Preview: Cathcart Spring Proms – 15 May 2008

Written by: Michael Darvell

The thirteenth concert of the Cathcart Spring Proms takes place at the Royal Albert Hall, London. It is an annual event that commemorates the man who help found what we now know as the BBC Proms. An unsung hero in the annals of classical music, Dr George Cathcart was a 19th-century ear, nose and throat specialist who had a particular interest in the problems of voice production experienced by singers. He was born in Edinburgh in 1860 and moved to London in 1891 to work at the Children’s Hospital in Great Ormond Street. He met conductor Henry Wood and businessman Robert Newman who were both keen to start promenade concerts. Cathcart had two provisos. He was an advocate of the diapason normal pitch used by continental musicians, whereas Britain favoured the higher pitch that was a strain on singers’ voices. Cathcart would put up the money for the concerts if Wood could establish the lower pitch in British orchestras and if Wood was the sole conductor.

Even now we think of The Proms as being the work of just Henry Wood, but without Cathcart they might never have taken off. The first season in 1895 was not a commercial success. Forty-two concerts, six nights a week for seven weeks was a lot to sell, and in fact the tickets didn’t sell. A few concerts brought full houses, but most made a loss. However, Cathcart persevered and by the end of the first season Henry Wood was well-known enough to carry on with further seasons. Eventually the BBC took over the responsibility and the underwriting of the costs and the Proms survive to this day. The 114th season starts on 18 July with over eighty concerts plus associated events.

Hosted by Angela Rippon, the Cathcart Spring Proms once again features hundreds of musicians and choristers, soloists and groups, including the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, the Royal Choral Society, and the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Grenadier Guards, conducted by David Arnold.

The programme encompasses new commissions, choral favourites and symphonic rock arrangements of chart-hits as well as the traditional music expected at a Prom concert. The music to be played includes ‘March to the Scaffold’ from Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, ‘Ode to Joy’ (Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 (as used in the film “Elvira Madigan”), music from Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana”, Holst’s The Planets Suite, ‘Nessun dorma’ from Puccini’s “Turandot”, Arne’s “Rule, Britannia!”, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 (‘Land of Hope and Glory’) and Hubert Parry’s famous setting of William Blake’s “Jerusalem”.

The concert also includes a tribute to Luciano Pavarotti by Wynne Evans from Welsh National Opera who will also be duetting with soprano Judith Howarth. Young Concerto Award winner Alex Stobbs will play the Mozart. Alex is currently studying at the Royal Academy of Music, despite suffering from cystic fibrosis. The evening also includes Eclipse, an all-male string quartet, and the Welsh male voice choir Cantorion. The concert also marks the last UK public performance by Pipe Major Jim Motherwell, the tenth personal piper to HM The Queen, who will be joined by the Eton College Pipers, the youngest pipe-band in the world.

Another soloist will be Richard Durrant, playing Stanley Myers’s ‘Cavatina’ (from the film “The Deer Hunter”) on the guitar made for him by English lute-maker Gary Hearn and called the Richard Durrant Concert Model. According to Richard, “this fabulous guitar not only sounds richer and more beautiful than any other I have ever picked up, but also looks weird and wonderful”. He will also play a guitar duet of music by Manuel de Falla with Yuki Osa, a third-year undergraduate from the Royal College of Music.

For the first time the Cathcart Spring Proms will be supporting the World Wide Fund for Nature, which is providing rare and exclusive footage that will be choreographed to music. The Cathcart Spring Proms should provide an evening of diverse music to appeal to all tastes.



  • The Cathcart Spring Proms at Royal Albert Hall on Thursday 15 May 2008 at 8 p.m.
  • Tickets £18.50-£46.00 on 020 7589 8212
  • Royal Albert Hall
  • Spring Proms

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