The 2014 BBC Proms season has just opened at the Royal Albert Hall in London, heralding the start of the world’s largest and longest-running classical music festival – eight weeks of concerts by some of the finest artists, orchestras and ensembles of today, performing the works of some of the greatest composers which the world of classical music has produced. There are 92 concerts in all, four of which will take place at venues around the United Kingdom on the Last Night of the Proms.
Nearly 50 years after the first appearance of a non-British orchestra at the festival, this season features 10 international ensembles – more international orchestras than have ever performed at a Proms season in the past – coverging on London from China, Greece, Iceland, Lapland, Melbourne, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea and Turkey.
Those orchestras making a welcome return visit include the Berlin Philharmoniker, Cleveland Orchestra, Budapest Festival Orchestra, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.
Among the illustrious conductors appearing this season are Marin Alsop, Daniel Barenboim, Semyon Bychkov, Iván Fischer, Valery Gergiev, Alan Gilbert, Bernard Haitink, Sir Simon Rattle, Franz Welser-Möst and David Zinman who gives his last ever performance as Music Director of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich.
The line-up of guest artists is impressive, too. Amongst those appearing are Alison Balsom who plays a new trumpet concerto by Chinese composer Qigang Chen, with the China Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Long Yu. Joshua Bell appears as both Music Director of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, and soloist, in a concert which includes Beethoven’s First Symphony and Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1. Sir Neville Marriner conducts.
James Ehnes plays the Walton Violin Concerto, Julia Fisher is the guest artist in Dvořák’s Violin Concerto, and Benjamin Grosvenor plays the Franck Symphonic Variations and the Chopin Piano Concerto No 1. Violinist Janine Jansen appears in a programme of chamber music by Prokofiev and Schubert – with Sakari Oramo (violin) and Itamar Golan (piano) – and as guest soloist in Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, with Sakari Oramo conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Truls Mørk plays the Elgar Cello Concerto, and Alisa Weilerstein makes her second appearance at the Proms with a performance of the Cello Concerto by Dvořák.
This is a year of notable anniversaries, with the Proms festival itself celebrating its 120th season. 2014 marks the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, and this will be reflected in programming across the season, including performances of works by composers who lost their lives during the hostilities – Butterworth, Stephan and Kelly – as well as later works inspired by the conflict – Britten’s War Requiem and Sally Beamish’s violin concerto inspired by the novel All Quiet on the Western Front.
In line with this theme, Tasmin Little plays the Violin Concerto by E J Moeran who was wounded whilst on active service during the War, and in collaboration with the National Theatre, the War Horse Prom will feature the life-size puppets from the stage production, together with an appearance by the Proms Military Wives Choir – directed by Gareth Malone – and the modern day premiere of the New War Hymn by Sir Henry Wood, founder of the Proms. On August 4th – the day on which Britain entered the war – the special Late Night Prom will feature the second of two posthumous world premieres by the late John Tavener, his Requiem Fragments, performed by the Tallis Scholars and the Heath Quartet led by conductor Peter Phillips – a work commissioned by the BBC.
The 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss will be celebrated with the performance of three of his complete operas – Der Rosenkavalier, Salome and Elektra, as well as a number of his instrumental and choral works.
Also reflected in the programmes will be the concerts to mark the 80th birthday of two of Britain’s most important living composers, Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and four British conductors celebrate significant birthdays with appearances during the season – Donald Runnicles (60), Sir Andrew Davies (70), Sir Roger Norrington (80) and Sir Neville Marriner (90).
As ever, the Proms concerts offer a broad range of programming. Bach’s St John and St Matthew Passions are both to be performed this year, there are 12 world premieres – 10 of which are BBC commissions – and 23 European, UK and London premieres. John Wilson and his orchestra bring Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate to the Proms for the first time, there’s a recreation of Count Basie and Duke Ellington’s Battle of the Bands, a BBC Sport Prom and two special concerts devoted to CBeebies, the BBC’s pre-school channel.
The ever-popular Last Night of the Proms will be conducted by Sakari Oramo, with guest artists Janine Jansen and baritone Roderick Williams. The programme features a combination of British patriotism and a celebration of the Strauss anniversary with a performance of the composer’s cantata Taillefer. In addition to the nautical overture Plymouth Hoe and Ravel’s Tzigane, there’ll be the usual mass singalong of Last Night favourites – and this is just at the Royal Albert Hall. Rufus Wainwright heads the line-up at the Hyde Park Proms in the Park, Katherine Jenkins hosts the performance at Glasgow Green, and there’ll be concerts in Belfast and Swansea as well.
To ensure the widest possible audience for this unique festival, every Prom will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, with additional broadcasts on Radio 1, Radio 2 and – for the first time – on both Radio 4, and Radio 5 live in its 20th anniversary year. There will also be much more content available online, as well as on mobile and on tablet.
A full list of what’s on, when, and how it can be accessed, is to be found on: http://www.bbc.co.uk/proms