Harry Potter is coming to the Proms

By Mark Savage
BBC Music reporter

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Image source, Warner Bros / Ronald Grant Archive
Image caption,
John Williams composed the main theme for the Harry Potter films, and scored the first three instalments

The music of Harry Potter will feature at this year's Proms, as part of a concert celebrating the 85th birthday of film composer John Williams.

Themes from Star Wars, Jaws and Indiana Jones will also be played at the concert, on 20 July.

"Will people come dressed as Star Wars characters? I'd be really disappointed if they don't," said Proms director David Pickard.

He went on to praise the musician's "wonderful, varied" scores.

However Williams will not be able to attend the concert, as his age prevents him from taking trans-Atlantic flights.

This was a contributing factor in the London Symphony Orchestra losing the opportunity to land the next generation of Star Wars films.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Williams has been composing film scores since the 1950s

The John Williams tribute is one of almost 90 concerts that will take place as part of the 123rd Proms this summer.

To mark Hull's year as the City of Culture, the festival will leave London for the first time since the 1930s with a performance of Handel's Water Music at a new outdoor ampitheatre overlooking the River Hull and the Humber estuary.

Media caption,
Take a peek at preparations for the 2017 Proms

Back in London, Europe's only BAME orchestra, Chineke!, will make their Proms debut.

The brainchild of double-bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku, the ensemble was only founded in 2015, making it one of the youngest groups ever to play the festival.

"It would normally be common for an orchestra to be in existence for five or six years before they appear," said Pickard.

But he said it was "very important to mark" the "significance of Chineke! and what they are doing," in showcasing the talent of under-represented performers.

The orchestra will debut a new work by British-Caribbean composer Hannah Kendall, The Spark Catchers, accompanied by BBC Young Musician winner Sheku Kanneh-Mason - who will receive his A-Level results shortly before the concert, on 30 August.

Media caption,
Meet cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason

Other highlights in this year's programme include:

  • The Britten Sinfonia celebrate the 80th birthday of Philip Glass with the first complete performance of his 1990 album Passages.
  • "The relaxed prom", a specially-staged matinee for children and adults with autism, hearing loss and learning disabilities.
  • A double tribute to jazz legends Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie on the centenary of their birth.
  • The Aurora Orchestra will perform Beethoven's Eroica Symphony entirely from memory, preceded by a "deconstruction" of the work by Radio 3 presenter Tom Service.
  • Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra recreate the Stax Revue, which brought acts like Otis Redding and Sam Moore to the UK in 1967.
  • A Late Night Prom will feature the classical music of India and Pakistan, marking the 70th anniversary of partition and independence.
  • The team behind last year's Bowie Prom pay tribute to Charles Mingus, with all-star guests performing classics including Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, Moanin' and Better Git It In Your Soul.
  • A summer-long celebration of US composer John Adams, culminating in the London premiere of his exhilarating Lola Montez Does The Spider Dance during the Last Night.
  • A series of concerts marking 100 years since Russia's October Revolution, including works by Shostakovich and Rachmaninov, and 100 years of Finnish independence, featuring the music of Sibelius.
  • "The Godlike Genius of Scott Walker" - an orchestral refitting of the rock musician's most enduring songs, featuring Jarvis Cocker and John Grant.
  • The world-famous Last Night will honour Malcolm Sargent, who was the Proms' chief conductor from 1947 - 1967, alongside the traditional performances of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance and Jerusalem.
Image caption,
The Proms have been held in London since 1895

Notably, the 2017 season has nothing as populist as last year's Strictly Prom, or previous years' diversions into grime and dance music.

"I don't want the Proms to be something that repeats things for the sake of repeating them," said Pickard, adding he wanted to "find new ways of getting new audiences".

"And things like the John Williams prom will hopefully do the same thing that a Doctor Who Prom might do, which is to bring in an audience that might be drawn in by the films they've seen, but will hear music they love played by an orchestra."

2017 marks 90 years since the BBC took over running and financing the Proms, and 70 years since the famous Last Night was broadcast on television.

It has commissioned 30 new works, 13 of which are by female composers, while three female conductors will make their first Proms appearance.

Although he admitted there was still work to be done, Pickard said the diversity of this year's performers and composers wouldn't have been possible 10 years ago.

"The Proms is a leader in classical music and people look to us for the things we're doing," he said. "And whilst we can't bear that responsibility alone, I think it's incredibly important we take the lead."

All of this year's concerts will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3, and more than 20 will be filmed for television or iPlayer. The BBC is also experimenting with lossless audio - by streaming the season in CD quality via the BBC Proms website.

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