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To Hull and back, the Proms are now in full swing...

Classical Source welcomes David Pickard – Director, BBC Proms – as the guest writer of the August editorial…

It is 122 years since the first season of 'Henry Wood Promenade Concerts' and 90 since the BBC took over responsibility for the festival. Three weeks into my second season at the Proms and I’m reminded again and again how lucky we are to have this vibrant festival which still upholds the same founding principles of those very first concerts: to bring the best of classical music to the widest possible audiences.

David Pickard, Director, BBC Proms
Photograph: Thane Bruckland

If last year seemed dauntingly new to me, this time around I have the benefit of knowing what it feels like to be immersed in eight weeks of music with barely a moment to pause for breath. As I listen to each concert, I am reminded of the conversations that took place over the previous 18 months or even longer, that shaped the final programme. The discussions about soloists, the negotiations that took place over this or that piece, the need to balance new work with more familiar repertoire, the themes that it seemed interesting to explore. Every concert has its own back-story to tell and it’s a fantastic feeling seeing the finished result.

But even if the plans may be familiar to me, the programme can still throw up surprises – either unscripted moments, or strange, unintended juxtapositions. I for one was not expecting to see dancing at Cadogan Hall (as part of the Finnish Folk Prom), hear an unfamiliar version of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ (Nicola Benedetti’s encore) or find myself listening to Handel’s Water Music in Hull with the sounds of a nearby folk festival drifting across the city. And when planning the programmes, it had it had never occurred to me that in one day (July 25) we would be presenting two completely different composers (Vaughan Williams and Scott Walker) whose work was separated by less than a decade. As I write, we have just completed a splendid Baroque festival within a festival – Monteverdi, Handel and Bach on consecutive nights – all a happy coincidence of our planning.

And if you haven’t visited us yet this summer there’s still plenty more to choose from with at least a concert every day until Saturday September 9! Next week will see Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s second Prom of the season – conducting the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique in Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust, and we’ll present our second ‘Proms at…’ concert of the season – the BBC Singers and Nash Ensemble performing a programme of Palestrina and Judith Weir (a world premiere) at Southwark Cathedral. We continue our exploration of the music of the Russian Revolution with Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil (Vespers) by the Latvian Radio Choir and present our “Reformation Day” – giving audiences the chance to immerse themselves in the music that stemmed from this time of radical religious and political transformation.

Just as Henry Wood enjoyed mixing the familiar with the unfamiliar, the serious with the light-hearted, so we continue to explore a huge range of different music this year – from jazz tributes to Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie (tonight!), world music from India and Pakistan; two special staged performances of the classic musical 'Oklahoma!'; and a tribute to Philip Glass in his 80th year with a live performance of his album 'Passages', which he created with Ravi Shankar.

There’s so much more, and there really is something for everyone.

As always, if you didn’t manage to get the seated tickets for the Prom you wanted there are always up to 1,350 Promming (standing) tickets available on the day for just £6, and it's also always worth checking the Royal Albert Hall website for returns as seats can come back on sale. And if you have time don’t forget that there’s a Proms Extra event before each and every concert at the Royal Albert Hall – they’re completely free and a brilliant way to discover more about classical music.

And if you can’t make it to the hall, as always, every Prom is broadcast live on Radio 3 – this year as a lossless audio stream, allowing listeners to experience the concerts as if they were present in the Albert Hall – and many are broadcast on television.

Whatever, and however, you experience the Proms, I hope you have a wonderful summer of music.

David Pickard
For The Classical Source
4 August 2017
As for numerous previous seasons, Classical Source plans to review every concert of this year’s BBC Proms


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