The World's Largest Music Festival: BBC Proms Open at London's Royal Albert Hall

Classic Arts News   The World's Largest Music Festival: BBC Proms Open at London's Royal Albert Hall
Two beloved landmarks of the orchestral repertoire — Elgar's Cello Concerto and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony — are on the program tonight at the Royal Albert Hall in London as the BBC's beloved Prom Concerts begin their 2007 season.

Jir‹ Belohlšvek conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra (the Proms' house band, to the extent that there can be just one) and Chorus, with Paul Whelan as the cello soloist in the Elgar.

2007 marks the 113th year of what were once called the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts — and their 80th season of association with the BBC. That anniversary figures into one of the themes of this year's programming — Proms Firsts. The festival will revisit a number of the works that received London, U.K. or world premieres at the Proms, such as Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, Walton's Viola Concerto, Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 and James MacMillan's percussion concerto Veni, veni, Emanuel. One concert will even revive the Proms' most notorious commission: Harrison Birtwistle's Panic, the aptly named score which caused enormous consternation when it premiered at the normally festive Last Night of the Proms in 1995.

The season's other major theme is Shakespeare in Music, which will encompass everything from songs on "Bardic" texts by the 18th-century Englishmen Thomas Arne and Thomas Linley to Verdi's Macbeth in concert (with the Glyndebourne company) to Berlioz's and Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet pieces and Bernstein's West Side Story to Sibelius's incidental music to The Tempest. There's even a "Shakespeare and All That Jazz" evening with Cleo Laine and John Dankworth.

Edward Elgar's 150th birthday gets a nod in this year's Proms with works on nine programs, including the Cello Concerto tonight, the Violin Sonata (played by James Ehnes), the Serenade for Strings, the "Enigma" Variations and the rarely-performed oratorio The Apostles. The 50th anniversary of Jan Sibelius's death is observed with performances of The Tempest, Tapiola, several orchestral songs, the string quartet Voces Intimae and the Symphonies Nos. 2, 5 and 7.

As the "Proms First" theme indicates, every season there's plenty of new music at the festival, including several commissions and co-commissions. Ever aware of the zeitgeist, this year the Proms offer a new work about global warming: H2hOpe: The water diviner's tale a piece by Oscar-winning film composer Rachel Portman (who composed the beloved 2003 opera The Little Prince) containing echoes of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Among the other major co-commissions and premieres scheduled are Thea Musgrave's Two's Company, a double concerto written for percussionist Evelyn Glennie and oboist Nicholas Daniel; Esa-Pekka Salonen's Piano Concerto (which received its world premiere by the New York Philharmonic in February); Australian composer Brett Dean's Vexations and Devotions; two works by Aaron Jay Kernis, New Era Dance for orchestra and a yet-untitled sonata for violin and piano; Elliott Carter's Three Illusions; Hans Werner Henze's Sebastian in traum; and John Adams's Doctor Atomic Symphony, whose planned world premiere at Carnegie Hall this past March had to be postponed because the work was not yet finished.

The roster of artists for the Proms this year, like just about every year, is filled with stars. To name only a few: Deborah Voigt, Anna Netrebko, Joshua Bell, Maxim Vengerov, Angela Hewitt, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the Tallis Scholars, James Levine, Mariss Jansons, Osmo V‹nsk‹, Robert Spano, Kurt Masur, Riccardo Chailly, Gustavo Dudamel ... as Gramophone Online puts it, "It would probably be easier to report on who is not coming than to list who is."

The BBC Prom Concerts comprise the world's biggest music festival, with 90 concerts, many thousands of live audience members and millions more listening on BBC Radio 3, which broadcasts every concert. (Many Proms are aired on BBC television as well.) Even those of us in North America and elsewhere who can't receive the broadcasts directly can join in: all of the Prom concerts are streamed live over the Web at the BBC Radio 3 website ( In fact, the concerts are available in streaming audio on demand for seven days after broadcast via BBC Online's "Listen Again" feature.

More information on the Proms, including a complete schedule, is available at

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