Friday 28 April 2023

Hooray for summer and all that it has to offer! Tony Cooper reports on this year’s BBC Proms, the world’s largest classical-music festival

BBC Proms 2023

And summer has a lot to offer for classical-musical aficionados wherever they are with the BBC Proms running this year from Friday 14th July to the famous Last Night on Saturday 9th September. Therefore, there’s a feast of music over a wonderfully packed eight-week season offering more than 84 concerts featuring over 3000 musicians thus making the BBC Proms the largest festival of its kind in the world.

Remember, too, that the Proms reaches far beyond the Royal Albert Hall and this year for the first time the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome (often referred to locally as ‘Norfolk’s mini-Albert Hall’) is one of the chosen venues to be used outside of London. And for the first time, too, most of the concerts will be available on BBC Sounds for 12 months while BBC television and BBC iPlayer will broadcast 24 programmes including the First and Last Nights. These will also be available to watch on iPlayer for a period of 12 months.

The BBC orchestras and choirs, the ‘backbone’ of the Proms, will perform at 32 Proms including 14 premières while the BBC Singers will perform five Proms including the First and Last Nights plus a Late-Night Prom showcasing their broad range of repertoire while Sir Simon Rattle and Jon Hopkins have their own Late-Night Proms showcasing their huge range of repertoire, too.
Finnish conductor and violinist, Dalia Stasevska, chief conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Lahti International Sibelius Festival (7th to 10th September this year) as well as principal guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducts the First Night of the Proms featuring pianist Paul Lewis with the concert including a world première from Ukrainian composer, Bohdana Frolyak.  

BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall (Photo Mark Allan)
BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall (Photo Mark Allan)

Incidentally, Ms Stasevska made her BBC Proms début in 2019 and conducted the Last Night of the Proms a year later. Then in 2021, she conducted the First Night and together with BBC Symphony Orchestra they opened the Edinburgh International Festival in the same year.

The popular and ever-innovative Aurora Orchestra returns to the Proms for its greatest challenge to date: a dramatization of the origins of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring followed by a performance of the piece played entirely from memory. And György Kurtág’s highly anticipated first opera receives its UK première: an operatic version of Samuel Beckett’s play Endgame, performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Ryan Wigglesworth.

One of the highlights this year is the complete performance of Berlioz’s five-act grand opera The Trojans (the first performance in the UK for more than a decade) which will be performed by the Monteverdi Choir and the Orchestra Révolutionnaire et Romantique under Sir John Eliot Gardiner in celebration of his 80th birthday.

Further choral, opera and oratorio highlights across the season include Glyndebourne Festival’s new production of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites; Handel’s Samson with the Academy of Ancient Music featuring an all-star cast led by Allan Clayton; Mendelssohn’s Elijah performed by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Scottish Chamber Chorus led by Maxim Emelyanychev; Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast performed by baritone Thomas Hampson, the BBC Symphony Chorus and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Klaus Mäkelä and Schumann’s iconic secular oratorio Das Paradies und die Peri performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus led by Sir Simon Rattle.

The 2023 Proms coincide with the 150th anniversary of Rachmaninov’s birth. Therefore, eleven of his works will be performed during the season including the popular favourite Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini featuring Yuja Wang, Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor performed by Benjamin Grosvenor and Rachmaninov’s own rumoured personal favourite, The Bells, inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem, will ring out loud and clear performed by the BBC Symphony Chorus, the Hallé Orchestra and the Hallé Choir under Sir Mark Elder.

The BBC’s orchestras will also perform alongside a roster of star soloists while the season will welcome more international orchestras to the Royal Albert Hall including the Budapest Festival Orchestra under Iván Fischer with their much-loved ‘audience choice’ programme in which the audience chooses and votes ‘live’ from a list of 250 dances, overtures, marches and symphonic movements. Mobiles at the ready!

The Boston Symphony Orchestra under Andris Nelsons take on a couple of Proms featuring two European premières: Carlos Simon’s Four Black American Dances and Julia Adolphe’s Makeshift Castle. Augustin Hadelich performs with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich led by Paavo Järv; Kirill Gerstein teams up with the 100-year-old Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra led by Vladimir Jurowski and celebrated Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto guests with Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen while Raphaël Pichon conducts Mozart’s Requiem with Ensemble Pygmalion.

The Proms continues its exploration of orchestral collaborations with non-classical artists such as Rufus Wainwright who’ll be performing the world première of Want Symphonic, his orchestral adaptation of his studio albums Want One and Want Two while special guests join Jules Buckley who returns with the Jules Buckley Orchestra following their spectacular Proms début last year.  

And Jon Hopkins - who kickstarted his career playing keyboards for Imogen Heap and has produced (and contributed) to albums by Brian Eno, Coldplay and David Holmes - makes his Proms début with a 22-minute psychedelic drone epic for orchestra, choir and piano alongside reinterpretation of pieces from his critically acclaimed albums.

New musical genres are featured at the Proms for the first time and this year marks the 50th anniversary of the world-famous Wigan Casino, a nightclub in Wigan widely known as a primary venue for Northern Soul music which helped no end in making the north of England a global phenomenon of this musical genre. In this respect, the Northern Soul: Keep the Faith Prom, presented in partnership with BBC Radio 6 Music, will marry the underground British club culture of the 1960s and ’70s with the symphonic edge of the BBC Concert Orchestra under Edwin Outwater.  

