An A-Z guide to the BBC Proms

As tickets go on sale, we select some highlights of the season

Published: April 29, 2016 at 11:00 pm

On 13 April, the programme for the BBC Proms season was revealed. The 122nd in the great festival's history, the new season was the first to be announced by new BBC Proms director David Pickard, and contains an intriguing mix of the traditional, the contemporary and the eye-catchingly unconventional. Whether you like Liszt at the hands of pianist Martha Argerich, Bruckner under the baton of Daniel Barenboim or, perhaps, an evening of sequinned cha-cha-cha-ing with Katie Derham, the 80+ concerts cover a broad range of tastes.


And from 9am on Saturday 7 May, you'll be able to buy tickets. We at BBC Music Magazine have, of course, had an enjoyable browse through the programme and picked out a few highlights. Here, from A to Z, we select some of the best. (And if anyone can suggest a suitable moment for 'X', we'll be more than grateful…)

A is for… the Aurora orchestra, who will again be performing an entire symphony from memory. This time it is Mozart’s epic ‘Jupiter’ – his 41st, last and (crucially) longest symphony! For a taste of the Aurora in action, watch them in the above extract, playing Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony last year. (Prom 21, 31 July)

B is for… Boulez & Bowie. Two late greats celebrated at this year’s Proms, starting with a Late Night tribute to David Bowie by Berlin-based collective s ta r g a z e. Later in the season, Boulez is honoured with performances from the Berlin Philharmonic, the BBC Singers and the Ensemble Intercontemporain – the group founded by Boulez himself in 1976. (Bowie: Prom 19, 29 July. Boulez: Prom 64 + 65, 2 September)

C is for… Cabaret. What better way to celebrate the life and works of French composer (and regular at Le Chat Noir cabaret club) Erik Satie, 150 years on from his birth? We believe the committed eccentric would approve. (Proms chamber music 3, 1 August)

D is for… Dutilleux. Another French composer, whose centenary is being marked by three separate performances of some of his best works: The Shadows of Time, inspired by the diaries of Anne Frank, Tout un monde lointain… with cellist Johannes Moser as soloist, and Timbres, espace, movement, a musical representation of Van Gogh’s painting The Starry Night. (Proms 32-34, 8-10 August)

E is for… Elgar’s Cello Concerto. This year, the work that above all brought Jacqueline du Pré to worldwide fame (see below) kicks off the whole season, as the Argentine cellist Sol Gabetta makes her Proms debut. (15 July, Prom 1)

F is for… Flórez. This year, the privilege of leading the singing at the famous Last Night of the Proms falls to the brilliant Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez. Expect broad smiles and sparkling high Cs aplenty. (Prom 75, 10 September)

G is for… Gospel music. On 19 July, the Proms holds its second ever Gospel Prom, in which Karen Gibson will conduct singers from some of our finest choirs. The good news (if you’ll forgive the pun) is that we’ll be talking about it in the July issue of BBC Music Magazine. (Prom 6, 19 July)

H is for… Husband and Wife. On the afternoon of 21 August, Rafael Payare will be conducting the Ulster Orchestra in works by Haydn, Tchaikovsky and Piers Hellawell. Then later that evening, Payare’s other half, the cellist Alisa Weilerstein, is the soloist in Matthias Pintscher’s Reflections on Narcissus, with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. (Proms 47 & 48, 21 August)

I is for… Ice creams. Plenty of these will be sold, we suspect, when the CBeebies Prom sees the Royal Albert Hall filled with knee-high music-lovers and their parents on 29 August. (Prom 58, 29 August)

J is for… Janácek. Featuring the wonderful Finnish soprano Karita Mattila, the Czech’s The Makropoulos Affair is one of three operas being performed at this year’s Proms. The others are Musorgsky’s Boris Godunov and Rossini’s Semiramide. (Throughout season: see July 2016 issue for full Proms listings)

K is for… Knighthoods. There’s plenty of ‘Sirs’ in attendance, including conductors – Antonio Pappano, Simon Rattle, Mark Elder, Andrew Davis, John Eliot Gardiner and Roger Norrington – and composer Harrison Birtwistle. And keep an eye out for András Schiff, tackling Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Piano Concerto No. 5. (Prom 59, 29 August)

L is for… Last Night. There’s a special anniversary this year, as one of the traditional Last Night second-half fixtures, Parry’s Jerusalem (see above), reaches its centenary. A starry cast of vocal talent (see 'Flórez, above) leads this celebratory end to the season (Prom 75, 10 September).

