thu 30/05/2024

BBC Proms 2013: Ring operas for a fiver each | reviews, news & interviews

BBC Proms 2013: Ring operas for a fiver each

BBC Proms 2013: Ring operas for a fiver each

The world's biggest music festival runs the gamut as ever, from Bach to Fazer, England to Azerbaijan

Only the side drummer looks baffled: BBC Symphony Orchestra players (and daleks) back trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth, singer/broadcaster Cerys Matthews, Proms presenter Katie Derham and composer/sitar player Nishat KhanRobert Viglasky

First, the good news: you can see Wagner’s entire Ring at the Royal Albert Hall, with absolutely the world’s finest Wagner singers and conductor in concert, for a grand total of £20. The bad news is that unless you have a season ticket – in which case it works out even cheaper – you’ll probably have to queue for most of the day to guarantee a place in the Arena or Gallery, and then you’ll still need the energy to stand for up to five hours an evening.

None of that will deter devoted Prommers, whose numbers swell and grow younger every season. Little wonder, with the price of £5 a ticket held for the last eight years. And of course it’s all absolutely free, once you’ve paid your licence fee, on Radio 3. The world’s biggest music festival, as it can call itself without exaggeration, increases its outreach, its links with television, the sheer inclusive range of music, though the essential format remains the same: two months of concerts running this year from Friday 12 July to Saturday 7 September.

Glyndebourne Billy Budd pictured by Alastair MuirThe three big anniversaries are the core of the programming, though while Wagner gets seven operas, Verdi is limited to bits and pieces – interesting ones, all the same, in the concert given by Antonio Pappano and his Italian forces of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome. Britten appears in British context, with the BBC continuing to stake the claims of recently-overshadowed Tippett – so The Midsummer Marriage will stand alongside Billy Budd (Jacques Imbrailo in the Glyndebourne production pictured right by Alastair Muir) - and plenty of lesser luminaries getting a look-in. Some of us may find the inclusion of so much Granville Bantock – "poor old Gran" as near-contemporary Elgar called him – a little weird, but Proms Director Roger Wright says they’re making no special claims. Go, try it, decide for yourselves.

Indeed, it often comes about through conductor interest. Fabulous Finn Sakari Oramo, taking over the reins of the BBC Symphony Orchestra this coming season on the strength of a single superlative concert, requested to perform Bantock’s Celtic Symphony – it had better be less laughable than his Hebridean Symphony – and Vladimir Jurowski staked a claim for The Witch of Atlas. Oramo conducts the first night; the last is headed by Marin Alsop (pictured below by Chris Christodoulou at last year's Proms), simply because she's one of the liveliest motivator-conductors around and not because she's a woman, but much will be made of that particular "first".

New British works are as well represented as ever, with Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s lepidopteral incantation for small forces The Moth Requiem and Mark-Anthony Turnage's Frieze more enticing - for me, at any rate - than Thomas Adès’s Totentanz (though that has compelling artists in mezzo Christianne Stotijn and baritone Simon Keenlyside). Glitzy visitors are fewer than usual; apart from the Wagnerian Germans and the Verdian Italians, the standouts are Mariss Jansons with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Lorin Maazel with the Vienna Philharmonic. Their Bruckner Eight is to be prefaced by Bach from the organist of Bruckner’s home town, leading Wright to quip in his welcome speech, to universal groans, that the suggestion of having the organ pieces after the symphony would have created "after eight Linz".

Marin Alsop by Chris ChristodoulouNo major American orchestras are on the roster, but that leaves the field clear to the nearly-new National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America under Valery Gergiev, part of the youth strain which has become increasingly important. First-time visitor to the Proms the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra is at the heart of a Polish celebration, again based around an anniversary, the centenary of Witold Lutosławski. There are always grumblers to ask Wright "‘why no…" – he fields such questions with ironic charm – but I have to join them, since I’m on a binge of this particular composer: why no full-scale Poulenc works in the 50th anniversary year of that lovable man’s death?

You can’t fault the breadth, though. The Late Night Proms are for me what makes this a real festival: there are thirteen of these, featuring performers from Nigel Kennedy to America’s a cappella group Naturally 7. Wright suggested to Simon Broughton that we’ve stopped talking about "world music" and are much more inclined to "international classical": hence consummate artists from Azerbaijan, India and Mali. There are the Proms’ first ever concert of Gospel music – another late nighter – an appearance from The Stranglers and, yes, the return of the Doctor Who Prom. Don’t groan: there’s room for all. Everything must change in order that everything can stay the same.

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