Opera + Classical Music Features

Preview: BBC Proms 2024 – wider still and wider



A round up of this year’s forthcoming BBC Proms season, including concerts marking the 200th anniversary of Bruckner’s birth (and the first performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony the same year), the 100th anniversary of Busoni’s death, celebrations of choral music and Czech music, 24 premières and a continuation of the expansion of the festival into other parts of the UK.

BBC Proms 2024

BBC Proms 2024 (Image: BBC)

This year’s season sees the Proms programme expanding its musical offering even more than ever, not only giving platform time to composers who have been somewhat sidelined by history (Ferruccio Busoni, Julius Eastman, Louise Farrenc, Germaine Tailleferre, for example), but continuing to spotlight genres outside the ‘classical’: lounge music from Henry Mancini; late 1970s disco; Tuareg music from Mali; recent television and cinema soundtracks.

There will, then, be something there for everyone. Certainly, the big names are out in force. The Berlin Philharmonic (under Kirill Petrenko) makes its only two UK appearances this year in Proms 55 and 56. Simon Rattle returns, with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, of which he is the new Chief Conductor (Proms 61 and 62). Also making a reappearance at the Proms, doubly welcome in this time of strife in the Middle East, is the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (whose members are drawn from both Israeli and Palestinian backgrounds) under their conductor Daniel Barenboim, whose Prom (31) features virtuoso violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. The astonishingly talented Kanneh-Mason family are back in force in concerts featuring Isata (Prom 1), Braimah and Sheku (Proms 20 and 22). Highly respected soloists Leonidas Kavakos (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello) and Emanuel Ax (piano) join together for a late afternoon of trios (Prom 54). On the non-classical side there are starry names too: Florence & The Machine present Symphony of Lungs (Prom 69), and Sam Smith makes their only UK appearance this year for In the Lonely Hour (Prom 18). The long-established vocal group The Swingles perform on 30 July (Prom 15), and well-known faces from CBeebies (including Ashley Joseph, Andy Day and Maddie Moate) take the stage for two CBeebies Proms (11 and 12).

This year also sees a greater spread of the ‘Proms diaspora’ with an even more packed weekend at The Glasshouse International Centre for Music (formerly Sage), Gateshead, including appearances by the Royal Northern Sinfonia (26, 27, 28 July), multi-instrumentalist Jordan Rakei (27 July) and violinist Daniel Pioro (28 July). Other mini-festivals are being held in Bristol (24, 25 and 26 August) and Nottingham (7 and 8 September). The Bristol ‘weekend’ features Paraorchestra, an ensemble of disabled and non-disabled players (24 August), and the Nottingham weekend includes a concert spotlighting works by winners of the BBC Young Composer competition (7 September). Aberdeen, Belfast, and Newport represent the other UK nations on 1 September, 11 August and 4 August respectively.

Anniversaries

Anton Bruckner was born 200 years ago, and this year’s season includes seven of his works, including three of the symphonies: the first (Prom 14) alongside Beethoven’s ‘Emperor Concerto’; the fourth (Prom 61) conducted by Simon Rattle; and the fifth (Prom 56), performed by the Berlin Philharmonic. Prom 56 also features three of the composer’s short motets sung by the BBC Singers. The composer’s setting of Psalm 150 enjoys a performance on the opening night (Prom 1).

Ferruccio Busoni is largely known for one piece: his piano transcription of the Chaconne from Bach’s second partita for solo violin. There are around 300 other works, though, most of them original compositions, and to mark the composer’s death in 1924, there are Proms performances of his 1897 Comedy Overture (Prom 39) and (featuring pianist Benjamin Grosvenor) his 1904 Piano Concerto (Prom 23).

2024 is ‘The Year of Czech Music’, and to mark this, there are works by Dvořák (Prom 39, and on 26 July at Gateshead) and Smetana (Prom 55) as well as two Proms dedicated to Czech composers featuring the Czech Philharmonic under Jakub Hrůša (Proms 49 and 50).

This year also sees the centenary of the founding of the BBC Singers, and the current lineup features in eight Proms, including a dedicated concert, BBC Singers at 100 at Bristol Beacon. In celebration of the art of choral singing, 7 September is ‘Choral Day’, in which other choral groups (including The Sixteen and Jason Max Ferdinand Singers) present three Proms (63, 64, 65) culminating in a multi-choir performance of Handel’s Messiah.

Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is 200 years old! The renowned Aurora Orchestra get their party clothes on for one of their ‘from memory’ performances of the work in Prom 42.

