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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Dame Judi Dench to make debut at BBC Proms

Dame Judi Dench is to make her debut at the BBC Proms on Saturday 31 July in a Proms concert devoted to the music of Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, who is 80 this year.

Stephen Sondheim himself will be present and will give a live interview during the interval of the performance to Katie Derham for broadcast on BBC Two that evening. His pre-concert talk will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 during its interval.

The glittering line-up for the Sondheim celebration includes Proms favourite Bryn Terfel, alongside Simon Russell Beale, Daniel Evans, Maria Friedman, Caroline O'Connor, Julian Ovenden and Jenna Russell – many of whom have a strong connection with Sondheim's work.

They are joined by a chorus of singers from the BBC Performing Arts Fund, the BBC Concert Orchestra and conductor and architect of tonight's Prom, David Charles Abell.

Music includes numbers from Follies, Sunday In The Park With George, A Little Night Music, Into The Woods, The Frogs, Company, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and Sweeney Todd.

Dame Judi will perform what is perhaps Sondheim's most famous number, Send In The Clowns, from A Little Night Music. The song has become a calling card for many of the great leading ladies who have performed it – from Glynis Johns to Jean Simmons – but, on hearing Dame Judi's powerful performance in the National Theatre's 1995 revival of the show, Sondheim himself reportedly said to her: "It's yours now".

Dame Judi says: "Singing at the Proms is not something I ever imagined I would do and it's a hugely exciting – if slightly daunting – prospect. I believe that Stephen Sondheim is a true genius. His impact on musical theatre can never be over-stated and I'm delighted to be part of his 80th birthday celebrations at the BBC Proms."

Conductor David Charles Abell has chosen to use many of the original rich orchestrations that have frequently been reduced in size – out of practical necessity – as shows have been revived. He points out that Sondheim wrote detailed piano scores which he then had orchestrated for his Broadway productions, most often by collaborator Jonathan Tunick.

David Charles Abell says: "The original productions of Sondheim's shows had opulent orchestrations played by what are now considered to be large pit orchestras. Where better to restore these orchestrations to their original glory than at the Proms?"

He says: "Sondheim is an innovative and profound musician, a virtuoso lyricist, a master storyteller, a humanist and a philosopher for our time. I hope tonight's concert will show the many sides of his Protean personality."

The Sondheim At 80 Prom marks another first in Proms history. It will be the first Prom for deaf concert-goers and is signed by Paul Whittaker. Paul, who is profoundly deaf, has worked on major West End productions such as Les Miserables and Grease. One hundred and 50 promming spaces are reserved for deaf patrons to the Sondheim At 80 Prom on Saturday 31 July at 7.30pm. See What Is Promming at bbc.co.uk/proms.

Sondheim At 80 – Saturday 31 July, live on BBC Radio 3 from 7.30pm and BBC Two at 9pm.

VB

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