Some thoughts on the 2013 BBC Proms

Booking for the BBC Proms this year has only just started but by all accounts, tickets are being scooped up pretty quickly. So with this in mind, I duly purchased a Prom Guide to see what was on offer this year. I haven’t been to a Prom concert for years, not because I don’t enjoy them, quite the contrary, I think they are an integral and vital part of the UK concert scene, but I rather over-dosed on them a few years ago. As a young student at the RCM, I was given free tickets to the Proms, in fact all students were offered tickets but because so many went home or were out of London for the holidays, there was always a surplus supply. So I went three or four times a week which was a real privilege, but after a good few years I felt I had been there and done that. However, this year I’m determined to make the effort and attend a few of the dazzling concerts on display.

The Proms festival is without doubt the foremost classical music festival in the world. The 2013 festival looks to be another bumper year with so many interesting programmes making it difficult to know where to start, so I will just pick out my favourites.

There is a distinct emphasis on Wagner and Britten as is to be expected, celebrating the respective anniversaries of these composers; a complete performance of the Ring Cycle which is sure to be a highlight, as is the inclusion of Britten’s works in no less than 12 Prom concerts. Billy Budd will be performed in its entirety and there will be performances of Phaedra, Sinfonia da Requiem, the Violin Concerto and Les Illuminations. Tchaikovsky too is featured, with performances including a complete cycle of his symphonies, and in the centenary of Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski’s birth, there are several Prom concerts dedicated to his music and the music of his Polish contemporaries too. Tippett’s music is also given prominence, as is that of Granville Bantock.

As always, I’m interested in piano music, so my concert choices will always feature a piano concerto or two. When I perused the piano concertos and recitals (which are heavily accentuated as always at the Proms), I was delighted to note that I had interviewed (in my series Classical Conversations) many of the pianists appearing this year.

Stephen Hough opens the Proms with what will be a stupendous performance of Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody and he also performs Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, later on in the season too. Imogen Cooper features in a Britten song recital (with singers Christianne Stotijn, James Gilchrist and Christoph Denoth), and plays Schubert duets with Paul Lewis in the last of the late night Prom concerts. Paul also performs Mozart’s Piano Concerto K.503 in C major, and Noriko Ogawa and Kathryn Stott will play Malcolm Arnold’s Piano Concerto for Two Pianos (three hands). Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto will be the work with which Ukrainian pianist, Valentina Lisitsa will make her Proms debut.

Other interesting offerings; Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments with soloist Peter Serkin, and Rachmaninov’s titanic Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor with wonderful Russian virtuoso, Nikolai Lugansky. Rachmaninov’s ever popular Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor features Japanese pianist, Nobuyuki Tsujii and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet plays Prokofiev’s magnificent Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor. Anika Vavic will be the soloist in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.3 in C major, and Canadian pianist Louis Lortie performs Lutoslawski’s Piano Concerto. Mitsuko Uchida fans will be delighted to note her performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 in G major and Leeds competition winner, Sunwook Kim will play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor. Dashing French pianist, Jean-Yves Thibaudet will no doubt sparkle in Ravel’s ravishing Piano Concerto in G major and Alexander Melnikov plays Shostakovich’s beautiful Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major. Finally, my pick of the piano soloists; the stunning young pianist, Daniil Trifonov, playing Glazunov’s Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat major.

I have, of course, left out a whole array of fabulous soloists, orchestras and conductors including soloists Vadim Repin (probably my favourite violinist), Joshua Bell, Midori, Janine Jansen, Nigel Kennedy, Tine Thing Helseth, Alison Balsom, Sarah Connolly, Joyce DiDonato, Joseph Calleja, Ian Bostridge and many others. It’s wonderful that Marin Alsop is conducting the last night; the first woman in the history of the Proms to do so.

Much fuss has already been made about the inclusion of other musical genres this year; lighter music (John Wilson and his orchestra go from strength to strength, and this year their Prom concert is entitled, Hollywood Rhapsody Prom), Gospel music, World music, Jazz (jazz pianist, Django Bates’ Prom looks fascinating), Dr Who concerts and performances for children, and this year for the first time, the Proms will feature Rap, R&B and Soul music too (the Urban Classic Prom).

The purists will always argue that this type of music shouldn’t be featured in a classical music festival but I’ve never been a purist. The Proms has to change and grow with trends in society if it’s to remain current and of interest to the general public. If music is well-played and presented then why shouldn’t it be featured albeit in a small way? This festival is largely classical and other styles are novelty events, enabling the Proms to offer something for everybody.


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.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi Mel, thanks – you’ve done some of the work for me as I’d not yet had a chance to go through the full programme! Hasn’t Lang Lang performed at a few pop-music festivals? I am sure he has but I can’t think which ones – don’t think it was Glastonbury- maybe another reader knows. I know he is also sometimes controversial for the purists but I think he is doing a good job of opening up classical music to a wider audience, particularly in China where he is such a celebrity it is frightening! Anyway, thanks again for the pointers and maybe see you there! 🙂

    1. Hi Rebecca, I think Lang Lang has performed at some pop festivals! Yes, but not sure if any classical artist has performed at Glastonbury? Would be interesting to find out. Lang Lang has done a fantastic job in China…it’s amazing what he has done 🙂

  2. isdigby says:

    I believe John Williams has played at Glastonbury and indeed there has been a Classical music tent there.

    1. Yes you’re probably right….I did hear something about classical music being featured at Glastonbury occasionally!

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