With 90 concerts and over 120 events, the BBC Proms 2006 are the highpoint of the classical music calendar.
Celebrations of the anniversaries of Mozart and Shostakovich, a focus on new music and a visit by the Queen are three important aspects of the programming this year.
And accessibility is as significant as ever, with the last three weeks of the concerts being shown live on BBC Four, and ten others recorded for broadcast on BBC One and Two.
The First Night will also be made available to rewatch for up to seven days after the broadcast via BBC Two’s new broadband site. As ever, all the concerts will be broadcast live on Radio 3, and for the first time available to listen to again for up to a week after each concert.
Only the BBC can mastermind this kind of project, and in these culturally barren times it’s a wonder that the Proms are still here, let alone growing.
Three complete operas will be given in concert, all of them special. Glyndebourne‘s annual visit brings Nick Hytner‘s new production of Mozart’s Cos fan tutte, starring the sumptuous-voiced soprano Miah Persson, while Valery Gergiev brings his Kirov forces for Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, celebrating the anniversaries of these two composers. And the third instalment of the Proms Ring Cycle sees Christoph Eschenbach conducting his Paris forces (including Sergei Leiferkus as Alberich) in Siegfried.
The new Principal Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jir Belohlvek, takes the reins for four concerts including the First Night, which brings together works by Mozart and Shostakovich, plus two Czech composers with whom Belohlvek is associated. And Mark Elder conducts the Last Night of the Proms for only the second time in his life, as well as making an appearance with his Hall orchestra.
Important singers are in abundance this year, with Susan Graham and Juan Diego Florez making long-awaited Proms debuts. Soile Isokoski sings Strauss’ Four Last Songs, Sir Roger Norrington leads a varied evening of Mozart arias sung by the likes of Ian Bostridge and Simon Keenlyside, Bryn Terfel returns in Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast and Dame Felicity Lott sings Ravel’s Shhrazade.
The Mozart 250th birthday celebrations are extensive, with 60 pieces spread over 25 concerts. Highlights include the intriguing UK premiere of a new completion of the Mass in C Minor by Robert Levin, conducted by Charles Mackerras, the double piano concerto with Paul Lewis and Till Fellner, and violinist Maxim Vengerov conducting four works, including the Sinfonia Concertante, from the violin.
New music is as well represented as ever, with six world premieres of works by Julian Anderson, James Dillon, Dai Fujikura, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Colin Matthews and Ian Wilson. And Proms 37 and 38 are dedicated entirely to the music of Steve Reich and John Adams respectively.
Young people are as welcome as ever, with Sir Colin Davis conducting the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in music by Sibelius and Stravinsky, for instance. A special day-long event called The Voice will involve huge forces, both professional and amateur, who will create and perform a new work called We Turned on the Light. Composed by Orlando Gough, it deals with the issue of climate change, and 100 of the singers will be drawn from the ranks of the Prommers themselves.
The tradition of bringing the world’s great orchestras to the Proms is continued with a two-day visit from Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. Bernard Haitink leads two choruses and the BBC SO in Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, and Christopher Eschenbach brings The Philadelphia Orchestra for the annual performance of the Beethoven Choral Symphony.
In an effort to reach out to the public more, the BBC SO will present two family-friendly concerts in Reading. 3,500 children are expected to be involved in an imaginative project that uses big screens, complex lighting and an innovative staging, to increase accessibility.
The Queen will visit the Proms for only the third time in her reign, in honour of her 80th birthday. Peter Maxwell Davies has written a new work with Andrew Motion for massed children’s choirs, and Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto will be played by child prodigy Julian Bliss.
Finally, the Algerian legend Cheikha Rimitti (now 83) and Spain’s Radio Tarifa make Proms debuts in a late-night concert on August 4.
It’s one of the strongest Proms programmes to date, and with the open-air events in five UK locations for the last night, more people than ever will be able to experience the magic.