|Roxanna rules the waves|
She is writing a choral piece, Songs of Darkness, Dreams of Light, for the combined forces of the BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Singers involving a poem by the World War I poet Isaac Rosenberg and lines from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.
Today's tension is reduced, of course, by the fact that the whole programme went online at 7am, so there will be no repeat of the little adrenaline rush that accompanied the opening of the nice fat brochure at the press briefing, let alone of the time I teared up there on seeing the words KORNGOLD SYMPHONY on a Proms page for the first time ever. Everyone is tweeting their highlights and I've had a quick zip through the website to see what jumps out. No doubt I will have missed plenty, so please forgive me if your favourite concert does not appear in this post...
For opening night there is another new commission, this time from Anna Meredith: Five Telegrams occupies the whole second half of the first Prom, exploring communications from the front line of World War I, involving chorus, orchestra, projections and youth choir, in collaboration with 59 Productions. Indeed, it's a season in which the Proms sets out its stall for the celebration of female as well as male composers, with 24 featured across the two-month season. It does seem extraordinary to think that amid more than 90 concerts, 24 female composers is still really a lot... Eight are world premieres from composers receiving their first BBC commissions, including a piece by the splendid Laura Mvula and one by Bushra El-Turk. Tansy Davies's 9/11 opera Between Worlds is represented by the world premiere of a new orchestral suite from it, entitled What Did We See? Among the longer-established names are electronic stars Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram, and there are pieces by Dame Ethel Smyth, Thea Musgrave - celebrating her 90th birthday - and Lili Boulanger (the centenary of her terribly early death is this year).
Women conductors? Some. Not a lot. Karina Canellakis conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Sian Edwards conducts the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra's Resound Ensemble in a "relaxed" Prom (explanation on site). Marin Alsop is here to work with a 'Proms Scratch Orchestra' in which amateur musicians can come and join in Shostakovich 5 with the BBC Concert Orchestra. The website kindly advises you to bring your own instrument unless you are a percussionist.
BIG stuff, which works so well in this setting and atmosphere, is laid on almost with the proverbial trowel. Mahler Symphony No.8. Messiaen's Turangalîla (with pianist Angela Hewitt). There's Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, from Glyndebourne; the Strauss Alpine Symphony, BBC Scottish/Volkov; the Brahms German Requiem, conducted by Richard Farnes. The LSO and Rattle do Ravel, with Mrs Rattle, Magdalena Kožena, singing. The LPO and Orozco-Estrada have the Verdi Requiem, notably with rising superstar Lise Davidsen (soprano). John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique presents an all-Berlioz programme, with Joyce DiDonato, among others. The Aurora Orchestra is playing Shostakovich 9 from memory. And there's a singalong for everyone, folksongs from Britain and Ireland - you can sign up to join in from 22 June.
Speaking of anniversaries, Bernstein gets a very thorough bonanza, the highlights including both West Side Story and On the Town, each with no less than the glorious John Wilson and his John Wilson Orchestra. Yes please.
Visiting orchestras: nice to see the National Youth Orchestra present with George Benjamin conducting an eclectic programme, and Proms favourites Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra on a return visit. The Berlin Phil is the biggest name, with Kirill Petrenko, and good on them for programming Schmidt's Symphony No.4 in one of their two concerts; and the Boston Symphony is hot on its heels, with Andris Nelsons and, not least, Mahler 3. The World Orchestra for Peace is back too, after a longish break, this time with a conductor less controversial than the last one and extremely fine, namely Donald Runnicles, playing Beethoven 9, Britten and a new piece by Ēriks Ešenvalds. The Bergen Philharmonic is here with Edward Gardner, the Rotterdam Phil with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and the Estonian Festival Orchestra performs Arvo Pärt. The Minnesota Orchestra offers Bernstein and Ives, with conductor Osmo Vänskä. Teodor Currentzis and his Musica Aeterna make their Proms debut in an all-Beethoven programme, which will be - um - interesting. Best of all, the Budapest Festival Orchestra is back, with Iván Fischer, performing Bartók, Enescu and Mahler's Fourth.
More premieres - there are 42 in all: new works by Philip Venables, Rolf Wallin, Per Nørgård and a bunch of pieces commissioned from composers including Uri Caine and Mark-Anthony Turnage to complement Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, courtesy of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.
Late-night Proms are often special highlights and this year we can look forward to Sir András Schiff playing the second book of Bach's 48 Preludes and Fugues. There's a concert exploring the sounds of New York City, one by members of the Buena Vista Social Club, and a visit from the Grammy-winning Senegalese singer Youssou Ndour. More ventures beyond classical include the rising jazz star Jacob Collier and oud virtuoso Joseph Tawadros. The National Youth Jazz Orchestra tackles Rhapsody in Blue, with Benjamin Grosvenor at the piano.
But there's nothing pop, nothing I can spot that would raise the hackles and headlines we normally start seeing in the tabloids around now. Perhaps they're worried about people dying of shock upon noticing the name of a pop group in a classical series? As one might say, plus ça change...except it could be that they're now rolling over and accepting that it's not worth the buss and fother.
Among pianists there are no big surprises - Yuja Wang, Khatia Buniatishvili, Louis Lortie, Bertrand Chamayou and Paul Lewis are there, and Seong-Jin Cho makes his Proms debut. Among singers, over at Cadogan Hall Dame Sarah Connolly makes her Proms recital debut. And watch out also for the wonderful Wallis Giunta singing some Bernstein. There are also talks to enjoy from writers including Sebastian Faulks, Salley Vickers, Patricia Duncker and many more.
The whole season kicks off with Vaughan Willliams's Towards the Unknown Region, a title which is kind of apposite at the moment. Can the Proms lift us, even briefly, above the morass of lies, corruption, greed, incompetence and stupidity that has driven this country into the mess it's currently facing? I bloody hope so. Two months of wall-to-wall musical relief will be very welcome.
If you can't get there, then as always everything's on the radio and a lot is on TV and computer.
Quick verdict: does what it says on the tin. A good, solid, enjoyable and interesting Proms season that does everything the Proms ought to do, without rocking the boat.
Pay your money and take your choice here.
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