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Feedback: Behind the scenes at the BBC Proms with Director Roger Wright

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Editor's note: Roger Bolton writes about his experience interviewing Roger Wright, the man who plans every one of the 75 BBC Proms. Armed with listeners' questions for the Proms Director, they met outside the Royal Albert Hall, beside the hum of the BBC Radio 3 broadcast trucks.

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If Roger Wright, the Director of the BBC Proms, read the Times review this week he must be a happy man. “This Ring was the Proms finest hour” it said. “Other countries have fine music festivals, but nothing like that”.

However, Mr Wright says he never reads reviews, though he attends every one of the 75 Proms spread over 2 months and is back in early next morning to watch rehearsals and talk to promenaders.

Mind you, even Mr Wright may sometimes get it wrong. Some Feedback listeners who are fans of Verdi point out that it is the bicentenary of his birth as well, and that whereas there are 10 Proms featuring Wagner, their hero’s work is featured in only four.

I put their concerns, and other listeners’ questions, to Roger Wright when I met him at the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday. He was slightly delayed talking to the orchestra, so I wandered around the outside corridors looking at photographs of past performances, orchestras and conductors.

A  photo of ‘Flash Harry’, aka Sir Malcolm Sargent, was there of course.

I remember watching his last appearance at the Proms, on the last night of the 1967 season. He was not conducting but came to say farewell to his audience. I did not know that he was dying of cancer, had been dosed with pain killers, and even so had only just made the journey across from his flat next door.

He looked, as always, immaculate and full of fun.

He died two weeks later.

Sir Malcolm Sargent at the BBC Proms in 1967

As I wandered around I also thought of the time when the Controller of Radio 3 did not double up as Director of the Proms.  When the two men (and they were always men) were friends, it seemed to work reasonably well, but if they did not get on then there could be open warfare with the BBC music department split down the middle.

This year there are 75 proms spread over 2 months at a cost of £9million pounds, just over half of which comes out of the licence fee.

I was armed for the interview with lots of listeners’ questions for Roger Wright. But I also wanted to find out how he knows when a young performer is ready for the Royal Albert Hall, and how far ahead he plans the programmes.

When the Director bounced into the green room, which he must have left only a few hours before, he did not seem to be under any particular strain, indeed he seemed to be having the time of his life.

Here is our feature with him:

Roger Bolton interviews Roger Wright, Director of the BBC Proms

I hope the interview is not too soft for listeners' tastes but I have to say I am a bit in awe of the Proms. I cannot think of anything else which so exemplifies public service broadcasting at its best. If I were BBC Director General I would order every one of my senior executives to go, look, learn and listen, and then go home - by public transport.

Roger Bolton

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  • Comment number 4. Posted by Rodney

    on 9 Aug 2013 09:06

    The Berlioz "Symphonie Fantastique" has exquisite solos in the third movement for the Cor Anglais, beautifully played on BBC4 (8 August) by the soloist in the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. During the closing applause, conductor Mariss Jansons beckoned her to take a bow, which was shown on camera. Presenter Katie Derham trilled: "There's the Principal Oboist." The Principal Oboist was a different player in another chair, as is usual in this symphony. Sad.

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by Louise Matlock

    on 4 Aug 2013 09:20

    I was disappointed with Roger Wright's response to my question about the under representation of Verdi, compared to Wagner, in this year's Proms. I agree with what he said about the prestige of Barenboim conducting his first opera in the UK, and the golden age of Wagner singing, but 7 full length performances of Wagner operas against zero of Verdi's? I think Roger Bolton was right to suggest bias, and I was sorry that time constraints didn't allow him to follow up further.

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by chez

    on 3 Aug 2013 07:43

    Heard your news this morning about the Us Embassies shutting for the w/end. Couldn't help wondering if the reason provided to the US isn't misinformation and a ploy which would allow certain groups time to breach the embassies' security while they are 'unattended'. Chez

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by newlach

    on 2 Aug 2013 23:03

    I was surprised to learn that Mr Wright attends every one of the 75 Proms. I thought he would have footsoldiers attend most of them on his behalf. Clearly a hard worker.

    The contribution of £5 million from licence-fee payers is money well spent. The Proms give great pleasure to so many people. Although I'm a Wagner man in small doses only, it is fitting that his works are celebrated to mark the bicentenary of his birth. I liked the programme presented by Simon Russel on Wagner's influence on British creative types.

    Would most senior BBC executives not have the good sense to attend the Proms of their own free will? Forcing them to use public transport to get home seems a bit harsh. Rubbing shoulders with unpleasant drunks and criminals would only ruin the evening for them. There is a time for chauffeurs!

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