David Pickard, Director, BBC Proms reflects on BBC Proms 2018

Director, BBC Proms

Tomorrow night the curtain will be drawn on yet another year of astonishing music-making at the BBC Proms.

The First Night of the Proms now seems a distant memory to me, but thanks to iPlayer you still have just enough time to catch a glimpse online; if you haven’t done so already I urge you to do so. Our television colleagues have made a spectacular film which captures the experience of seeing and hearing the piece both outside and inside the Royal Albert Hall. This was a project that was many years in the planning and an exciting development for the Proms - creating a new work in which composer and visual artists work hand in hand on a new piece, exploring how the two art forms can be combined. Since 13 July the work has also been seen at the opening of the Edinburgh International Festival as well as forming the basis for our first ever Virtual Reality Prom. A truly ground-breaking way for audiences to engage with a new work of art.

Virtual Reality Prom

Five Telegrams may have been the most obviously ‘new’ development for the Proms this summer, but it’s good to be reminded that every Proms season has its own way of staying fresh and different through the new artists we present and the premieres that we programme. This year we have had some remarkable debuts - from the seven year old Estonian Festival Orchestra to the 100 year old Orchestre de la Suisse Romande - and amazing individual performances from artists who are discovering the atmosphere of the Royal Albert Hall for the first time. One of the great pleasures of my job is going backstage after a concert and seeing the joy on the faces of those who have just made Proms debuts. There really is nothing like playing to a Proms audience in the Royal Albert Hall.

But the ‘newest’ thing about the Proms is surely the premieres we present each summer and this year there are over 40 works that have never been heard in this country before. Who would have thought that a great 20th century masterpiece such as Per Norgard’s Symphony No.3 would have to wait more than 40 years to be heard in the UK? I’m pleased to say that the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard did full justice to this incredible piece, and how wonderful that the composer himself was there to witness the concert. At the other end of the scale this year’s most challenging commission was surely the one we set composer Bushra El-Turk - to write a companion piece to Bernstein’s La Bonne Cuisine and set a recipe to music. Her inspired choice of a Durian custard recipe, Crème Brulee on a Tree, demanded (and got) a ‘tour de force’ performance from Wallis Giunta who not only had to sing a fiendishly tricky vocal line, but mime making the recipe at the same time. Just two examples of the vast range of new music we are presenting this summer.

This final week has been no less packed and varied than the previous seven. Indeed, it’s not every year that you find the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra appearing on the same day (2 September) and it was a feat of logistics working out where all those flight cases were to live for the weekend backstage... We also asked some of the Berlin players to stay over until Monday so that they could finish our Cadogan Chamber series in style with a lovely programme including Lili Boulanger (in her anniversary year) and the last of our eight new chamber commissions - Baca by Nina Senk. Two continuing Proms themes also featured in the final week - John Eliot Gardiner’s ongoing exploration of Berlioz, this year with Joyce DiDonato and Antoine Tamestit as soloists, and our own Proms survey of Handel oratorios. Astonishing to think that Handel’s great masterpiece, Theodora, will be appearing at the Proms for the first time when Jonathan Cohen brings the work with Arcangelo and a fine line-up of soloists tonight.

Prom 70: Tango Prom

Of course, whilst the Proms may still be a primarily classical music festival, there is still room for exploring other areas. Our Tango Prom celebrated all things tango from Latin America to Finland with Grammy Award-winning pianist Pablo Ziegler amongst leading singers and dancers - all supported by the ever versatile Britten Sinfonia. And for those that enjoyed coming to Late Nights at the Proms this year, last nights re-creation of the service of Compline - the final Christian church service of the day - by the Tallis Scholars provided all the reflective and calming music that one could need as the night drew in.

Preparations are nearly complete to get Hyde Park ready for Proms in the Park and rehearsals for the Last Night are well under-way. As ever, we try to sum up some of the eight weeks of music making that has gone before - this year including a strong nod towards the centenary of the end of World War 1 with a new commission by Roxanna Panufnik and celebration of some of the popular songs of the period. But it’s also a great party for the whole nation. A moment to be thankful for the Proms and all the amazing music this festival has given us, not just in 2018 but for the past 123 years.

Prom 75: Last Night of the Proms will be broadcast live on the BBC with the first half on BBC Two and the second half on BBC One and coverage on BBC Radio 3. Prom 70: Tango Prom will be shown tonight on BBC Four at 7.30pm.

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