Jhe schedule announced today for this summer’s BBC Proms is making a big chunk of its return to normal. There are eight full weeks of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall this summer, after two years of severe restrictions – in 2020 only a fortnight of live music was shown live from an empty hall; last year’s season was also truncated and given almost entirely by British orchestras. But this year we are returning to the usual formula, with a major choral work – Verdi’s Requiem – to launch the jamboree on July 15, and a traditional Last Night conducted by Dalia Stasevska, with the cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and soprano Lise Davidsen as soloists.
But in other, less positive ways, things look a little too much like they did in 2019, when the season seemed lacking in adventure and too cautious in its approach. There’s very little sense of enterprise and imagination in the 2022 gigs either. The programs appear to have been planned in a distinctly risk-averse manner, with attention devoted to ensuring that every politically correct box is safely ticked, with the full range of family concerts, games and relaxed balls, but perhaps not given enough thought to what could be genuinely challenging or adventurous in what still insists on describing itself as the greatest classic music festival in the world.
The only major and welcome innovation is the complementary Monday noon chamber music series, which has taken place in recent years at Cadogan Hall in London. This time the eight-concert series is scattered across the country, with recitals taking place from Truro to Glasgow, Belfast to Battersea. And for an evening concert, the Proms desert the Royal Albert Hall for a trip to the Printworks in Rotherhithe, where the English National Opera will present a “lyric show” devised by countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo which mixes airs from Handel to excerpts from operas by Philip Glass and song cycles (September 3).
The important musical anniversaries of the year are of course given the attention they deserve. The 150th anniversary of Vaughan Williams’ birth is marked not by a full set of symphonies, but by a wider selection of his works, including the rarely heard tuba and oboe concertos. The bicentennial of César Franck, and the centenarians of George Walker, Doreen Carwithen and Iannis Xenakis are given due recognition, although in a move that seems concerned with giving the audience something too “difficult” or off-putting, only one of Xenakis is not substantial at all. Ethel Smyth is also generously represented, not because there is a particular anniversary to mark, but above all, one suspects, because Glyndebourne brings its new production of Smyth’s The Wreckers at the Albert Hall, providing a convenient home for a thematic thread.
Although there is no longer the parade of the world’s great and fine orchestras which was a feature of the last weeks of the Proms seasons, there is at least this year a healthy representation of orchestras from overseas, including including the brand new Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra (July 31), the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra (August 12) and the Philadelphia Orchestra (September 8 and 9).
There’s the usual scattering of specially commissioned plays and local premieres, but what’s missing are the special events, the kind of gigs that only the Proms, with all the resources of the BBC and the flexible space of the Albert Hall, could afford to organize. , be it a rarely performed opera, a massive orchestral score or an electro-acoustic novelty. That kind of ambition seems non-existent in prom planning these days, and it’s very depressing.
Andrew Clement Proms Highlights
Cassandra Miller premiere (July 18)
The first of the Proms orders of the year promises to be one of the most interesting. Miller is the latest composer to write a full-scale work for violist Lawrence Power, who is presenting his concerto with the BBC Philharmonic.
The site of an investigation (July 28)
Jennifer Walshe’s Deconstruction of a Symphony receives its London premiere, in an unlikely pairing with Brahms’ German Requiem; Ilan Volkov conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
The Tabarro (July 30)
A concert of tragedy in one act by Puccini, with the Hallé Orchestra conducted by Mark Elder, and Natalya Romaniw, George Gagnidze and Ivan Gyngazov as protagonists.
Panoramas of Prague (August 5)
Julian Anderson’s second symphony, inspired by photographs of the Czech capital in the 1940s, is premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Semyon Bychkov.
Australia World Orchestra (August 23)
Zubin Mehta makes an all-too-rare appearance in London leading a group drawn from 50 of the world’s greatest orchestras in a program by Webern, Debussy and Brahms.
Marchentanze (August 26)
Pekka Kuusisto is the soloist in the piece for violin and orchestra by Thomas Adès, based on popular English tunes.
That New Noise (August 30)
The BBC is celebrating its own 100th anniversary with a multimedia commission from the Public Service Broadcasting group, using audio and visual material from the society’s archives.
The Dream of Géronte (August 31)
Allan Clayton follows his huge success in the title role of the Royal Opera’s new production of Peter Grimes, taking the lead role in Elgar’s masterpiece; Edward Gardner conducts the London Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, Jamie Barton and James Platt are the other soloists.
Berlin Philharmonic (September 3 and 4)
Kirill Petrenko brings his large orchestra to London for two concerts; the first is devoted to a single work, Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, the second combines Schnittke’s Viola Concerto with Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony.
Missa Solemnis (September 7)
John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Monteverdi Choir and the Revolutionary and Romantic Orchestra on period instruments, with soloists Lucy Crowe, Ann Hallenberg, Giovanni Sala and William Thomas, in Beethoven’s late choral masterpiece.