The BBC Proms 2012: A Preview

BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall

The Sir Henry Wood Proms season is upon us once more and I will be reviewing some of the concerts this year. Therefore, to get everyone in the mood for the largest classical music festival in the world here is my preview and a few concert recommendations too.
The festival starts this week on Friday 13th July and runs to September 8th. There will be over 70 events and the concerts are held at several venues including Royal Albert Hall, Cadogan Hall, Royal College of Music as well as the Proms in the Park in Hyde Park and other outdoor venues across the country.

Perusing the Prom guide it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer amount of music on offer; there really is something for everyone. The festival becomes more eclectic every year and this is probably out of necessity as much as diversity. The Proms does attract large audiences and ‘promming’ is more popular than ever. Promenaders traditionally stand in certain areas of the hall during performances (after queuing to buy tickets). There are over 1400 standing places available for most concerts and at £5.00 a ticket that is surely a bargain!

I’m delighted to see a generous smattering of English music starting with the first night; Sarah Connolly (mezzo), Susan Gritton (soprano) and Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone) are joined by the BBC Symphony Orchestra for works by Mark-Anthony Turnage, Elgar, Delius and Tippett. Other performances fearturing British music are the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and conductor Tadaaki Otaka who will perform Vaughan Williams, Ireland, Delius and Walton with bass-baritone, Jonathan Lemalu. There is a complete performance of Elgar’s beautiful Apostles and a prom dedicated to Vaughan William’s Symphonies.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Yeoman of the Guard has an airing and there are many complete opera and choral performances; Berlioz’s Les Trojans and Requiem; Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro; Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande; Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus; Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder; Bach’s B minor Mass; Prokofiev’s Cinderella; Bernstein’s Mass; Britten’s Peter Grimes. John Wilson and his wonderful orchestra have two proms; the first is a semi-staged performance of Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady and the second, The Broadway Sound. A celebration evening of Ivor Novello should prove popular too.

Family concerts are well represented and my favourite is the Wallace and Gromit prom entitled Musical Marvels! There are many events for famillies including sessions held at the Royal College of Music where children are encouraged to bring instruments and join in.

Jazz and World music are given more than a glance, too; The National Youth Jazz Orchestra will perform and the BBC World Routes Academy presents two leading accordionists from Colombia playing traditional and modern Latin American sounds. The Kronos Quartet have a late night prom featuring folk inspired music by Omar Souleyman, Sofia Gubaidulina, Ben Johnston, and Aleksandra Vrebalov.

My highlights include the complete cycle of Beethoven Symphonies performed by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim. Many of the chamber concerts in Cadogan Hall look interesting; I am hoping to attend the Art of Fugue by J.S.Bach arranged and performed by harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani and the Academy of Ancient Music. Violinist Nicola Benedetti performs a chamber concert with friends including works by Brahms, Bach and Korngold, she also plays at the Last Night of the Proms. Flamboyant organist, Cameron Carpenter plays programmes of J.S. Bach on the RAH’s magnificent organ but the pick of the chamber concerts for me has to be Alice Coote’s wonderful programme of French songs with Julius Drake accompanying. Alice makes three appearances at the proms this year.

Marking the centenary of American composer John Cage’s birth is a whole evening of his revolutionary music which is conducted and curated by Ilan Volkov. Not on my list of favourites, but it will doubtless be a popular event. Interesting late night proms; 1612 Italian Vespers performed by  I Fagiolini and Robert Hollingworth and conductor/composer Eric Whitacre with the BBC Singers and his own ensemble.

Pianists are rather under represented this year but Joanna MacGregor performs Hugh Wood’s Piano Concerto and Imogen Cooper plays Ravel’s exquisite Piano Concerto in G major, and both are worth hearing. If you are unable to attend the proms in person you can always hear all the performances live on BBC Radio 3 and many will also be on BBC 2 and BBC 4.

 Happy promming!


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Tim Brosnan says:

    Hi Mel – First year in quite a few that I’ll be missing at least a few days at The Proms. I’ll have to live vicariously through you and the broadcasts on the Beeb. Cheers!

    1. Hi Tim – shame you can’t get to the proms but as you say, you can enjoy it all on the beeb! 🙂

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