The BBC Promenade concerts are always an important feature in any music lover’s calendar, and it’s a great pleasure to highlight the 2014 programme. The concerts start on July 18th and run for nearly two months; 76 concerts in over 58 days to be precise! What a feat of organisation, requiring amazing artistic vision and imagination. The Proms is the largest classical music festival in the world, this year is the 120th Proms season, and most of the concerts are held at the stately Royal Albert Hall in Kensington, London.
The first Proms concert took place on 10 August 1895 and was held at the newly built Queen’s Hall in London. It was the brainchild of impresario Robert Newman (who was the manager of the Queen’s Hall), who met with Henry Wood (whom the Festival was eventually named after) at Queen’s Hall one spring morning in 1894 to talk about the project. ‘I am going to run nightly concerts to train the public in easy stages,’ he explained. ‘Popular at first, gradually raising the standard until I have created a public for classical and modern music.’ In February 1895 Newman offered Wood conductorship of a permanent orchestra at Queen’s Hall, and of the first Proms season.
The Proms continue to advocate Newman’s idea by developing and encouraging an audience for a whole spectrum of music. This year’s programme is more diverse than ever, including an eclectic mixture of standard classical fare with plenty of contemporary classical music, jazz, musical theatre, film music, as well as rock and pop. Many feel this to be detrimental; the mix of so many different styles can apparently only lead to a ‘dumbing down’ effect. The real question is this; how do we move forward with any musical genre if the next generation (and their music) feel excluded? If those who would otherwise never attend a classical music festival are encouraged to come and enjoy a pop or musical theatre concert, they may then take the next step and enjoy a classical concert too. So for this reason alone diversity can only be a good thing.
The selection of concerts includes a performance by pop princess Paloma Faith (Prom 65 – September 5th) who performs with the Guy Barker Orchestra, the Pet Shop Boys (Prom 8 – July 23rd) with the BBC Singers and Concert Orchestra (narrated by Juliet Stevenson), the wonderful John Wilson and his orchestra (Prom 21 – August 2nd) with Kiss Me Kate, jazz singer Clare Teal with the Battle of the Bands (Prom 30 – 8th August), Laura Mvula (Prom 45 – August 19th) with the Metropole Orchestra and Jules Buckley, and Rufus Wainwright (Prom 74 – September 11th) with the Britten Sinfonia and Johannes Debus. Many of these are in the ‘Late Night’ Series starting after the main Prom concert at 10.15pm.
For the children, there are two CBeebies Proms (Prom 11, July 26th and 13, July 27th) with the BBC Philharmonic and a great range of music, presented by various well-known presenters. There is also a BBC Sports Prom (Prom 3 – July 20th) presented by Gabby Logan, to include part of Carmina Burana (Orff) and music by John Williams, as well as a War Horse Prom (Prom 22 – August 3rd), featuring Gareth Malone, the Military Wives Choir and BBC Concert Orchestra.
However, the majority of concerts are traditional standard classical programmes, with many usual works such as Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, No.9 in D minor on the penultimate night (Prom 75 – September 12th) with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Chailly, and the Last Night (Prom 76 – September 13th) with all its typical fun and games. This year the soloists are violinist Janine Jansen, soprano Elizabeth Watts, tenor John Daszak and baritone Roderick Williams, who will perform alongside the BBC Chorus and Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo.
The Proms will open on July 18th with a performance of Elgar’s oratorio The Kingdom with the BBC National Chorus of Wales, BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. St John’s Passion (Prom 12 – July 26) and the St. Matthew Passion (Prom 66 – September 6th), two of J.S Bach’s crowning achievements, always popular choices, are also showcased this year (the latter conducted by Sir Simon Rattle with the Berlin Philharmonic). Prom 37 (August 13th), looks particularly interesting for lovers of Minimalist composer Steve Reich, with a concert consisting of It’s Gonna Rain; The Desert Music played by the BBC Singers, Endymion and conductor David Hill. There is a whole feast of contemporary music (including many premiers) at the Proms this year.
There are a plethora of fabulous concerts to choose from and my favourites normally feature a piano concerto or two! Newcomer to the Proms, Chinese pianist Haochen Zhang plays Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat major on July 19th (Prom 2 – 19th July) with the China Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Long Yu, which should provide plenty of keyboard fireworks. Prom 9 (24th July) will be wonderful; a performance of Brahms Piano Concerto No. I in D minor played by veteran pianist Barry Douglas. He will be accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev. Young Argentinian pianist Ingrid Fliter joins the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Josep Pons for Mozart’s beautiful Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major K.488 (Prom 15 – 28th July). Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left-Hand is a less familiar choice but a fantastic piece, and will be played by pianist Alexandre Tharaud and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Juanjo Mena (Prom 18 – 30th July).
Other piano highlights must include young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor who will play Chopin Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra (Prom 29 – August 8th) and Rachmaninov’s ever popular Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor played by the brilliant Russian Denis Matsuev with the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra (Prom 67 – September 7th). There are so many more concerts to enjoy and they can all be heard on BBC Radio Three, and many on BBC 4 too. You can browse the Proms programme, find out lots more and book tickets here: www.bbc.co.uk/Proms
For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.
You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.