PROMS ADAPT TO PANDEMIC
By Norman Warwick
Mark Savage, BBC music reporter, recently posted an article on line at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/384LXFP6B13d4q2GnLx8HGy/unveiling-the-2020-bbc-proms
detailing how the BBC Proms are currently devising multiple programmes for each of their concerts projected for the 2020 proms. This is partly because of there is still an area of considerable doubt about how many performers it will safe and legal to allow on stage at any one time at this period of the coronavirus.
It has already been decided, the writer told us, that the 2020 season will mostly consist of highlights from the BBC’s archive, though there are hopes of moving back into London’s Royal Albert Hall for two weeks of live shows from 28 August.
The season actually opened last Friday, 17th July on BBC R3 (or Sunday on BBC 4) and will run until 12th September, meaning there will be eight weeks of broadcast on television, radio and online
A unique First Night commission by Iain Farrington for a Grand Virtual Orchestra marked the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth and there are plans for special live performances later in the season culminating in the Last Night of the Proms to ´bring the nation together´ on 12th September
‘It’s been impossible to predict when and how live music will be possible again. When it became clear that the BBC Proms couldn’t happen in the normal way this year, I was commissioned to write a piece to be performed remotely,´ Iain recently told BBC Music Magazine.
´I took Beethoven’s music and put it in a musical washing machine to see how the colours would run. What’s come out is a collage of fragments that sum up his music: heroic, witty, defiant, turbulent, tragic and reflective.
I had to consider the logistics and difficulties of recording remotely, because the 350 players have to record separately and yet somehow still stay in time. The scale of the ensemble was a real advantage, though, as I could use ten solo bassoons or 20 horns, which is a lot more than you find in a usual symphony orchestra.
Inevitably, I think some of the sadness of the present time has found its way into the piece as well, which feels unavoidable. Being an arranger of so many different types of music has definitely influenced my own style. Although I write within classical structures, my music often has a jazz influence in terms of harmony and rhythms, and also takes in gospel, funk and blues. I’ve always seen music as a glorious melting pot, blurring boundaries and reflecting life’s varied experiences.
As a performer, I often programme my own pieces, whether they’re solos or with ensembles. You’re able to learn from the inside what works for the performers and the audience, and how to keep scores clear and playable while also being detailed and alive. I’m always aware of the time pressures in rehearsals, so I think that music should come together quickly – particularly when working with non-professionals.
Listeners want to know where a piece is going. I think of them as a passenger that you’re taking on a drive – no matter how unpredictable or bumpy the journey, you can still see the road markings, so you won’t get lost.’
https://www.classical-music.com/ This interview also appears in the August 2020 issue of BBC Music Magazine and on-line at
Organisers are confident that, 125 Years on from its creation, the Proms will once again provide a summer of music, fulfilling founder Sir Henry Wood’s vision to ‘bring the greatest classical music to the widest possible audience’. This somehow feels especially important in this Covid 19 blighted year.
The current situation with COVID-19 means that the season as originally planned is sadly no longer possible. Instead the Proms in 2020 have been reconceived in a different format, but the aim remains the same – to create the world’s greatest classical music festival by reflecting world-class music-making from leading artists around the globe, highlighting and featuring work by some of today’s most exciting and innovative composers.
The 2020 Proms will celebrate the past, reflect on the present and build for the future.
For the first time we celebrate some of the best of the Proms from the unrivalled BBC archive, which we will delve into to deliver a broadcast festival across radio, television, and online like no other. Until 12th September BBC Radio 3 will present past Proms concerts every evening, as well as a weekly Late Night Prom and a Monday lunchtime offering.
This will be a rare opportunity to reconnect people with concert and artists from the past as well as introducing these performances to new audiences.
Joining the celebrations on the opening weekend, BBC Four will broadcast stand out Proms each Sunday throughout the festival. Further TV highlights of Proms over the years will be available on BBC iPlayer.
The Proms 2020 are hopeful they can deliver on an ambition to have musicians performing live at the Royal Albert Hall across the final two weeks of the season, culminating in what should be a poignant and unique Last Night of the Proms, as mentioned earlier, ´to bring the nation together´. The range of work will vary from solo performances to ensemble and feature some of the greatest musicians of our time alongside emerging talent. Further details revealing the full schedule of events will not be released until nearer the time, allowing organisers to respond to the latest government advice available.
