One of my favourite augurs of summer – particularly welcome in the wake of the cold snap we’ve had – is the revealing of the BBC Proms line-up, detailing the musical delights that lie in store from July to September each year. With tickets for the 2017 festival having just gone on sale, it’s the perfect time to have a peek at the programme.
Opening on July 14 and closing in its idiosyncratic fashion 57 days later on September 9, the 2017 Proms encompasses 94 concerts of music spanning nearly 500 years. Director David Pickard has stuck with a healthy, winning formula: a solid backbone of canonic symphonic music in the iconic Royal Albert Hall; a generous helping of more intimate lunchtime recitals and late-night concerts; and a smattering of alternative events which inevitably catch the eye (and the headlines). It makes for a satisfying number of stars scribbled in the margins of my brochure – and a hell of a lot of essential listening, whether live, on Radio 3, BBC Four or online.
Despite these options for remote listening, the Proms are without doubt a London institution – a reflection of our country’s capital-centric culture. So it’s great to see them uprooting for the first time ever for three concerts celebrating Handel’s Water Music at Stage@TheDock in Hull, this year’s UK City of Culture (July 22). Other out-and-about venues (albeit closer to Kensington) include a car park in Peckham, a cathedral in Southwark, a tunnel at the Tate Modern and an old music hall in Shadwell. Another admirable first this season is the inaugural Relaxed Prom, featuring the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and designed to provide a concert experience for people with a wide range of sensory and physical disabilities (July 29).
The BBC NOW is just one of many excellent homegrown ensembles that perform in the core of the Proms concerts. One of the most exciting aspects of the Proms, though, is the appearance of fantastic orchestras from overseas.
This year sees the return of the Staatskapelle Berlin (July 15 & 16), the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (September 1 & 2) and the Vienna Philharmonic (September 7 & 8). The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra makes its Proms debut (August 27), as does the Orchestra of La Scala, Milan, in what is my top highlight of the season: Brahms’s lyrical Violin Concerto with Leonidas Kavakos, and Respighi’s brilliant evocations of the Fountains and Pines of Rome, conducted by Riccardo Chailly (August 25).
One of the most exciting aspects of the Prom is the appearance of fantastic orchestras from overseas.
Two major events in world history are commemorated in the 2017 programme: a wealth of music by Shostakovich and Prokofiev mark 100 years since the October Revolution; and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is commemorated in a special day of concerts including Bach’s St John’s Passion (August 20). Another anniversary of an event of global importance – 70 years since the Partition of India – is marked by a concert of classical music from India and Pakistan (August 25).
This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the new season is concerned. It’s one of the joys of this time of year to discover and anticipate the wealth of wonderful music that only the Proms can bring. Go on – summer’s nearly here.