The iconic folk-rock singer/songwriter Nick Drake sadly died 50 years ago, and, in celebration of his life and extraordinary talent, Jules Buckley brings together a selection of artists to join the BBC Symphony Orchestra on 24 July (Prom 8). A century since Sarah Vaughan’s birth is marked with a Prom dedicated to her music on 28 July (Prom 13).

Large choral works

These include James MacMillan’s Timotheus, Bacchus and Cecilia (Prom 4) Verdi’s Requiem (Prom 6), Holst’s rarely performed The Cloud Messenger (Prom 19) Britten’s War Requiem (Prom 37), Bach’s St John Passion (Prom 40) and Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass (Prom 50).

Opera

Another eclectic selection this year, albeit that it features a major work in the genre, Bizet’s Carmen (Prom 52) in a semi-staged performance from Glyndebourne, with Rihab Chaleb in the title role. Other performances are Purcell’s semi-opera The Fairy Queen (Prom 24) and Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Prom 68) in a semi-staged performance by Garsington Opera.

Early Music

Pickings are a little slim this year. The ever-popular Jakub Józef Orlińsky presents a late-night Prom of Italian Baroque music (Prom 7), and there some keyboard works by Bach (Proms 29 and 71), but most of the early music sits in the larger works mentioned elsewhere (Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, Bach’s St John Passion, Handel’s Messiah).

New works

This year’s programme includes 24 premières of which 9 are commissions/co-commissions. These include Melissa Dunphy’s’s Totality (Prom 3), Anna Clyne’s The Gorgeous Nothing (Prom 15), and Cassandra Miller’s Viola Concerto I cannot love without trembling (Prom 16). Household names of the contemporary genre Eric Whitacre and Thomas Adès also have premières this season: Whitacre’s Eternity in an Hour (Prom 60) and Adès’ Aquifer (Prom 61).

Music from outside the European ‘classical’ tradition

For many years now, the Proms has expanded its reach beyond the standard ‘classical’ fare, and this year is no exception. Aside from Proms already mentioned (Sam Smith, Sarah Vaughan, Florence & The Machine) other offerings include: Tuareg music from Mali by Tinariwen (Prom 51); lounge music from Henry Mancini, Burt Bacharach and others (Prom 57) and soundtracks from recent films (Everything Everywhere All at Once, Tár, All Quiet on the Western Front) in Reel Change: Soundtracks at the Cutting Edge.

Crowd-pleasers

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 in Prom 46; other much loved works include Verdi’s Requiem (Prom 6), Fauré’s Requiem (Prom 59), Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (Prom 1) and ‘Emperor’ Concerto (Prom 14) Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, doubly popular, as it features John Wilson and Sinfonia of London (Prom 21) Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto (Prom 36), Elgar’s Cello Concerto (Prom 19) and Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathéthique’ Symphony (Prom 66).

Unusual programmes worth exploring

Here are a few suggestions:

Julius Eastman’s 2nd Symphony (Prom 45). In 1983, troubled American composer Julius Eastman presented his ex-boyfriend with the score of this symphony ‘The Faithful Friend: The Lover Friend’s Love for the Beloved’. It’s a unique work from a unique (and sadly ignored) composer.

Busoni’s gargantuan piano concerto, whose five lengthy and disparate movements make it one of the longest ever piano concertos. It concludes with a chorus of tenors and basses describing Aladdin’s cave (Prom 23)

Germaine Tailleferre was the only female member of Les Six, a group of French composers working in the early 20th century (they included the more famous Poulenc, Honegger and Milhaud). Her Little Suite for Orchestra features in the Gateshead Prom on 26 July.

Louise Farrenc is another neglected composer. A contemporary of Robert Schumann’s she came from a family of well-known Parisian sculptors. Her 3rd Symphony receives its first Proms performance on 13 September (Prom 72)

Hear ‘the voice of Jupiter’, the Royal Albert Hall’s mighty Henry Willis organ on the morning of 10 August. Jonathan Scott lets it out of its cage for original works for the instrument as well as transcriptions of Wagner and Tchaikovsky

Celebrate 100 years of American jazz with music by Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams and contemporary legend Anthony Braxton (who’ll be playing sax) at Prom 35

Get your glad rags on for a Saturday night blast from the past in Everybody Dance!, orchestrations of disco classics from the late 70s (Prom 2)

• Full details of this year’s programme can be found here.

General booking for the Proms opens at 09.00 on Thursday 16 May.

• Every Prom is broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, and more than ever this year will be televised for later broadcast.


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