Friday 21 April 2023

Les Troyens, Carmelites, Endgame and 'Orrible Opera: the 2023 season of the BBC Proms

BBC Proms - BBC Concert Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in 2023
BBC Proms - BBC Concert Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in 2023

So, the BBC Proms are back; the season, announced yesterday, will run from 14 July to 9 September 2023, and features 84 concerts including 72 at the Royal Albert Hall. It is a return to the full, large-scale Prom season. Sort of. There are visiting orchestras and ensembles, including the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Les Siecles and Pygmalion, but these play a rather smaller role than in pre-COVID times. 

There are positive differences too. This year, for the first time, the First Night and the Last Night are both conducted by women; Dalia Stasevska conducts the First Night and Marin Alsop returns to conduct her third Last Night. There are a total of ten women conducting this year, two making their Proms debuts, and of the 23 new works, 11 are by women and a third of the concerts include a work by a woman. Not parity, but a step forward.

The move in recent years to take the Proms back out of the Royal Albert Hall continues. There is a mini-season at Sage Gateshead, with six concerts over a weekend led by the Royal Northern Sinfonia and its chief conductor Dinis Sousa. The BBC Concert Orchestra will be celebrating its Great Yarmouth residency with a Prom in that town, at the Hippodrome, and there are concerts across the UK, at the Guildhall Londonderry, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Dewsbury Town Hall, the Hall for Cornwall in Truro, and Perth Concert Hall.

And at a time when the BBC's tone-deaf announcement about the funding cuts for its performing ensembles is still a hot topic, the BBC Orchestras and Choirs play their usual big role in the festival, performing in 32 Proms including 14 premieres, and the BBC Singers will be there, performing in five Proms including the First Night, the Last Night and in Poulenc's Figure Humaine conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.

Large-scale chorus works and opera are very much present this year. Sir John Elliot Gardiner conducts Berlioz' Les Troyens with the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique with Alice Coote as Cassandre, Paule Murrihy as Didon and Michael Spyres as Aeneas, a superb 80th birthday celebration indeed and the first time that London has seen the opera for 10 years. Glyndebourne is bringing its production of Poulenc's The Carmelites with Sally Matthews as Blanche, Katarina Dalayman as the Old Prioress, Golda Schultz as the New Prioress and Karen Cargill as Mere Marie, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Robin Ticciati. The third opera is equally compelling, the UK premiere of Gyorgy Kurtag's Beckett-based Endgame with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth. And Keri-Lynn Wilson conducts English National Opera Chorus and Orchestra in a collaboration with Horrible Histories, 'Orrible Opera!

Big choral pieces include Rachmaninoff's The Bells, one of a dozen of the composer's works in the season celebrating his 150th anniversary, with Sir Mark Elder conducting the Halle. Other big pieces include Orff's Carmina Burana and Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms from Kazuki Yamada and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Mendelssohn's Elijah from Scottish Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Maxim Emelyanychev, Walton's Belshazzar's Feast from BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, conductor Klaus Makela, Handel's Samson with Allan Clayton in the title role and Lawrence Cummings conducting the Academy of Ancient Music, John Butt conducts the Dunedin Consort in a new edition of Mozart's Mass in C minor, and Sir Simon Rattle conducts Schumann's Das Paradies und die Peri with the London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra.

There are plenty of other ways to cut the season. Composer anniversaries celebrated include Dora Pejačević (the first prominent female Croatian composer), György Ligeti, Thomas Weelkes and William Byrd, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's music runs throughout the season (six works in total), there are collaborations with non-classical artists including Rufus Wainwright, Self Esteem and Jon Hopkins, there is a Bollywood Prom with Indian singer Palak Muchhal and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra led by Michael Seal, a Northern Soul Prom and Portuguese Fado from Mariza. The Aurora Orchestra will be tackling Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, playing it from memory!

Kirill Karabits conducts the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, which he has led for the last 14 years, in a concert that starts with his father, Ivan Karabits' Concerto for Orchestra No. 1 'A Musical Gift to Kyiv'.

Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. With an array of new, unusual and rarely performed works in the concerts, it will be interesting to see whether David Pickard, his team and collaborators have been able to create programmes that feel organic, where the new work or the rarity does not feel shoe-horned in. For instance, the first night features Sibelius' Finlandia, Grieg's Piano Concerto and Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra alongside a Sibelius rarity, Snofrid and a new work by Ukrainian composer Bohdana Folyak. But when Edward Gardner conducts Ligeti's Requiem with the London Symphony Orchestra he wittily pairs it with Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra, referencing the two works common use in 2001, a Space Odyssey.

Full details from the BBC Proms website. Booking opens at 9 am on Saturday 13 May.

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Elsewhere on this blog

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  • A joyous Easter celebration from Florilegium at Wigmore Hall - concert review
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  • The sheer sense of engagement from the young choral singers was a joy: Bach's St Matthew Passion from Choir of King's College, London at St John's Smith Square - concert review
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