Jon Jacob interviewed BBC Proms Director and Controller of Radio 3 Roger Wright earlier this week, ahead of today's launch of the 2013 Proms season. Here he reflects on the interview, extracts of which are embedded below.
The 2013 BBC Proms begins on Friday 12 July. The eight week world-renowned classical music festival – originally conceived as the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts in 1895 – is broadcast across radio, television and made available via the BBC iPlayer.
BBC Proms Director Roger Wright reveals highlights from this year's programme.
This year’s season features ,amongst others, concert programmes marking the two hundred years since the birth of Richard Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi and the centenary of British composer Benjamin Britten. There are collaborations between Cerys Matthews, The Stranglers and the London Sinfonietta, an urban music Prom featuring Fazer, Laura Mvula and Maverick Sabre with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, plus opportunities to hear the music of unsung Hollywood composers from the 1930s.
The list goes on. Such is the scale and scope of the BBC Proms. Which is one of the reasons why interviewing its Director, Controller of Radio 3 Roger Wright, can at first seem like a challenging affair. Navigating a way through the vast selection of music – the press pack made available to journalists today on the BBC Media Centre website - consists of 44 A4 pages highlighting artists, orchestras, composers and works. Some might prefer the day-by-day schedule laid out on the BBC Proms website, or the digital brochure made available for the first time this year an easier way to plan out their concert-going, listening or viewing. Others – myself included – may still opt for the ritual of thumbing through the season brochure.
Roger Wright discusses the significance of the BBC Proms on the cultural landscape.
I meet Roger in the Sunday Politics Green Room, down in the much-whispered-about ‘Basement 3’ in Broadcasting House. On the floors above this windowless room furnished with chairs and sofas for waiting contributors, news is being broadcast across the world. TV and radio programmes are being produced. Websites are being designed, built and updated. Meetings are being had.
And in the basement, I’m sat tightly grasping my BBC Proms press pack. ‘Tie or no tie?’ asks Roger as he sits down in front of the camera. ‘Whatever makes you feel comfortable Roger,’ I reply. And so we get on with the first interview of the session for the BBC Media Centre.
Roger is his usual affable, measured self, in many requests making the interviewing process relatively straightforward: there’s a reliable tri-part structure to his clearly enunciated responses and a charming smile to signal the approaching end of those responses too. (It’s a common misconception that all interviewers want their interviewees to feel under pressure. Sometimes both parties want to feel at ease and for the process to appear seamless.) But there’s also an underlying sense of frustration I’m experiencing: how can we sum up in such a short space of time what the mammoth undertaking each Proms season is, and convey why it’s such an important part of the BBC’s activities.
We carry out the video interview first – you can see that on the Media Centre website – after which, I retrieve the audio recording equipment a World Service presenter had earlier dismissed as ‘antiquated’ in the lift on my way down to the basement Green Room. I pull my seat closer to Roger, ‘I haven’t got a clip-mic for this one, so we’ll need to get a little closer to one another.’
Roger Wright highlights the events that he hopes will encourage new Proms attendees.
In the audio interview – far more than with video considering the extra equipment needed – it feels as though we can converse a little more. We talk about the Proms season, the concerts, how the BBC supports the event financially making it possible for day tickets to remain at £5 for the eighth year running and his passion for concert planning. All the time, I’m trying to get a sense of how an event like the Proms figures in the minds of those who work on it.
As we sit in the basement (we’re not the only ones in the room – the Proms publicity team are in attendance), there’s a feeling too that we’re standing to one side from the pre-festival industry carried out by the Proms team, riding the excitement experienced by all of those involved in putting on, attending and listening to a concert season of this kind of scale and heritage (save for 3 years during the second world war, the BBC has been presenting the concerts since 1927). And in talking about it with some of those involved in the production of the season standing nearby, the mammoth BBC enterprise with its considerable past stretching back before any of us in the room were born, takes on a more a human angle.
The Proms director sheds light on the process of selecting and organising the concerts.
In my mind, an eight week series of consecutive live broadcasts – in itself not unusual for Radio 3 which broadcasts live concerts most lunch-times and every weekday evening – predominantly from one venue, the Royal Albert Hall is the kind of logistical nightmare which can only – surely – be carried out by a machine. Factor in a wide range of world renowned artists, orchestras and other performing groups for a music festival that pulls in resources from across the BBC at the same time as bringing together many from across the classical music world too and that logistical nightmare could seem mind-boggling.
And yet it is one carried out by a dedicated team of specialists, focussed on their own area of expertise, buoyed along by a quietly acknowledged shared enthusiasm for an event they’ve also to a greater or lesser extent connected with as children, or teenagers, or even in later life because of their work.
Roger Wright shares some personal thoughts about why he loves his role as Proms Director.
At the BBC that enthusiasm is palpable not – as some outside might expect – initially felt on the first day of the Proms itself in mid-July, instead on the day of the press launch a couple of months before. And for a handful of us in the basement of Broadcasting House on Monday this week, that excitement came a few days earlier.
Jon Jacob is Editor of the About the BBC website and blog
In addition, you can read about the Proms Digital Guide on the BBC Internet Blog.