afresh from Master of the King’s Music Judith Weir (24 August). On 29 August, Jon Hopkins  – whose work has been nominated for Grammy, Mercury and Ivor Novello awards – makes his BBC Proms debut with a world premiere of a 22 minute psychedelic drone epic for orchestra, choir and piano, with the BBCSO and the BBC Singers under Jules Buckley. 


Music from outside the European ‘classical’ tradition

For some years now, the Proms has expanded its reach beyond the standard ‘classical’ fare, and this year is no exception. There are celebrations of Northern Soul by the BBC Concert Orchestra on 15 July, and jazz from Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Jazz Orchestra and Dee Dee Bridgewater at the late-night Prom on 1 August.  Music of very different traditions can be heard in late-night burst of Portuguese Fado from Mariza on 21 July, and a Proms tribute to the Nightingale of India: ‘Queen of Melody’ Lata Mangheshkar on 28 July.



The Proms are famous for their ‘popular classics’ – accessible pieces that even those who think they don’t like ‘classical music’ enjoy listening to – and there is no shortage this year. Holst’s The Planets makes one of its regular appearances on 8 August;  other much loved works include Sibelius’ Finlandia and Grieg’s Piano Concerto (14 July), Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – interestingly interspersed with folksong improvisations (16 July) – Elgar’s Enigma Variations (25 July), Orff’s Carmina Burana (27 July), and Dvořák’s ‘New World’ symphony (30 August).


Quirky programmes worth exploring

As always, this year’s Proms contain a few concerts that are difficult to categorise exactly, but whose slightly left-field characters make them worth taking a punt. Here are a few suggestions:

The impressive Aurora Orchestra perform Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring from memory in Proms 62 and 63 on 2 September

The Horrible Histories team join with the English National Opera orchestra and chorus to present ‘Orrible Opera in Proms 10 and 11 on 22 July

The TikTok sensation Anna Lapwood presents Late Night: Moon and Stars, a programme of organ music on 25 July

On the afternoon of 13 August, Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra bring their famous Audience Choice concert to the Royal Albert Hall. Audience members choose, on the day, items from a list of over 200 pieces, which are then played at a moment’s notice. 

• Full details of this year’s programme can be found here.
General booking for the Proms opens at 09.00 on Saturday 13 May.

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