The BBC Proms: A History

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Reviewed by: Isa Lavahun

Reviewed: 16 July, 2010
Venue: NULL

From 1895 to Today

Robert Newman and Henry Wood staged the very first of “Mr Newman’s Promenade Concerts” (the event we now know as The BBC Proms) over 100 years ago, back in August 1895.

Henry, a classical music fanatic, and Robert, manager of London’s Queen’s Hall, shared a vision; they wanted to host a series of concerts, to educate and introduce the public to a wider range of music than they were used to, within an informal atmosphere and at a low cost.

The Proms in the early days were, in many ways, different to what they are now, with smoking permitted (so long as matches were not struck during vocal performances!) and prices for a single concert ticket just the equivalent of 5p. However, the promotion of new, young talent and the ethos of bringing classical music to a wider audience were important aspects from the start – and remain so today.

The BBC’s involvement in the Proms came about in 1927 when the publishing company Chappell and Co., who had been funding the Proms for a number of years, withdrew its financial support. In fact, the BBC’s involvement signalled a perfect partnership, given the Corporation’s promise “to inform, educate and entertain” the public.

Today, the BBC Proms comprise over 80 concerts, hosted mostly at the Royal Albert Hall, with some at Cadogan Hall, and anyone can listen or watch via the radio, the internet and the TV. The 2010 Proms Season is set to be the busiest yet, with a spectacular Last Night event, on 11 September, featuring Jiří Bělohlávek, Renée Fleming and Maxim Rysanov performing favourites from Richard Strauss, Dvořák and Smetana, Tchaikovsky and Wagner amongst others. Many Prom concerts sell-out before the event takes place and the Last Night is probably the most in-demand event of the entire season.

Landmarks and Highlights

1895: The first Proms concert takes place in August, with Henry Wood conducting The Queen’s Hall Orchestra

1915: Chappell and Co. start funding the Proms, after Robert Newman hits financial troubles, and re-name’s the orchestra The New Queen’s Hall Orchestra

1927: Chappell and Co. Withdraws financial support and is replaced by the BBC

1930: The BBC Symphony Orchestra is formed and replaces The New Queen’s Hall Orchestra

1940-41: Private sponsors fund the Proms and the London Symphony Orchestra plays throughout World War II

1944: The Proms are 50 years old and Henry Wood is 75. Henry dies three weeks after his last performance, just missing his 50th Prom

1950s: More and more orchestras take part, with Manchester’s Hallé Orchestra becoming the first based outside of London to play. It is swiftly followed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the Liverpool Philharmonic

1959: William Glock becomes BBC Controller of Music and changes the identity of the proms rapidly – incorporating more experimental performances and those from around the world on a more regular basis

1966: The Moscow Radio Orchestra becomes the first foreign group to play and is soon followed by the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Czech Philharmonic

1961: The first complete opera performance takes place with Glyndebourne Opera performing Mozart’s Don Giovanni

1994: The Proms is 100 years old

1996: Proms in the Park is launched along with Proms Chamber Music and the Proms Lecture

2002: The Proms becomes more accessible than ever before, with more TV broadcasts, web access and interactivity

2005: The first Proms WAP site is launched, allowing Prommers access to information on their mobile phones

2010: The BBC Proms continues to grow and entertain and educate the public – as per Robert Newman and Henry Wood’s original wishes!

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