The BBC Proms should have launched tonight. Instead, they are in limbo

The BBC Proms should have launched tonight. Instead, they are in limbo


norman lebrecht

April 22, 2020

The annual Proms launch party is off, and probably the Proms as well. The annual brochure has not been sent out.

While the BBC has yet to cancel the season, the ticket touts are taking no bids.

Even if, in the rosiest prognosis, self-isolation is relaxed by mid-July, can anyone imagine the Proms crowd being stood six feet apart? Or an orchestra playing with two clear seats between each of the violins. Apart from anything else, the sound would be scraggy.

The BBC, in its last update, spoke of ‘adapting and changing the festival we originally planned’.

How, exactly?

It might be time to elaborate before all faith is lost.




  • Alexander Hall says:

    I fear all faith is already lost. Those responsible at the BBC for such strategic questions lost contact with the real world some time ago.

    • V.Lind says:

      Oh, knock it off. The Proms runs many weeks and at the time of the last update they may have thought it would be possible to run a partial Proms toward the end of their usual season.

      They’re in the same position as everyone else — scrambling for information, doing their best to keep up and adapt.

      With their broadcasting capacities there still might be a way to present some sort of Proms to keep the tradition alive. Let them figure it out as things develop.

      The government’s mishandling of PPE is one thing, and deserves all the bollocking that can be mustered — it is very hard to see how political ideology did not afflict the original refusal to join in an EU scheme to get supplies. That is unforgivable.

      Entertainers trying to figure out how they can carry on or adapt is quite another. They will take the best advice they can get and decide accordingly And should be supported, not carped at.

      • Alexander Hall says:

        There isn’t a single other responsible arts organisation in Europe or the UK which hasn’t already made clear that concerts before September are off, repeat, off. Why should the BBC continue to hedge its bets and make people think that the Concertgebouw, the Edinburgh Festival and the Oktoberfest (as an example of popular culture) are completely wrong in this respect?

        • V.Lind says:

          Because they have broadcasting facilities, which not every arts organisation has. They have more options — and more pre-commitments. Their responsibilities include filling that airtime. They may be seeking things that could offer a Pros of sorts at least to home audiences, which is what we all are now.

        • James Mayhew says:

          Not true. 3Choirs in Gloucestershire at end of July is still going ahead!

      • Bored Muso says:

        Are you keeping informed of what is actually happening in the real world? Your outlook is astounding! What makes you think artists, (sorry, entertainers as you call us) would want to risk our lives and those near to us for the sake of keeping alive a silly outdated ‘tradition’ like the Proms? Saving lives should be paramount rather than trying to save face and the typical idiotic British ‘stiff upper lip’ some people in this country seem to prioritise.

        • V.Lind says:

          I am TOTALLY on the saving lives side of the argument. My objection was to carping about the BBC, which I suspect the poster does regularly and before Covid-19.

          All I am saying is that there may be alternative ways of presenting some sort of musical festival. Solo or isolated performances — if anyone has the technology to explore this, the BBC does. They may not yet have come to any conclusions, but if they can run other things like panel shows remotely, and PMQ can be run remotely as it was today, there may be some musical offerings that can be presented in a satisfactory way.

          So people can’t “promenade.” Tough. Things are changed for the time being. But the people who present the Proms may be able to call upon some of the artists they had planned to work with and find some interesting musical evenings that would be a treat for many. I imagine they are considering all sorts of options, and exploring them, and adapting them as information changes.

        • Allen says:

          Nothing silly or outdated about the Proms and, BTW, the ‘stiff upper lip’ originated in America.

      • Oliver says:

        I concur with you that Proms leaders have no stones!!

        “Entertainers” have already been chucked down the pan by your likes babe.

  • Andy says:

    Would your faith be restored in the beeb if they cancelled the proms before they needed to. What is the fuss about? They can’t provide firm details until the government provides details of what will be safe for the summer.

    Fingers crossed, radio broadcasting for orchestras might be feasible in a few months time to keep us all going as I can’t see public concerts being back till next year.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      The CMO Chris Witty made it clear earlier today that social distancing will have to continue for the rest of the year. You don’t need the intellect of Einstein to see that under these circumstances the idea of orchestral musicians sitting in their usual formation or audiences being allowed to fill auditoria is for the birds.

      • Ron Swanson says:

        Did you miss all of the at home recordings that have been published here? You might not be able to keep a distance in the RAH but there is nothing to stop the use of a large television studio. In addition swaping to chamber music and organ music from the RAH is possible.

        • Alexander Hall says:

          What exactly do you think the word “promenade” means? It most certainly does not mean the same as a radio broadcast from a BBC studio with a BBC orchestra. Even supposing that government regulations on social distancing would allow individual players to be seated closer than two metres apart.

