BBC Proms premieres: all the new works commissioned for the 2023 BBC Proms season
We explore the new works being performed at The BBC Proms 2023
The BBC Proms are renowned for commissioning and performing new pieces every year – some by already well-established and acclaimed composers; others by exciting new talent. Either way, they represent an exciting chance to hear some works at the start of their performing history.
BBC Proms premieres 2023
Works that have never been performed before, many of which have been commissioned by or in collaboration with the BBC Proms
Bohdana Frolyak: Let there be Light (BBC commission; world premiere)
14 July (Prom 1)
In addition to being one of Ukraine’s foremost composers, Bohdana Frolyak (born in 1968) is also a social activist.
Her new piece, ‘Let there Be Light’, certainly has a political edge to it, symbolising the return of light from darkness.
Grace-Evangeline Mason: Ablaze the Moon (BBC commission; world premiere)
18 July (Prom 6)
Named as the ‘face to watch’ for classical music in The Times 2020 Calendar of the Arts, the 28-year-old British composer Grace-Evangeline Mason is carving out a reputation for creating ethereal sound-worlds often inspired by art, poetry and literature.
Her short new work, Ablaze the Moon, is inspired by the poem ‘Tonight’ by the American lyric poet, Sara Teasdale, evoking the image of the moon as a flower of gold hanging in a dark sky.
Kristina Arakelyan: Whin Lands (BBC commission; world premiere)
22 July (Proms at Sage Gateshead)
A first-prize winner at the BBC Young Composers’ Competition, this Armenian-born, UK-educated, composer writes music of intense lyricism, with influences ranging from JS Bach and Renaissance polyphony to Stravinsky, Bartók and Khachaturian, whose music she grew up with.
Her new commission, ‘Whin Lands’ takes inspiration from Katrina Porteous’s poem This Far and No Further, conjuring up the image of night falling across the wild, windswept landscape of Hadrian’s Wall.
Helen Grime: Meditations on Joy (BBC co-commission; UK premiere)
23 July (Prom 12)
Described in The Guardian, as someone with a unique palette, who ‘writes as though her music needs to be told’, Helen Grime is one of the foremost British contemporary composers.
First performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in February 2023, her BBC co-commission is an exploration of joy in its many forms, with each of its three movements taking as its starting point a different poem associated with joy.
Catherine Lamb: Portions Transparent/Opaque (BBC commission; world premiere)
24 July (Prom 13)
The US-born, Berlin-based composer describes her music as exploring ‘the interaction of tone, summations of shapes and shadows, phenomenological expansions, the architecture of the liminal (states in between outside/inside), and the long introduction form.’
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Her new piece, performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Ilan Volkov, is a trio of movements inspired by colour theory that move gradually from sonic expansion to collapse.
Noriko Koide: Swaddling Silk and Gossamer Rain (BBC commission; world premiere)
25 July (Prom 14)
The 41-year-old Japanese composer has embraced a vast spectrum of sound-worlds, from that of rigorous contemporary music on one side to pop and improvisation on the other.
This year’s Proms series sees the European premiere of her silkworm-inspired Swaddling Silk and Gossamer Rain, commissioned for last year’s BBC Proms Japan.
Olivia Belli: Limina Luminis (BBC commission; world premiere)
25 July (Prom 15)
The co-founder of a festival in which dancers, actors, photographers, video makers and painters collaborate with musicians, this Italian composer has long been interested in the boundary between art forms.
For this late night concert, she has written a new work for organist Anna Lapwood, who makes her Proms debut.
Mason Bates: Piano Concerto (UK premiere)
30 July (Prom 20)
Known for expanding the orchestra to include electronics in his works, the American composer-cum-DJ Mason Bates refuses to be bound by musical categories: he thinks of the orchestra as a giant synthesiser, and regularly integrates jazz, techno, drum-n-bass as well as field recordings into his music.
Premiered in Philadelphia in January 2022, his Piano Concerto bucks the trend, in that it contains no hint of electronics. It does, however, take influence from Renaissance madrigals, dance-club rhythms, Bach’s keyboard works, jazz, Minimalism as well as the lush sound of Hollywood.
Derrick Skye: Nova Plexus (BBC Commission; world premiere)
31 July (Prom 21)
This Los Angeles-based composer, conductor and educator is known for writing music that integrates practices from cultures around the world.
His 18-minute new work, Nova Plexus, will be performed by the BBC National Orchesra of Wales under Ryan Bancroft.
Ivan Karabits: Concerto for Orchestra No.1, ‘A Musical Gift to Kyiv’ (UK premiere)
2 August (Prom 24)
The father of the conductor Kirill Karabits, Ivan was one of Ukraine’s leading 20th century composers, whose music was steeped in Ukrainian folk traditions, with nods to both Mahler and Shostakovich.
Concerto for Orchestra No.1, however, reflects the influence of Karabits’s friend and mentor: the Soviet-Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin. Written as a celebration for the 150th anniversary of Kiev, it is a colourful and theatrical work with rapidly shifting musical scenery, as though designed as a whistle stop tour of Kiev’s landmarks.
Jimmy López Bellido Perú Negro (European premiere)
4 August (Prom 27)
Though widely known in America, the bold, muscular and ever colourful music of the Peruvian composer Jimmy López Bellido deserves more UK-based listeners.
This BBC Prom should provide a fair few, featuring the UK premiere of Bellido’s 16-minute work Perú Negro, an intensely rhythmical work showing the influence of Afro-Peruvian music.
