‘We’ve had to make a series of calculated guesses’: Proms director David Pickard on this year’s season

BBC Proms director David Pickard talks to BBC Music Magazine about the complicated process of putting together the 2021 season – the first complete Proms festival since the coronavirus outbreak in 2020

How have you shaped this year’s season with the ever-changing Covid-19 restrictions?

We’ve had to make a series of calculated guesses. Even with the worst-case scenario, we should hopefully be able to get 1,000 people into the Albert Hall. We’re only doing one Prom a day, whereas in usual times we run a crazy schedule. Putting on a concert in Covid times is much slower and more laborious. We initially had 11 or 12 international orchestras pencilled in for this summer, but we’re focusing on UK musicians, which doesn’t feel like a compromise. It feels like we’re supporting who we should be at this time.

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What have the main challenges been?

The challenge has been the newly commissioned works in this year’s BBC Proms season, because composers tend to write for very large forces. However, we’ve been able to create new commissions for the smaller ensembles we have available, which is quaintly old fashioned. It’s the way Mozart and Haydn would have worked.

Which is the Prom you’re most proud of?

An awful lot of thought goes into each Prom. The Hallé Orchestra Prom (7 Sep), for example, has a series of linking parts audiences might not notice: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 has cadenzas by Saint-Saëns, whose Organ Symphony is also being played, as well as a new BBC Proms commission by Unsuk Chin, which also has Beethoven quotes within it.

Which Prom are you most looking forward to as an audience member?

We’ve done something quite ‘un-Promsy’ with the opera Prom (16 Aug), featuring great bleeding chunks of operas. We wouldn’t normally do a concert like that, but we’re responding to the fact that opera has been off the scene for so long. It was fun to work around the theme of separation and reconciliation in light of lockdown. In a normal year, people would say we didn’t need to hear Puccini’s La bohème again, but now we badly do.

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David Pickard spoke to Freya Parr for the August 2021 issue of BBC Music Magazine, on sale now.