          • Ron Swanson says:

            So it’s not exactly the same as every other year you would rather see musicians and orchestras not get paid. Great thinking. Not compromising with reality is not a good idea.

          • Mercurius Londiniensis says:

            A radio broadcast by the BBCSO from a BBC studio would be a lot better than nothing. And, by late summer, the players may be permitted to be closer than 2 m. apart if a testing regime which delivers immediate results is in place (which it already is in some countries).

            So the BBC is right not to throw in the towel yet. The odds are against them, but there is still a chance that some live orchestral music may yet happen.

          • Saxon Broken says:

            They will be able to have 100 people on the stage playing together sometime over the summer. The question is whether they would be able to have any kind of public audience, or not.

            Saying that some kind of social distancing will be needed for the rest of the year is completely different from saying that no groups of more than 2 will be allowed.

      • Andy says:

        Well hence the beeb saying they will be “adapting and changing the festival we originally planned”…

        I don’t think any of us expected it to be as planned. They will just be organising what to have instead. Which is also better than simply cancelling the whole thing. They have all kinds of resources to play with and let’s judge once it’s happened?

  • Alan says:

    All faith is lost. Cancel now.

  • Leo Doherty says:

    If the Bavarian October Fest is off and the Chief Medical Officer said today social distancing and gathering will stay until the end of the year there is no chance of any UK music festivals happening. It’s more likely to be summer 21 unless science comes to the rescue.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      At last a voice of sanity on this site. I am tired of all these armchair experts who think that any criticism of the BBC is unjustified and that somehow if a little tweaking is applied everything can go back to normal. It can’t. Norman has already posted details of what the Director of the NT thinks. This man is simply facing up to the inevitable. It is all very regrettable indeed and we all deplore the diminishing of our cultural life. But that is reality in 2020. It’s a pity that so many others here prefer to adopt the ostrich mentality.

      • J says:

        I don’t think many people would attempt to contest the fact that this year’s Proms season clearly cannot go ahead in any remotely normal fashion, but there are ways in which a radically redesigned season could take place without endangering audiences, artists, and others. These might include broadcasts of solo and chamber performances, broadcasts of archive recordings, and so forth. Many orchestras, ensembles, and even individuals have already done likewise. Of course such solutions are not as good as going to a real concert, but they are the best we can do under the circumstances and are far better than nothing. As has been pointed out, of all institutions the BBC is uniquely well placed to provide something along such lines which at least partially fulfils Henry Wood’s vision, even if we are not, alas, in the RAH!

    • Saxon Broken says:

      You have mis-understood the chief medical officer. While SOME social distancing will remain, this does not mean ALL social distancing will remain. The lockdown will start to be relaxed next month.

  • Will Duffay says:

    You’re never one to miss the chance to bash the BBC are you? I think it’s great that they haven’t ruled out some sort of festival this year. Let’s be patient and not expect them to have all the answers now.

    • Leo Doherty says:

      The Proms isn’t the Proms without live social gathering.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Well, they are rather unlikely to allow 6000 people to attend a concert at the Albert Hall in mid July. So it will have to be something else.

    • Don Fatale says:

      I admit I’m normally quite happy to bash the BBC, but in this matter it seems to be acting wisely. I look forward to whatever they can concoct in July to September and hope it can lift our spirits and illuminate light at the end of the tunnel. Far better than just throwing in the towel as so many have.

  • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

    ==You’re never one to miss the chance to bash the BBC are you?

    Yes, this is odd – given the amount of work NL does for the BBC

  • bored muso says:

    The BBC Proms have enough radio & TV footage in their very large archives to broadcast several years of lockdown (heaven forbid!). In case folk haven’t already noticed, this is exactly what the dear old BBC and others have been doing since lockdown…
    It is surely the safest and most sensible way to entertain the masses, and please note, auntie beeb, it will save save you tons of dosh as presumably, original contracts included the usual ‘buyout’ agreement ie repeat broadcast without paying the artists repeat fees….
    Do we really need to say any of this year’s anniversary Proms were not ‘live’ under the extreme circumstances?
    Those hoping the possibility of any live broadcasts at this stage (to brighten up their otherwise dreary lives) in order to provide them with a cheap frisson need to think again!

    • Mathias Broucek says:

      “it will save save you tons of dosh”

      Yes, because musicians won’t get paid anything. Good for the BBC finances, not so much for food on the table of musicians…

    • Saxon Broken says:

      “it will save save you tons of dosh”

      Er…the BBC have already paid for the Albert Hall, and have also paid for the BBC SO, BBC Phil. Orch. etc. So they might as well get them to play something if they can.