First Night of the Proms

The BBC Proms gets underway!

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Mark-Anthony TurnageHere in the BBC Music Magazine office there’s always a huge amount of anticipation in the run up to the Proms. But this year, we had one more reason to look forward to the season opener – we'd commissioned the first piece of the season to celebrate the magazine's 20th anniversary.

We'd heard snippets of Mark-Anthony Turnage's Canon Fever, as the piece will be appearing on our September issue cover CD, but hearing it live was something else.

The three-minute fanfare scored for brass and percussion was a bold burst of exuberance with which to launch the 2012 Proms. And the piece also has a well-known birthday tune hidden away in the bass (listen about 20 seconds in…). Edward Gardner, who was the first conductor of four for the evening, conducted Turnage's piece with some hardy musicians from the BBC Symphony Orchestra before handing over the baton to Sir Roger Norrington for a spacious performance of Elgar’s utopian look at London, the Cockaigne Overture.

For the centrepiece of the evening, Sir Mark Elder took to the podium: Delius’s Sea Drift was sung movingly by baritone Bryn Terfel and the BBC Symphony Chorus.

The strand that ran through the evening was British music, and the second half began with Tippett’s Suite for the Birthday of Prince Charles, conducted by Martyn Brabbins. Elgar was next on the programme, with his Coronation Ode – seven pieces of occasional music never intended to be heard as a complete work. Soprano Susan Gritton, mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, tenor Robert Murray and bass-baritone Gerald Finley gave barn-storming performances of this most nationalistic of works.

Confusingly, the evening came to a close with a rendition of that Last Night of the Proms favourite Land of Hope and Glory – it was in the Coronation Ode that Elgar first decided to set words (by Arthur Christopher Benson) to his famous Pomp and Circumstance tune.

So we left the Royal Albert Hall with that Last Night feeling, but, happily, still with the rest of the Proms season to look forward to.

Watch the First Night of the Proms again on iPlayer. The BBC Proms run every day until 8 September.

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