Opera + Classical Music Features

Classical Spotlight: Glyndebourne’s General Director goes to the Proms


Glyndebourne (Photo: Marc Eskenazi)

The appointment of David Pickard as Director of the BBC Proms is a move which is sure to delight and dismay. Delight, because anyone who feared that the world’s largest classical music festival was going too far down the road of dubious ‘accessibility’ and ‘relevance’ can feel secure in the knowledge that the new Director knows all about how to involve new audiences without insulting the established ones. Dismay, because those who have enjoyed Glyndebourne’s seasons under his management will find it hard to imagine anyone more capable of combining the most exalted artistic standards with innovation both in production and outreach.

David Pickard joined Glyndebourne in 2001 after an already distinguished career in music administration, including the post of Chief Executive of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, which he held from 1993-2001 – years during which the orchestra doubled its number of concerts and achieved the highest critical praise. Since his appointment to Glyndebourne, the Festival has built on its international reputation for artistic excellence, and in collaboration with Gus Christie, Vladimir Jurowski and Robin Ticciati, he has created many superb seasons, consistently exceeding box office sales of 95% of capacity, and including a string of award-winning productions such as those of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Purcell’s The Fairy Queen and Britten’s Billy Budd.

However, his tenure has been characterized not just by these successes but by the ambition to make the experience that is Glyndebourne available to as many opera-lovers as possible, and to debunk the notion that the house is only for the rich and privileged. To that end, he was instrumental in Glyndebourne becoming the first UK opera company to screen its work in cinemas, and also the first to stream its operas for free online. Subsidized tickets for those aged 16-25, an annual programme of Performances for Schools and such innovations as the ‘community opera’ Imago, which won an RPS award last year, are further evidence of the success of his approach.

Gus Christie said that David Pickard “…has understood our audiences while not being afraid to take some risks along the way” and it’s exactly that style which the BBC Proms will surely welcome. Picard himself sums Glyndebourne up as a house that “…has never been afraid to change and to innovate, whilst holding on tight to its founding principle of excellence in everything it does”, which is precisely what is needed at the Proms in taking forward the vision of its founders. That he is very much a man of the internet age, with an astute understanding of how younger audiences – in particular, but by no means exclusively – select, appreciate and read about their ‘live’ events, is certain to be another string to his bow.

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Classical Spotlight: Glyndebourne’s General Director goes to the Proms