The Piano at the Proms 2018

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:

My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious 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.








BBC Proms 2014

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, the manager of the Queen’s Hall, who met with Henry Wood 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.

My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious 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.