The ´Proms digital´ offer began right at the start of the festival with that unique opening weekend commission performed by all the BBC Orchestras and BBC Singers. Featuring over 350 musicians, this Grand Virtual Orchestra saw all the groups performing together. To mark the 250th anniversary year of Beethoven’s birth, Iain Farrington´s new ´mash-up´ of Beethoven’s 9 Symphonies proved a spectacular digital springboard for the summer, (even if ´mash-up´ seems an un-Proms like description).
Every live element will be captured for broadcast across radio, TV and online with every archive Prom broadcast available live and on demand on BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds. In addition there will be specially curated, on-demand music mixes on BBC Sounds.
Audiences are always at the heart of the Proms, but this year they will play a unique role in helping shape the programme. Radio 3 is inviting audiences to get involved by requesting their favourite Proms performances of all time, making this truly the People’s Proms.
David Pickard, Director BBC Proms, said: ´These are extraordinary times for our nation and the rest of the world, but they show that we need music and the creative industries more than ever. This year it is not going to be the Proms as we know them, but the Proms as we need them. We will provide a stimulating and enriching musical summer for both loyal Proms audiences and people discovering the riches we have to offer for the first time. However, we have to be practical, which means we’re talking of smaller rather than larger. That’s just a fact.´
Conductor Sakari Oramo told the BBC music reporter that he had first planned ´four different options´ for the first night.
´We’re dealing with constantly changing regulations,´ he explained. ´The advice on how many players we can have, whether we can have singers, whether there are restrictions to certain sections like the wind or brass, has all been – to put it mildly – slightly unclear. I completely understand it. I don’t find it strange that there’s a lot of uncertainty going on. But of course the number of players we can have, and the distances we need to have between players, will affect the programme greatly´.
´Once the music got going, the music took us where it needed to´, conductor Oramo said, somewhat enigmatically, ´though the proms atmosphere was not quite the same as usual. Nevertheless, I’m sure the first night was an especially important moment, not only for the orchestra but also for the whole music-loving nation, and the world´.
Even so, this was not the first Symphony Orchestra to resume playing large-scale orchestral music. Last month, members of the Berlin Philharmonic returned after weeks of isolation to play a programme of Ligeti, Pärt and Barber.
Only fifteen players could be on stage at a time, due to social distancing regulations which forced the strings to sit two metres apart, whilst the woodwinds and brass were five metres apart – amid fears that their instruments could spread aerosols, during the pandemic that so affects the respiratory system (though the subject of air emissions from these instruments is the subject of much debate amongst scientists and musicians).
Where there is crisis, though, there is always creativity and this will show the effects of the coronavirus in another way during this year’s Proms, with a number of new commissions responding to the global pandemic.
These include a new piece by Thomas Adès for the London Symphony Orchestra Prom and another by Andrea Tarrodi, whose composition for the Last Night of the Proms will include sounds of the lockdown.
The conductor says music on the first night also reflected the upheaval of the last four months.
´We’ve gone through a list of pieces that are suitable to that purpose,´ he says. ´Obviously, as well as reflection, there needs to be something uplifting, too, of course. So I hope the final result will include those two opposite fields of energy: quiet reflection and mourning from one side, then positive energy and optimism on the other.´
Elsewhere, a “Fantasy Proms” season will draw on the BBC’s treasure trove of archived performances´. Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and the celebrated 2007 Proms debut of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, will also be among the highlights
This year also sees the first ever TV broadcast of the hugely popular Radio 1 Ibiza Prom from 2015, (see left)in which Pete Tong, Jules Buckley and the Heritage Orchestra transformed dance classics into orchestral masterpieces with the help of John Newman and Ella Eyre.
Violinists Nicola Benedetti and Alina Ibragimova; cello sensation Sheku Kanneh-Mason and his pianist sister Isata Kanneh-Mason; and sitar virtuoso Anoushka Shankar with electronic artist Gold Panda will all be among the live performers at The Royal Albert Hall.
The Proms will culminate in, perhaps a pared-back but surely no less enjoyable and heartfelt version of the traditional Last Night, with soprano Golda Schultz joining conductor Dalia Stasevska and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Meanwhile, choirs in England are still being advised not to perform together because of the risk of spreading the virus, which means that whilst the music of the Proms will be delivered in some forms, we will have to be patient a little while longer before we can listen to choral works performed live.
The return of public choir singing will actually be quite an essential re-launch of the economy element here on Lanzarote, with community, church and folk-lore choirs and their tourist offer is important to our local markets and communities.
We at Sidetracks & Detours are hugely looking forward to all the tv and digital proms, and we then can look forward to some live concert again here on the island that would be wonderful.