The announcement of the 2016 BBC Proms season brought forth a panoply of comment and observation. Here are a few choice entries, editorials and utterances to get your interest piqued.
David Pickard is the new Proms Director and as incoming incumbent he largely inherits what has already been prepared and put into place by outgoing Proms Director, Roger Wright, and perhaps more significantly Interim Proms Director, Edward Blakeman.
In response to a question about venues for the season outside the Royal Albert Hall, this is what Pickard chose to highlight: “I’m interested in exploring how we reach out to audiences across London. So as I started to think about that I started to get quite intrigued about matching music to venues in an interesting way. So for example, the Shakespeare Prom in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse seemed like the perfect match; or the chance to hear Steve Reich’s music in a multi-storey car park in Peckham, that seemed ideal too.” Hmm. La Mer at sea? or Night on a Bare Mountain in the Cairngorms?
In answer to the question, What do you think has sustained the Proms?, David Pickard replied: “Different directors, I think. The Proms history is absolutely fascinating. From when the BBC took over the festival, to William Glock taking over as Director, and what happened after Glock. There is a fascinating narrative about how when each different person came along there was a change. The impact that television had when it was first introduced under Robert Ponsonby’s directorship was significant too. Nowadays television is incredibly important to the BBC Proms. And of course, the most recent change for us has been the impact of digital on how people enjoy the Proms: last year in particular the catch-up figures on BBC iPlayer soared.” And where I wonder do Wood, Drummond, Kenyon and Wright figure? To name but a few omissions!
And here’s a bit of flam – Pickard on his new responsibility as Proms Director: “Oh, a huge responsibility, of course. To be honest with you, I’ve had that in a lot of my jobs. It’s something you become accustomed to. But when you’re getting accustomed to that responsibility, you’ll come to realise that you’d be mad not to respect that legacy or history. And that’s where the vision comes in for me: if you look at the origins of the Proms you find the reason why the festival existed in the first place. You don’t start a job like this and think its going to be a different festival, you have to remember that this event, as its always been, has been about bringing the best of classical music to the widest possible audience. Why was the festival set up? Why is it still going? It’s because the initial idea is still relevant today. Obviously, what is the best music in 1895 when the festival started isn’t necessarily what some people regard the best in 2016. But, the original vision remains the same.”
Gramophone online picked out these items as Festival Focus: first, the cello, with 10 concertos receiving performances, including Elgar’s on the First Night (Sol Gabetta with the BBC SO and Sakari Oramo), Alban Gerhardt in the Dvořák Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Charles Dutoit on August 3, and the world premiere of Huw Watkins’s Concerto with his brother Paul the soloist alongside the BBC NOW and conductor Thomas Søndergård on August 12; next, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s with music from Purcell to Hans Abrahamsen and Duke Ellington; finally, the Brazil Olympics so a particular focus on music from Latin America.
Now here’s the thing, in Henry Wood’s day, the Proms was a wonderful vehicle for new music by living composers, and from a quick count, it looks as if there are 37 living composers featured on the 2016 roster. Let’s delve a little deeper – of the 37, 20 are homegrown, and of that 20, just 5 are women. Of those 20, 14 hit the prime evening spot in the Royal Albert Hall, but a mere 3 of these are women composers. Come on, David, let’s see you fly the flag a bit more and try to tick the equality box!