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July 21, 2010

Guest blog post: Enjoy the Proms concerts from London online via BBC

My thanks to Mike, a terribly astute commentator on this blog, for submitting this guest post about the famed Proms. I'm so glad he reminded me about listening online, which I'm already doing (I clicked on 'Meistersinger' while plugging away at my desk at the Sun -- 40 minutes down, five hours to go.) -TIM   

Royal Albert HallOne of the happiest summer time traditions in London is the series of concerts sponsored by the British Broadcasting System (BBC) known as the Promenade Concerts or, more usually the “Proms”. And, thanks to BBC and the Internet, people around the world can share in this musical feast.

The Proms were started in 1895 by Robert Newman (manager of Queen’s Hall, where the first Proms took place), George Cathcart (a philanthropist who funded the first Proms) and the composer/conductor/arranger Sir Henry Wood. It is Wood whose name is most closely associated with the venture, and for a time the Proms were known as the “Sir Henry Wood Promenade Concerts”.

The Proms concerts were held at Queen’s Hall until 1941, when the building was destroyed by German bombs in an air raid where 1,436 lives were lost. The main Proms concerts are now held at the massive Royal Albert Hall, which seats over 5,000. However, for the Proms concerts the floor level seating is removed , and the “Prommers” walk about (promenade), stand or, for less popular concerts, sit or lie on the floor to enjoy a panoply of music from mid-July until early September.

The programs feature some of the world’s greatest classical soloists and orchestras in programs that can range from Sondheim to Mahler, Mozart, Wagner and Brahms, to world premieres and works by composers such as Part, Cage and Messiaen.

The Proms kicked off on Friday, July 16 with

a performance of Mahler’s massive Symphony #8 (The Symphony of a Thousand) with over 600 performers under the baton of Jiri Belohlavek. Saturday the 17th brought a complete concert performance of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nuremburg by the Welsh National Opera featuring superstar bass-baritone Bryn Terfel as Sachs, and tenor Raymond Very (who local music lovers may remember from performances with Washington National Opera and Washington Summer Opera) as Walther.

Two semi-staged concerts of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra (half the opera was performed each night), featuring the company of the Royal Opera House and starring tenor Placido Domingo in the title role (the first baritone role Domingo has undertaken onstage since the very beginning of his career) where up next.

Then on July 19th, Vasily Petrenko led the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in a program that included Tchaikovsky’s oft-neglected “Manfred” Symphony, while on the 20th Symon Bychkov led the West German Radio Symphony (Cologne) in a program featuring music by Wagner, Mendelssohn, and Richard Strauss, plus the UK premiere of American composer Gunther Schuller’s “Where the World Ends”.

But if a trip to London is not in your plans, have no fear. For seven days after each Proms concert, the BBC makes streaming audio available (free!) over the internet. The concerts are also webcast live. 

The coming days feature the start of a cycle of the Beethoven Piano Concerts, featuring the English pianist Paul Lewis, whose recent recordings of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas have met with widespread critical acclaim, and performances of works by Scriabin (the rarely-heard piano concerto), Britten, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky. A 10 pm (London time) concert will feature pianist Maria Joao Pires playing a selection of the Chopin Nocturnes.

The concert of July 25th was due to be conducted by the late Sir Charles Mackerras, who passed away last week in London ; Vassily Siniasky will lead that concert where, one assumes, some sort of tribute to Sir Charles will be offered.

If there is any interest, I can preview some of the more exciting Proms concerts still to come.

Acknowledgements: Gramophone, July 2010; BBC Music Magazine, July 2010

-- MIKE 



Posted by Tim Smith at 3:36 PM | | Comments (6)


For mike, just wondering; have you Prommed at the RAH in person? Also, last night, the links to the archived program(me)s weren't working. Has that been fixed?

This link works

Also, neither of the operas at the Proms, Meistersinger or Boccanegra, were split in two. they were broadcast in two parts over the BBC but each was done straight through.

Bo, never had the chance to prom in person - though I attended concerts in RAH.

I kept getting the link not working also. Then I just used an earlier version of my browser - the Flash Player BBC uses does not play well with a 64 bit browser. If you are using Windows 7 or Vista, they supply a 32 bit version of the browser (in addition to the 64 bit). I started that and now I'm in the middle of the Manfred!

I am not sure if the Proms Arcive was ever given in the link, so here it is: Enjoy.

This, of course, begs the question: when will the Baltimore and National Symphonies have their own database search archives? For that matter when will Carnegie Hall, as well as the orchestras of Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, LA, San Francisco, Minnesota, etc.

My hope is that, for Baltimore, the Peabody Archives will follow the example of the Cleveland Institute of Music, which published the archives of the Cleveland Orchestra, even if there are some innacuracies in the database:

Thanks for the correction regarding Boccanegra; however I never said Meistersinger was split in performance - indeed it was not (excepting intervals) and lasted from 4 pm to 10 pm (London Time) on Saturday, although the rebroadcast is in 3 parts (one for each act). By the way, checking on this I did learn that the complete librettos for the operas are included in the programs (still on-line) for Prom 2 (Meistersinger) and Prom 3 (Simon Boccanegra). Thanks!

For 5 pounds you can get into a performance of Mahler's 8th! Five measly pounds for such an epic work. The best we in Philadelphia can manage during the summer is paying much more than that to hear Aretha woofing through Nessun Dorma again while Condi reassures Uchida that she has no competition.

In 1987 I attended Boulez' rehearsals and performance of the Gurrelieder. RAH is a bit of a barn but a live performance of such a work will leave a lifelong impression on you. I wish I had the $ for this year's proms (adding airfare to those 5 pounds puts it out of reach at the moment)

The stream is great. But unfortunately you cannot get the video outside the UK.

(Unless you have a friend get you a copy)

One last thing: the BBC announcers speak excitedly and knowledgeably about the programs as if it were a Phillies [insert your fave team] game.

Thanks for the comments. I, too, wish we could get the video over here. And I wish we could all be given summertime music in our communities that had as much substance as they pack into those Proms. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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