The distinctive Portuguese musical style, Fado, primarily native to the cities of Lisbon and Coimbra, with the lyrics usually dealing with unhappy love, social grievances and times gone by, is featured at the Proms for the first time in a concert featuring award-winning Portuguese singer Mariza while a Bollywood Prom, in partnership with the BBC Asian Network, pays tribute to the late, great ‘Queen of Melody’, Lata Mangheshkar, featuring the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Michael Seal with special guest, Palak Muchhal, an Indian playback singer best known for her work in Bollywood films.

Alongside the broadening of its musical offering, the Proms continues to increase its geographical reach. A weekend of six Proms at The Sage, Gateshead, is launched with a special collaboration between the Royal Northern Sinfonia and Robert Ames. The weekend opens, though, with British singer-songwriter, Self Esteem (Rebecca Lucy Taylor) who came to prominence as one half of the band, Slow Club. Later she launched herself on a blazing solo career as Self Esteem with the hit single ‘Your Wife’ in 2017 followed by such acclaimed albums as Compliments Please in 2019 and Prioritise Pleasure in 2021.

Across the UK, the ‘Proms @’ chamber concerts take place at Aberystwyth, Derry, Dewsbury, Perth and Truro while the BBC Concert Orchestra can be heard in concert at the iconic Hippodrome in Great Yarmouth as part of their ongoing residency.

The season culminates in the famous Last Night with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and BBC Singers. This year’s festival finale is led by Marin Alsop, who’s joined by Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Lise Davidsen. Alongside traditional Last Night favourites, audiences can enjoy the world première of 1922, a celebration of the BBC’s centenary from fast-rising British composer, James B. Wilson.  

David Pickard, Director, BBC Proms, had this to say: ‘There is no other classical music festival in the world to match the range and breadth of the BBC Proms. It is the place where so many discover orchestral music for the first time whether through a cornerstone of the classical repertoire, ground-breaking new work or collaborations with some of today’s most exciting artists. Our musical range in 2023 extends from Bach to Bollywood and geographically from Gateshead to Great Yarmouth as we continue to build on Henry Wood’s vision of ‘‘the best of classical music for the widest possible audience.” ’

Therefore, the team behind the hugely successful Horrible Histories is presenting Orrible Opera, an irreverent introduction to opera featuring the Orchestra and Chorus of English National Opera while the weekend festival at The Sage, Gateshead, closes with CBeebies’ Ocean Adventure performed by the Royal Northern Sinfonia conducted by Kwamé Ryan.  

Throughout its 128-year history, the Proms has been at the forefront of musical innovation. This year, the festival will première 23 new works, 15 of which have been commissioned or co-commissioned by the BBC. New music highlights include the world première of Begin Afresh from the Master of the King’s Music, Judith Weir. Kirill Karabits conducts the UK première of his father Ivan’s work, Concerto for Orchestra No.1: ‘A Musical Gift to Kyiv’ and Ryan Wigglesworth conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Chorus in the UK première of Helen Grime’s Meditations on Joy.  

This year also marks the centenary of the death of Dora Pejačević, the first prominent female Croatian composer with performances of her works including the Symphony in F sharp minor and Cello Sonata.  

The Proms reflects on one hundred years since the birth of György Ligeti, one of the boldest voices of the 20th century, whose ear-bending sounds brought wit as well as invention to the concert hall. Performances of his works include Concert Românesc, Lontano and Mysteries of the Macabre as well as such interesting choral works as Nonsense Madrigals, Requiem and Lux aeterna.

And leading figures of the English Renaissance choral tradition, William Byrd and Thomas Weelkes, both died 400 years ago. Therefore, secular and sacred works will be heard by Byrd sung by Stile Antico (one of the world’s finest vocal ensembles renowned for their vibrant and expressive performances of music from the Renaissance) and a selection of Weelkes’ madrigals by the Gesualdo Six (an award-winning vocal consort directed by Owain Park). Coleridge Taylor is also celebrated throughout the season and a particularly exciting concert comes from the Chineke! Orchestra under Anthony Parnther featuring Nigerian-Scottish trumpeter, Aaron Azunda Akugbo.

Sam Jackson, Controller, BBC Radio 3, enthused: ‘I’m greatly looking forward to my first Proms season as Controller of BBC Radio 3 with such an ambitious and diverse series of concerts on offer at the Royal Albert Hall and across the UK. And I’m delighted that, for the first time, most Proms will be available on BBC Sounds for a year, extending the national and international reach of the world’s biggest and longest-running classical music festival.’

BBC Radio 3 believes arts and music make the world a better place by bringing people together through shared experience and understanding, providing a place of inspiration and a means to navigate a complex world. The station wants to enable as many people as possible to have life-changing musical and arts experiences.  

Furthermore, BBC Radio 3 aims to provide listeners with time out from a busy world through full-length artistic performances and slow radio that takes the time it takes. BBC Radio 3 prides itself on being a commissioner and interpreter of complex culture; shining a new light on well-loved artistic works and investing in new artistic talent to bring cutting-edge work to audiences everywhere.  

Therefore, as one of the most significant commissioners of contemporary classical music anywhere in the world, BBC Radio 3 prides itself as the biggest broadcaster of live classical concerts which includes, of course, the Proms series. From classical music to arts discussion, documentaries to essays, drama to sound art, video games and film music, to jazz, world, ambient, electronic and the avant-garde, there’s a Radio 3 programme for practically everyone! Remember, BBC Radio 3 can be accessed on BBC Sounds, DAB, online and on FM.

As usual, there’s so much on offer at the Proms so check out the full, detailed and informative programme by visiting

The Proms continues its commitment to accessible ticket prices with seats from £9 and half-price tickets for under-18s plus booking fees. Promming day standing tickets are £8 inclusive of booking fees. Tickets are available via or by phone on 020 7070 4441 and in person at the Royal Albert Hall. 

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