M is for… Multi-Story. Making its unlikely debut as a Proms venue is Peckham’s Bold Tendencies multi-storey car park, the regular haunt of Christopher Stark’s Multi-Story Orchestra. Against this concrete backdrop, the orchestra is performing an all-Steve Reich programme (3 September). Here it is in action…

N is for… New music. There are no fewer than 30 composer premieres, ranging from seasoned Proms regulars, like Thomas Adès and Sally Beamish, to 20-something newcomer Tom Harrold. Julian Anderson’s Incantesimi (Prom 66, 3 September) is commissioned by Simon Rattle and includes a solo for cor anglais.

O is for… Oramo. Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo is conducting four Proms this season, including the First and the Last Nights. But in between there are two major Fifths – the landmark symphonies by Beethoven and Mahler (Proms 34, 10 August & 39, 14 August).

P is for… Promming! A tradition at the heart of the Proms, dedicated Prommers often say that, rain or shine, queuing to get the on-the-day standing ticket is the best part of the Proms (how very English). However, for those less dedicated to the art of the queue, a limited number of Prommer tickets will be available online. Scandalous.

Q is for… Quick! Make sure you visit the online Prom Planner as soon as you finish reading this article (link at the end). There you can save all your favourite Proms ready to apply for tickets on 7 May.

R is for…Rattle. Of course we mean the conductor, not the toy. Sir Simon will be conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in two Proms this year in a programme encompassing Mahler, Dvorák, Brahms, Boulez, and a premiere by Julian Anderson (see 'New music', above). (2-3 September, Proms 64 & 66)

S is for… Shakespeare. There is plenty of Bard-inspired music with which to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Highlights include Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet fantasy-overture and Hans Abrahamsen’s new work Let me tell you, inspired by the words spoken by Ophelia in Hamlet. (Throughout season: see July 2016 issue for full Proms listings)

AND ALSO… for Strictly! The first Strictly Prom will star BBC Radio 3’s very own Katie Derham, finalist in the 2015 Strictly Come Dancing series. According to Derham, ‘There will be sequins.’ (21 July, Prom 8)

T is for… Ten Pieces. Now in its second year, BBC Ten Pieces has turned its focus onto secondary school pupils. Two Prom performances will incorporate live music with video animations, and include contributions from teenagers who have been taking part in the project since its launch in September 2015.

U is for…Ustvolskaya. The Soviet composer's short, intense, rarely-heard Third Symphony ‘Jesus Messiah, Save Us!’ (1983) sets words by an 11th-century German monk and musician Hermannus Contractus. This symphony acts, she once said, as ‘a form of exorcism’. (Prom 4, 18 July)

V is for…Verdi’s Requiem. What better place to hear this thrilling choral blockbuster than the Royal Albert Hall? The mighty Marin Alsop conducts. (Prom 74, 9 September)

W is for…Watkins. Times two. Huw Watkins has composed a cello concerto for his big brother, Paul. ‘I’m biased of course,’ says Huw, ‘but there’s no cellist I know who makes a more expressive, beautiful sound than Paul.’ (Prom 37, 12 August).

X is for…er… um… where’s a xylophone concerto when you need one?

Y is for…Youth. The nation’s top young musicians head to the Royal Albert Hall in force. There are youth choirs, youth orchestras, youth jazz orchestras, plus the BBC Ten Pieces II Proms for secondary school pupils and the CBeebies Proms for the under 5s (See 'Ice cream', above). (Throughout season: see July 2016 issue for full Proms listings)

Z is for… Zemlinsky’s Lyric Symphony. Simone Young, making her Proms debut, conducts this richly expressive masterpiece of 1923. Plus BBC Music Magazine critic Bayan Northcott’s Concerto for Orchestra is given its premiere in the same concert. (Prom 62, 31 August)

Create your online Prom-planner now, and apply for tickets from 7 May. Click here for more details.


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