Five fabulous First Nights

The First Night of the Proms is finally upon us! Here are five notable beginnings to the BBC Proms


With the First Night of the BBC Proms finally upon us, we take a look back over the five memorable beginnings to the two-month festival.


10 August, 1895
Over the years, First Nights have ranged from those that feature just the one major work to those that showcase a range of different composers, pieces and styles. The first ever First Night – conducted by Henry Wood (pictured below) at Queen’s Hall – definitely fell into the latter category. A programme of 24 works by 24 different composers began with the National Anthem, followed by the overture from Rienzi by Wagner, a composer whose music has featured more than any other at the Proms.

13 August, 1927
By the time the BBC took over its first Proms season, the First Night – still under the baton of Sir Henry Wood – was still very much a multi-piece jamboree: 20 works in total. English music featured strongly, with pieces by Elgar, Parry, Quilter and Stanford all on the bill, while the evening’s most substantial work was Grieg’s Piano Concerto, performed by the Belgian pianist Arthur De Greef.

12 July, 1941
With Queen’s Hall reduced to rubble by German bombers, the Proms moved to the Royal Albert Hall for the first time in 1941. The indestructible Sir Henry Wood was still there though, conducting his 47th First Night. Nor was there any wartime rationing of the programme – the second half alone featured Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals, an aria from Handel’s Alessandro and, to round it all off, the overture to Wagner’s Flying Dutchman.

13 July, 1995
How to celebrate the centenary of the Proms? By opening the season with one of the most grandiose works of them all. As Sir Andrew Davis (pictured above) took to the stage, he was faced by the massed ranks of three London cathedral choirs, the Philharmonia, City of Birmingham Symphony and BBC Symphony choruses, an enlarged BBC Symphony Orchestra and, of course, the mighty Albert Hall organ. The work was Mahler’s ‘Symphony of a Thousand’ (below).

13 July, 2012
With the London 2012 Olympics around the corner, the Proms marked the occasion with a ‘baton relay’ of its own. Four conductors – Edward Gardner, Sir Roger Norrington, Sir Mark Elder and Martyn Brabbins – took it in turns to conduct an all-English programme that began with the world premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Canon Fever (below), a three-minute brass and percussion ‘fanfare’ commissioned by BBC Music Magazine to celebrate our 20th birthday.


Sir Andrew Davis conducts Elgar’s The Kingdom at the BBC Proms tonight at 7.30pm. Visit: