A quick guide to... the Cello at the BBC Proms

Alec Evans presents a complete guide to the Proms' cello season.

Sol Gabetta (Credit: Uwe Arens)
Published: July 13, 2016 at 3:54 pm
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Yo-Yo Ma's performance of JS Bach’s entire unaccompanied cello suites at last year’s Proms was an unforgettable moment in Proms history. But, for fans of the cello, it was the only chance of the season to see the instrument take centre stage.


Not so this year. At the 2016 season, we can look forward to ten cello concertos, the premieres of two specially commissioned cello works and one concert by an ensemble of twelve cellos. When there's even a section in the official Proms brochure titled 'No More Second Fiddle', it's clear that 2016 promises to be the Year of the Cello. Here are the opportunities for Prommers to hear the cello this summer...

Prom 1: Sol Gabetta (7pm, Friday 15 July)

Not one to shy away from a challenge on her Proms debut, Sol Gabetta will be performing Elgar’s Cello Concerto with Sakari Oramo and BBC Symphony Orchestra on the opening night of this year’s season. If the Argentinian cellist’s previous performances of the work are anything to go by, we can expect a fresh and exciting take on perhaps the most famous piece in the cello repertoire.

This Prom is broadcast live on BBC2 from 19:30-20:30, then BBC4 from 20:30-21:30

Sol Gabetta plays Elgar as her cello has visuals projected onto it for Proms 2016 promotional video 'Cello'.

Proms Chamber Music 1: Bjørg Lewis (1pm, Monday 18 July. Cadogan Hall)

From its aggressive spiccato sections to its beautiful modal harmonies, Debussy’s Cello Sonata is one of the definitive works for the cello. Norway’s Bjørg Lewis will be performing the work accompanied by her husband Paul Lewis, before joining the rest of her Vertavo Quartet for Dutilleux’s Ainsi la nuit and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12, also featuring Paul Lewis.

Proms Chamber Music 2: Guy Johnston and friends (1pm, Monday 25 July. Cadogan Hall)

The first BBC Young Musician winner of the new millennium has recruited a group of fellow cellists for the largest all-cello ensemble of the season. The 12 cellos will treat us to a varied programme of large cello ensemble works by Villa-Lobos and Klengel alongside arrangements of Bach’s ‘O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht’ and Elgar’s Nimrod.

Prom 25: Alban Gerhardt (7.30pm, Wednesday 3 August)

Gerhardt is often an enthusiastic champion of lesser-known cello concertos, having performed the premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Cello Concerto at the 2009 Proms, but this year’s appearance sees the German cellist performing one of the most famous. Dvořák’s B Minor concerto is being accompanied by Charles Dutoit and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, alongside Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle.

Proms Extra: Guy Johnston (11am, Tuesday 9 August. Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall)

For younger musicians as eager to participate as they are to listen, the Albert Hall’s Elgar Room is hosting a workshop for 14-21-year-olds to perform in an ensemble with Guy Johnston and discover Charlotte Bray’s composition ‘Falling in the Fire’, a piece of which Johnston will be performing the official premiere that weekend.

Prom 33: Johannes Moser (7.30pm, Tuesday 9 August)

Following a career performing alongside orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic and Royal Concertgebouw, German/Canadian cellist Johannes Moser is performing with BBC Philharmonic and Juanjo Mena. This Prom sees his rendition of Henri Dutilleux’s cello concerto ‘Tout un monde lointain’, which translates as ‘an entire distant world’, a mysterious work based on the work of 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire.

Proms 37: Paul Watkins (7.30pm, Friday 12 August)

BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Thomas Søndergård will be treating us to the premiere of the cello concerto by Welsh composer and RCM composition professor Huw Watkins. The work will be performed by the composer’s brother Paul Watkins, who is no stranger to playing works of this genre at the Proms, having performed cello concertos by everyone from Elgar in 2007 to Lutosławski in 2013.

Proms 39: Guy Johnston (7.30pm, Sunday 14 August)

Guy Johnston’s third appearance at The Proms 2016 sees him premiere Charlotte Bray’s Falling in the Fire. This is a piece that the former Birmingham Conservatoire student wrote upon hearing the news that ISIS had destroyed the ancient city of Palmyra. Speaking to BBC Music earlier this year, she said of the work: ‘It was the first time I’d ever thought about doing anything from a political motivation. I wanted to do something that would be connected to people, what the people of this land are enduring.’

Proms 40: Steven Isserlis (7.30pm, Monday 15 August)

Having performed at The Proms a number of times since his 1989 debut, Steven Isserlis will be premiering the orchestral arrangement of Thomas Adès’ Lieux retrouvés with Britten Sinfonia, conducted by Adès. Translating as ‘places found’, the work was originally scored for cello and piano, and was inspired by the ‘haunting sense of time and place’ of the cello.

Steven Isserlis performs Dark Pastoral at the 2010 Proms, a David Matthews piece based on the slow movement of Vaughan Williams' Cello Concerto.

Prom 41: Leonard Elschenbroich (7pm, Tuesday 16 August)

Composed to celebrate the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche Dresden church destroyed in World War II, Colin Matthews’ Berceuse for Dresden is a piece for cello and orchestra based upon the eight bells of the Dresden church. Leonard Elschenbroich, the German cellist whose 2013 debut CD of Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata was BBC Music’s Choice of the Month upon release, is giving the work’s first performance in London, accompanied by Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra.

This Prom is broadcast on BBC4 from 20:00 on Thursday 25 August

Prom 47: Narek Hakhnazaryan (3.45pm, Sunday 21 August)

Armenian cellist and former Moscow Conservatory student Narek Hakhnazaryan has performed with many of the world’s leading orchestra ahead of this prom with Ulster Orchestra and Rafael Payare. In Prom 47, he will be playing Haydn’s Cello Concerto No 1 in C major, a piece that was dedicated to his friend Joseph Franz Weigl and presumed lost for almost 200 years until its 1961 rediscovery.

Prom 53: Truls Mørk (7.30pm, Thursday 25 August)

Following on from his last appearance at the Proms performing Elgar’s Cello Concerto, Truls Mørk will be giving the Proms 2016’s final cello recital with a performance of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No 1 accompanied by Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Vasily Petrenko. The concerto is one of the composer’s most technically challenging works, originally written for Mstislav Rostropovich.

Truls Mørk performs Britten's Cello Suite No 2 at the Proms in 2014

All of these events (with the exception of Guy Johnston's Proms Extra workshop) will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3

By Alec Evans

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