Pet Shop Boys and War Horse puppets to make Proms debuts

Joey from War Horse War Horse Prom will feature lifesize puppets alongside Gareth Malone's Military Wives as part of a weekend of concerts to mark 100 years since start of WW1

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The Pet Shop Boys and War Horse puppets are among the more surprising stars who will pop up at this summer's Proms, as Roger Wright pulls the strings for the last time.

The long-standing Proms director and Radio 3 controller, who leaves the BBC on the first night of the new season, will also welcome the first orchestras from China and Quatar to the Royal Albert Hall, as well as unlikely audiences of pre-schoolers and sports fans.

The vision for the two months of concerts remains the same as it was more than a century ago, insisted Wright, who will hand over to deputy Edward Blakeman when he joins Aldeburgh Music on July 18 - 'to bring the best classical music to the largest possible audience.'

Wright briefed journalists ahead of a season that will include 92 concerts including 12 world premieres (ten of them BBC commissions), while continuing to lure new crowds to the Proms experience.

War Horse and Military Wives

The War Horse Prom - a collaboration with the National Theatre - will form part of a special August weekend marking 100 years since the outbreak of World War One.

Alongside the lifesize puppets and music from the show, Gareth Malone will make his first Proms appearance directing the Military Wives choir's unaccompanied performance.

The weekend will include works by composers who died in the trenches, Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, based on war poet Wilfred Owen's words, and a world premiere by the late John Tavener.

There will also be the first modern performance - possibly the first ever performance - of Proms founder Henry Wood's New War Hymn, written in response to the outbreak of war.

At the other end of the musical spectrum, electronic pop duo the Pet Shop Boys will premiere their new 40-minute orchestral work, A Man From the Future, about the life of computer pioneer and codebreaker Alan Turing, who was convicted for homosexuality in 1952 before receiving a posthumous royal pardon last year.

Pet Shop Boys Pet Shop Boys will premiere their 40-minute work about Alan Turing

Wright credited the coup to Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe's developing relationships with the BBC Concert and Philharmonic Orchestras which, he said, gave them confidence that the performance would be 'properly prepared'.

One in 50 a musician

The director pointed out that one in 50 people employed by the BBC is a musician, helping to create the infrastructure which enables the BBC to prepare, present and broadcast these kind of musical events with such success.

The first night will be conducted by Andrew Davis, who turns 70 this year and is one of a number of returning conductors to celebrate significant milestones. They include 80 year-old Roger Norrington and Neville Marriner, who at 90 will lead the orchestra he founded.

Meanwhile, the 80th birthdays of British composers Peter Maxwell Davies and Harrison Birtwistle will be marked with performances of their work, while 150 years since the birth of Richard Strauss will be celebrated with three of his operas.

The festival will probe beyond our 'surface understanding' of classical music development in some parts of the world, with Proms debuts by orchestras from China, Qatar, Greece, Iceland, Lapland, Singapore, South Korea and Turkey to complement return performances from renowned international ensembles from Berlin to Cleveland.

'Expect gurgling'

And it will continue to strive to bring new audiences into the Albert Hall and to switch them on to classical music.

Following on from the family friendly Blue Peter and Doctor Who proms, the 120th season targets toddlers with the first CBeebies prom, which will also play out on the CBeebies channel.

It promises favourite characters, audience participation and short pieces of music.

'It will be an interesting experience when you listen to that on Radio 3,' said Wright, whose station will broadcast every prom live. 'You can expect a certain amount of gurgling.'

And in a summer of sport - with the World Cup, Wimbledon and the Commonwealth Games among the highlights - the controller hopes to attract new Proms supporters through the BBC Sport Prom.

Hosted by Gabby Logan and simulcast by Proms newcomer Radio 5 live, it is likely to include some of the inspirational signature music that accompanies our favourite sporting contests.

'We are always looking for new audiences,' said Wright. 'Never for a moment are we resting on laurels.'

Late Nights

He dismissed any notion that he had taken the Proms too far with last year's introduction of urban sounds and 6 Music to the mix and this summer's proms by Pet Shop Boys, Rufus Wainwright and Paloma Faith, who will be accompanied by a 42-piece jazz orchestra and a gospel choir.

He said this handful of concerts rooted in pop helped to introduce people to 'the context of the proms'.

He also pointed out that Soft Machine played the Proms in the early 1970s, while the early years of the concerts were skewed by popular Victorian ballads as sheet music publishers Chappells sought to recoup their investment in the concerts.

Many of the more diverse musical offerings - including Laura Mvula and a fully-staged version of Kiss Me Kate - will feature in late night proms which, Wright suggested, were an 'opportunity to loosen the stays'.

'We noticed there was a particular character to late night audiences,' he said. 'And we've got better at developing that late night atmosphere.'

Not that he'll be there to soak it up. He reckoned he deserved a summer off after 16 years in the job made him the 'longest serving controller of any service in BBC history'.

Instead, he'll be watching a lot of cricket and turning on the radio.

'The great thing is I can hear them all [proms concerts],' he said. 'I'll do what I used to do - cook, then sit down and listen to Radio 3.'

The Proms start on July 18 and run for two months. Tickets go on sale on May 17

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