Roxanna Panufnik: A Floral Tribute (BBC Co-ommission: world premiere)
9 August (Prom 34)
Eclectic, imaginative and stylistically wide ranging as it is, the music of Roxanna Panufnik is hard to pin down. But one thing you could call it is emotionally direct.
Set in memory of Queen Elizabeth II, to a poem by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, her Floral Tribute is something of a bittersweet lullaby, mourning the late queen’s passing while celebrating her finest qualities.
György Kurtag: Endgame (European premiere)
17 August (Prom 43)
Often mentioned in the same breath as his late friend Gyögy Ligeti, the 97-year-old Hungarian composer György Kurtág is royalty - as far as the world of contemporary classical music is concerned.
Endgame, his opera based on Samuel Beckett’s great absurdist play, drew hyperbole from critics after its 2018 world premiere at La Scala. ‘Beckett has been waiting for Kurtág all this time,’ wrote The New Yorker, while The Guardian named it one of the greatest operas of the century.
Samy Moussa: Symphony No. 2 (European premiere)
18 August (Prom 44)
Born and raised in Montreal, this 39-year-old composer and conductor is rapidly gaining traction in the world of contemporary classical music, thanks to the vibrant colour and energy of his work.
Premiered last year in Toronto, his Symphony No. 2 has been described as a ‘Neo-Romantic offering’, that comes across ‘much like a lush movie soundtrack.’
Judith Weir: Begin Afresh (BBC commission; world premiere)
24 August (Prom 51)
Although she is best known for her operas and theatrical works, the Master of the King’s Music brings a theatricality to all of her output, conjuring up a sense enchantment through the simplest of means.
This new piece, inspired by Philip Larkin’s poem ‘The Trees’, is ‘a kind of diary’ in the composer’s words: ‘an almost continuous survey of musical reflections about the trees and plants I observed, in a very urban setting, over the period of a year.’
Julia Adolphe: Makeshift Castle (European premiere)
25 August (Prom 52)
As someone who has long juggled a dual international career as a concert organist and prolific composer, Known, as she is, for the mercurial quality of her music, Julia Adolphe has chosen an appropriate name for her new piece. Makeshift Castle, which premiered at Tanglewood last year, is a 15-minute-long meditation - in the words of the composer herself - 'on the contrasting states of permanence and ephemerality’.
Rachel Laurin: Prelude and Fugue in G major (world premiere)
26 August (Prom 54)
As someone who has long juggled a dual international career as a concert organist and prolific composer, Rachel Laurin has made a huge contribution to organ repertoire over the last few decades.
Her Prelude and Fugue in G major will see Laurin’s compatriot, the Canadian organist Isabelle Demers, making her Proms debut, putting the Royal Albert Hall’s almighty organ through its paces.
Carlos Simon: Four Black American Dances (European premiere)
26 August (Prom 55)
The son of a preacher, this Atlanta-based composer embraces all kinds of genres - jazz, gospel, hip-hop and contemporary classical music among them - writing everything from film scores to concert music.
His Four Black American Dances is intended as a snapshot of the cultural and social differences with the Black American communities, exploring the music associated with the Ring Shout, the Waltz, Tap Dance and the Holy Dance.
Jon Hopkins: New work (BBC commission; world premiere)
29 August (Prom 58)
Until now, Jon Hopkins was mostly known as a producer, electronic musician, remixer and long-term collaborator of Brian Eno and Coldplay. In the meantime, though, he has beavered away, developing his own identity, style and sound.
That sound will be showcased on 29 August, when he makes his BBC Proms debut with a world premiere: a 22-minute psychedelic drone epic for orchestra, choir and piano.
Sarah Rodgers: Seascapes (BBC commission; world premiere)
8 September (Proms at Great Yarmouth)
A direct descendant of the family of Henry Purcell, the British composer Sarah Rodgers is known for her interest in cross-cultural music, often using indigenous instruments from other countries. Her latest project, however, roots her firmly in the UK.
For Great Yarmouth’s first ever BBC Prom, this September, she has written a piece called Seascapes, bringing the colour and character of the British coastal setting to life.
Gabriela Ortiz: Clara (UK premiere)
8 September (Prom 70)
With an intensely rhythmical musical language that embraces folk music and jazz, Gabriela Ortiz is one of Mexico’s most sought-after classical composers.
Clara, which premiered in New York in 2022, is inspired by the relationship between Clara Wieck Schumann and Robert Schumann, and is an attempt, in Ortiz’s words ‘to voice and create, through my ear, the expressiveness and unique strength of their complex, but also fascinating personalities.’
James B. Wilson: 1922 (BBC commission; world premiere)
9 September (Prom 71)
James B Wilson (the ‘B’ is to distinguish him from the Irish composer James Wilson, who coincidentally was born in 1922, whereas our JBW was born in 1990) studied at the Royal Academy of Music under the colourful Gary Carpenter (some people may remember Carpenter’s ‘star turn’ early in his career in the original version of The Wicker Man), as well as taking lessons with Maxwell Davies.
He leapt to widespread attention with Remnants, his 2020 piece inspired by a moment in the Black Lives Matter movement. Since then the British composer has gained much acclaim for the skill and visceral energy with which he explores the stories of contemporary life.
His brand new piece, originally scheduled to take place at 2022’s cancelled Last Night of the Proms, is about the first BBC broadcast, 101 years ago.
Wilson’s other influences range from Benjamin Britten to the films of David Lynch. Among his many distinctive collaborations, with such musicians and ensembles as the pianist Benjamin Grosvenor and Genesis16, perhaps the most outstanding is being the first composer to be commissioned to write a piece for the Chineke! Orchestra; the resulting piece, The Green Fuse, being premiered at The Cheltenham Festival.