BBC Proms 2019 goes out of this world with space-themed concerts

This instalment marks the 150th anniversary of Proms founder-conductor Sir Henry Wood's birth, and is dubbed 'one of its most diverse programmes yet'

It’s one small step for man, one giant leap for music-programming (wo)mankind at this year’s BBC Proms as the series celebrates the 50th anniversary of the moon landings with space-themed concerts as a key part of its offering (19 July – 14 September).

Composers have long been fascinated by astronomy: Holst’s classic The Planets is featured in Prom 4 (21 July), following a special CBeebies event on the same day (Prom 3), which includes Earth, a brand-new work by Hans Zimmer, commissioned by the BBC. It’s nice to see that the Proms has revived the CBeebies Prom, which, despite its brilliance, has not yet become a regular fixture. The concerts provide the perfect opportunity to introduce very small children to classical music (during the 2014 series I was accompanied by a three-month-old and a four-year-old; the atmosphere is very relaxed – except when Mr Tumble appears and the toddler crowd goes wild).

Two late-night Proms within the space-themed strand are also aimed at broadening audiences. Prom 27 is dedicated to Sci-Fi Film Music, and includes excerpts from soundtracks to Alien: Covenant, Gravity, Moon and Interstellar, among others, performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra (7 August). Seeing Public Service Broadcasting at Latitude back in 2017 was one of that summer’s highlights, so I’m thrilled to learn that the band will join The Multi-Story Orchestra for a special orchestral arrangement of The Race for Space (2015), a highly original album that layers electronic music with cuttings from archive public service broadcasts relating to the US-Soviet space race (Prom 10; 25 July).

Post-classical fans will enjoy Prom 70 (10 September), which has been curated by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and features three works by that composer (Horror vacui – for solo violin and 68 strings, Three Miniatures from Water – No 3 and 88 (No 1)). They sit alongside Reich’s Pulse and Krzysztof Penderecki’s Sinfonietta for strings – Vivace. Minimalism is further explored in Prom 36, part of Radio 3’s In Tune Mixtape, which focuses on meditative listening (13 August).

This is a not-to-be-missed Prom,

Having attended countless piano competitions, I’m inclined to avoid a concert that has Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto in it – there’s only so much time, and so much to hear. However, when the soloist is Martha Argerich, and the ensemble is Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, exceptions must be made (Prom 34; 12 August). This is a not-to-be-missed Prom – I just hope Argerich, who is famously prone to cancellations, feels the same way.

Argerich isn’t the only world-renowned pianist scheduled to perform: Murray Perahia takes on Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto with the Vienna Philharmonic under Bernard Haitink, who recently turned 90 (Prom 60; 3 September), and the brilliant Stephen Hough will perform Mendelssohn’s piano concerto – with a twist. Hough will play Queen Victoria’s piano, loaned from the Royal Collection Trust by Her Majesty The Queen, to mark the bicentenary year of Queen Victoria’s birth (Prom 40; 16 August). Other anniversaries that are marked in the programme include Berlioz’s 150th ‘birthday’ (Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique present the rarely performed opera Benvenuto Cellini, Prom 59, 2 September), Louis Andriessen at 80, Peter Eötvös at 75 and Sir James MacMillan at 60.

This instalment marks the 150th anniversary of Proms founder-conductor Sir Henry Wood’s birth, and is dubbed ‘one of its most diverse programmes yet’. With events exploring practically every nook and cranny of the canon, I’m inclined to agree. Whether that’s a good thing or not (disclaimer: yes) is for another column.

All of this year’s concerts will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, and 25 of the shows will be screened on BBC television. Up to 1,400 Promming tickets will be available for £6 for every Prom.

Image: BBC/Mark Allan