Summer just wouldn’t be Summer without the BBC Promenade concerts, which begin this evening and run for two months, concluding on September 8th. This year the world’s largest and most famous classical music festival consists of seventy-five evening concerts plus many Prom ‘extras’, including copious free events, workshops, talks and family occasions. The concert series is held at the Royal Albert Hall, as well as Cadogan Hall and the Roundhouse, with talks and presentations at Imperial College. The Proms in the Park concerts run in tandem with the climax of the festival, the Last Night of the Proms (or Prom 75), and are held in Hyde Park, Glasgow, Belfast and Colwyn Bay (Wales); they are a major fixture every year too. If you can’t attend, each concert will be broadcast live on BBC Radio Three, and a selection of performances will be televised for BBC 2 and BBC 4.
The Promenade concerts aim to bring classical music to a wide audience, remaining true to its founder’s (the conductor Henry Wood) original vision; the Prom concerts began at The Queen’s Hall in 1895. The Proms are so-called because of the ‘Prommers’; a large group of audience members who stand for the entire concert; a tradition which continues today.
Whilst classical music is to the forefront, there are increasingly varied genres appearing every year; jazz, blues, musical theatre, and world music (Cuban and Jamaican music are featured this year at Prom 23, and Prom 70 is a Tango Prom). There are late night performances, a smorgasbord of concerts spotlighting young musicians, and, for the first time, the BBC Proms highlights the music of female composers – featuring twenty-two in total. There will also be forty-two world premieres.
The piano’s popularity is such that it makes frequent appearances at this colossal festival, and it has been well represented again this year. A variety of renowned international pianists will perform a choice selection of works; a few Proms ‘newcomers’ sit happily alongside those who we have come to know and love.
Mozart’s concertos are arguably amongst the finest of their genre, and there will be two performances: Prom 2 features the composer’s final piano concerto, Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat major K595, played by Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi, and the Royal Philharmonic orchestra conducted by Alain Altinoglu. Also, Prom 56, where Piano Concerto No. 21 K467 will be played by British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor (who makes two appearances this year) with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo.
Beethoven lovers won’t be disappointed as the composer’s Piano Concerto no. 5 in E flat major Op 73 ‘The Emperor’ receives an airing at Prom 15, with British pianist Paul Lewis at the piano alongside the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Ben Gernon.
Mendelssohn is making a welcome return at Prom 8 with an outing of his scintillating Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor Op. 25 played by French pianist Bertrand Chamayou and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Thomas Søndergård. Other romantic favourites include Grieg’s every-popular Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 16 played by the Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili and the Estonian Festival Orchestra conducted by Paavo Järvi at Prom 42. The winner of the 2015 International Chopin Competition, South Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho makes his Proms debut at Prom 49, with Chopin’s beautiful Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor Op. 21 (with the European Union Youth Orchestra and conductor Gianandrea Noseda).
For Liszt lovers, American-Israeli pianist Yefim Bronfman will be playing his Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major S. 125 at Prom 61, with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and there will be a performance of Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E flat major Op. 44 at Cadogan Hall (Proms at Cadogan Hall on July 16th) played by Spanish pianist Javier Perianes and the Calidore String Quartet.
Gershwin is a popular composer during the 2018 Proms; the Piano Concerto in F major will be played by Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan and the Minnesota Orchestra conducted by Osmo Vänskä at Prom 31. And the Rhapsody in Blue will be performed at a late night Prom (Prom 46) by Benjamin Grosvenor and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra conducted by Mark Armstrong.
Ravel’s demanding Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major appears at Prom 28, played by Serbian pianist Tamara Stefanovich, with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and conductor Sir George Benjamin. Shostakovich fans will be pleased to hear of a Prom featuring his captivating Second Piano Concerto in F major Op. 102 which will be performed by Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin with the Aurora Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Collon (Prom 32).
Much-loved Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt will play Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sakari Oramo at Prom 6. And the notoriously high-heeled Chinese pianist Yuja Wang will circumnavigate Prokofiev’s blistering Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major Op. 26 with the Berliner Philharmoniker and conductor Kirill Petrenko at Prom 66.
Prom 3 is a rather special event; it’s the fortieth anniversary of the BBC’s Young Musician competition and the entire Prom spotlights an assortment of past winners. Pianists Freddy Kempf, Martin James Bartlett, Lara Melda and the most recent winner (in 2018), Lauren Zhang, will all participate. Works include Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals as well as a collection of Contemporary pieces and specially commissioned works.
My top choice? Prom 63; a late night concert with Hungarian pianist Sir András Schiff, who will perform Book 2 of J. S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier (or Forty-Eight Preludes and Fugues), which will no doubt be a thought-provoking and inspiring experience.
Whilst I’ve mentioned the majority of piano events, there is so much more to enjoy at this exceptional festival, so do to take a look. Hope to see you there!
Find out more and book your tickets here: www.bbc.co.uk/proms
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.