The Proms begin their 111th Season on July 14th and I have been looking at the programmes, all of which will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and some relayed on BBC TV 2. This is the biggest international festival of music in the world. This year there will be 73 concerts in London’s Royal Albert Hall with several other performances in smaller venues, as well as other events including open air concerts in London’s Hyde Park and in Belfast, Glasgow, Manchester and Swansea to complement the last night of the Proms, an event( if rather a peculiar one) in itself.
Nicholas Kenyon – BBC’s Director of Music – is a great enthusiast for anniversaries. No surprises therefore that Shostakovich’s centenary is being remembered and Mozart’s 250th as well as music by Robert Schumann who died 150 years ago. But living composers are recognised too and as always there are many contemporary works, several of them commissioned by the BBC and being performed for the first time. I am hoping to go to three concerts and will be listening and watching many others.
The first Prom I ever went to was in 1944. It was the last season Henry Wood conducted (‘Old Timbers’, his orchestras called him), but sadly that evening he wasn’t on the rostrum . Wood died the same year after a remarkable career in which he brought classical music to a wide audience but also introduced many works to this country which are now part of the regular orchestral repertoire. In the early days he conducted every concert himself and to save rehearsal time, annotated all the orchestral parts. Now there is a great parade of orchestras, conductors and soloists from around the world, with the five BBC Orchestras the most frequent performers. For the duration of the season the bust of Henry Wood rests on a plinth below the organ at the R.A.H., garlanded on the last night.
I see in today’s Guardian, Kenyon is defending himself against critics who like me have scrutinised his choice of programme and noticed what may be missing. He brushes aside what I regard as a valid criticism, namely that there is a lack of British music. One work only by George Benjamin, William Walton, Jonathan Dove, James MacMillan, Benjamin Britten, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Peter Maxwell-Davies and none by Malcolm Arnold, Alan Rawsthorne, William Alwyn, Vaughan-Williams and Edmund Rubbra. A missed opportunity lost in anniversary mania? Or is it that I am an enthusiast for what others regard as a lost generation of composers?