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PROMS 2005: Marc Bridle reports on the forthcoming Proms festival.

The sea (this being, after all, the centenary of Debussy’s La mer), fairy tales and the end of the Second World War are the themes of this years Proms, announced at last night’s Tate Britain press launch for the forthcoming season. Opening on 15th July, with the first part of the first night of the Proms being broadcast on BBC 1 for the very first time, there are 74 Albert Hall concerts, 8 chamber music concerts and new attractions which symbolize the Proms embracing the digital and media age. Key amongst them is a much wider TV broadcast schedule – with both the first week’s and, for the first time, the last week’s concerts being televised in full – a fully interactive TV service with digital programme notes and a WAP listings and information service. A new Proms Films initiative – including the broadcast of James Kent’s Holocaust: A Musical Memorial Film (preceding a performance of Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs), The Red Violin, with a concert a couple of days before given by Joshua Bell playing the concerto inspired by the film, and Simon Cellan Jones’ Eroica (linked to Sir Colin Davis’ LSO performance of the symphony) head an all-embracing list of wider Proms extras aimed at broadening the festival’s appeal. As usual, all Proms will be broadcast live on both BBC Radio 3 as well as the Internet – with most concerts (previously this was only limited to a small selection) being available online for on-demand listening for seven days.

That broadening of the audience (up to 86.5% paid attendance in 2004 against 84% the previous year) is seen as a crucial element of Nick Kenyon’s policy of widening interest in classical music. There will be a new ticket scheme, BBC Music Intro, sponsored by Lloyd’s TSB which will provide substantially discounted tickets and workshop places to BBC Proms and under-16s will enjoy half-price ticket prices for every Prom. Last year’s ticket sales of 275,000 should be exceeded this year if the initiative works in the way it should. Violins!! – a learning project – will take place throughout Saturday 30th July and brings together world-class professional players (notably Viktoria Mullova) with aspiring young musicians.

First and foremost, however, the Proms is about music and there are notable Prom debuts from both Placido Domingo (singing Siegmund in the Covent Garden Walküre - itself a Prom premiere in this complete three act performance) and Ravi Shankar. Unusually, the BBC Symphony Orchestra will be without a Principal Conductor for this season (with Jiri Belohlavek taking up his post with the orchestra just ahead of the 2006 Proms season) so a series of guest conductors will lead the orchestra’s thirteen concerts. The First Night will be conducted by that iconoclast of British music, Sir Roger Norrington, in a performance of Tippett’s A Child of our Time (Tippett being one of the composers celebrated this year), and the Last Night, in all its tribal glory, will be conducted by English National Opera’s departing music director, Paul Daniel. Visiting orchestras will include The Cleveland Orchestra (the issue of broadcast rights having now been settled) in two concerts – Mahler’s Third and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis - and the Vienna Philharmonic will do two concerts in the final week, Bruckner’s Eighth under Eschenbach and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring under Zubin Mehta. Maris Jansons brings his Concertgebouw Orchestra to the Albert Hall for two concerts, one of which will include a performance of Mahler’s Sixth. Notable for his absence is Sir Simon Rattle.

New music continues to be an important part of the Proms and this year there are 10 major new commissions or co-commissions from British and international composers. Further premieres of 10 living composers are being heard for the first time across the season and a number of key works never heard at the Proms before make their debut, including Liszt’s A Faust Symphony (in its original version), Wagner’s Die Walküre, Handel’s Julius Caesar, and Vaughan Williams’ A London Symphony (in its original version). BBC commissions include Michael Berkeley’s Concerto for Orchestra, James MacMillan’s A Scotch Bestiary, Fraser Trainer’s Violin Concerto (premiered by Viktoria Mullova), Bent Sorensen’s The Little Mermaid and a new work by Esa-Pekka Salonen (as yet untitled), to be played by Valery Gergiev and his World Orchestra for Peace. Thomas Ades’ Violin Concerto (played by Anthony Marwood) will receive its UK premiere, as will Corigliano’s Violin Concerto, The Red Violin, played by the man for whom it was written, Joshua Bell.

Chamber music will play an important role again, but the lunchtime concerts will now move to the larger space of Cadogan Hall rather than the Victoria & Albert Musuem. Costing £8 million to mount, the Proms remains one of the great music festivals and this year’s concerts offer some refreshing and radical departures from recent years. Full details go online on 27th April and can be seen at www.bbc.co.uk/proms.


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