First in the world to “stream” concerts of a big classical-music festival on the radio, for almost a century now, the BBC Proms will have its 127th season live again, after a pandemic-forced 2020 season of recorded music only.
From July 30 through Sept. 11, once again live broadcasts will be heard daily on BBC-3, most concerts beginning at 7:30 p.m. British Summer Time (11:30 a.m. PT), the festival returning to the 5,000 seat Royal Albert Hall, which is celebrating its 150th year, and Cadogan Hall.
The concert series first originating as The Promenades in 1838, under Arthur Sullivan as one of its directors, took its present form in 1895, and became a BBC enterprise in 1927.
Defying COVID-19, Brexit, and travel restrictions, the 2021 season will have 52 concerts over 44 days, featuring 30 orchestras and ensembles, over 100 soloists and conductors, and more than 2,000 musicians. Impressive as those numbers are, it’s actually a cutback from the usual season of 75 concerts over an eight-week season; and programs are shorter than they were in recent years, some running under an hour.
But the greatest combined impact of COVID and Brexit is the change from one of the richest international festivals to a virtually all-British event: of the 30 participating orchestras, only one is from abroad: the Mahler Chamber Orchestra from Germany; Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla and Semyon Bychkov are the only foreign conductors.
Some highlights of the season:
July 30: First Night will have the premiere of James MacMillan’s When Soft Voices Die, a companion piece to Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music, the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dalia Stasevska. The program, which runs less than an hour, also includes Poulenc’s Organ Concerto.
Aug. 1: The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, with its young Principal Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev, perform Mozart’s final three symphonies, composed in just two months in the summer of 1788.
Aug. 2: Elim Chan conducts the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in a concert of music by Purcell, Saint-Saëns, Brahms, and Elizabeth Ogonek.
Aug. 5: Gražinyte-Tyla conducts the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in the music of neglected British composer Ruth Gipps, along with Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel Symphony, and Brahms’ Symphony No. 3.
Aug. 8: The BBC National Orchestra of Wales with Principal Conductor Ryan Bancroft perform Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, Ives’s Three Places in New England, and the world premiere of Augusta Read Thomas’ BBC-commissioned Dance Foldings.
Aug. 10: World premiere of the BBC-commissioned Parallel Universes by Britta Byström, inspired by cosmologist Max Tegmark’s notion of a “hierarchical multiverse,” and the Sibelius Violin Concerto with Jennifer Pike, BBC Young Musician of the Year. John Storgårds conducts the BBC Philharmonic.
Aug. 12: Vladimir Jurowski makes his final appearance as the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s principal conductor — a position he has held for 14 years — in a concert of Stravinsky’ Jeu de cartes, Walton’ Cello Concerto, with Steven Isserlis, Bach’s 14 Canons from the Goldberg Variations, and Hindemith’ Mathis der Maler Symphony.
Aug. 16: Opera night with sopranos Sally Matthews, Natalya Romaniw, and Nardus Williams; mezzo Christine Rice; tenors Nicky Spence and Freddie De Tommaso. Ben Glassberg conducts the BBC Philharmonic.
Aug. 22: Simon Rattle conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in a concert marking the 50th anniversary of Stravinsky’s death.
Aug. 28: Patricia Kopatchinskaja is the soloist in Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto, with Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
Aug. 30: George Benjamin conducts the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in the world premiere of his Concerto for Orchestra, Ravel’s Piano Concerto, and an “operatic potpourri” by Oliver Knussen.
Sept. 11: Last Night of the Proms, tenor Stuart Skelton and Latvian accordionist Ksenija Sidorova join the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sakari Oramo for a program of brief pieces by Gity Razaz, Thomas Arne, Edward Elgar, and Hubert Parry; with the conventional festival closer of Auld lang syne and Britten’s arrangement of the National Anthem.