Proms are off, but BBC won’t say so

Proms are off, but BBC won’t say so


norman lebrecht

May 28, 2020

Letters went out to artists this week cancelling their Proms engagements.

The BBC has finally issued a media statement overnight, confirming what we all knew: there will be no Proms this summer, except possibly in an empty Royal Albert Hall in the final fortnight, from August 28, depending on Covid regulations. There will be some reruns and at-home alternatives on radio and TV. Just not the Proms.

It’s a simple resolution. But the BBC cannot articulate it. Instead, it has put out the press release below, crafted (one imagines) by the W1A1AA satire team.

The cancellation is terribly sad, for artists, orchestras and the public. But the BBC owes it to the public to tell it straight, not dress it up in equivocation.

Why can the BBC not tell the plain truth? John Drummond must be roaring in his grave.

UPDATE: Composers who lost out

press release:
EMBARGOED UNTIL 28th May 2020, 00.01am


Unveiling the 2020 BBC Proms

17 July – 12 September 2020

This year marks 125 years since the first Proms season
The season will take on a unique format to reflect the times, with a compelling multi-platform offer
A unique First Night commission by Iain Farrington for a BBC Grand Virtual Orchestra to mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth
Plans for live performances later in the season culminating in the Last Night of the Proms to bring the nation together
The 2020 season will open on Friday 17 July on BBC Radio 3 and Sunday 19 July on BBC Four
8 weeks of broadcasts on television, radio and online

All of us at the BBC Proms stand with music lovers everywhere and musicians around the world affected by COVID-19.

125 years on from its creation, the Proms will once again provide a remarkable summer of music, fulfilling founder-conductor Sir Henry Wood’s vision to ‘bring the greatest classical music to the widest possible audience’.

The current situation with COVID-19 means the season we had originally planned is sadly no longer possible. Instead the Proms in 2020 have been reconceived in a different format, but our aim remains the same – to create the world’s greatest classical music festival by reflecting world class music-making from leading artists around the globe, highlighting emerging talent, and featuring work by some of today’s most exciting and innovative composers.

The 2020 Proms will celebrate the past, reflect on the present and build for the future.

Making the most of our Archive

The past will play its part through the unrivalled BBC archive of Proms concerts, which we will delve into to deliver a broadcast festival across BBC radio, television, and online like no other. From Friday 17 July BBC Radio 3 will present past Proms concerts every evening, as well as a weekly Late Night Prom, and a Monday lunchtime offering.

This will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reconnect people with concerts and artists from the past, as well as introducing these amazing performances to new audiences.

Joining the celebrations on the opening weekend, BBC Four will then broadcast stand-out Proms each Sunday throughout the festival. Further highlights of TV Proms over the years will also be available on BBC iPlayer for audiences to enjoy this summer.

Live Music

From Friday 28 August the focus of the Proms moves from the past into the present with the ambition to have musicians performing live at the Royal Albert Hall across the final two weeks of the season, culminating in a poignant and unique Last Night of the Proms to bring the nation together.

Working strictly within the government advice at the time we hope to present live performance to be broadcast on BBC Radio 3, BBC Four and iPlayer. The range of work will vary from solo performances to ensemble work and feature some of the greatest musicians of our time alongside emerging talent.

We will reveal the full schedule of events nearer the time allowing us to respond to the latest advice available.

Digital Proms

We look to the future this summer in a digital Proms season, beginning right at the start of the festival with a unique First Night commission performed by all the BBC Orchestras and BBC Singers. Featuring over 350 musicians, this Grand Virtual Orchestra will see all the groups performing together. To mark the 250th anniversary year of Beethoven’s birth, a new mash-up of Beethoven’s 9 symphonies has been specially created by Iain Farrington, which will be a spectacular digital springboard for the summer.

Every archive Proms broadcast will be available to watch or listen live and on-demand on BBC iPlayer or BBC Sounds. In addition there will be specially curated, on-demand music mixes on BBC Sounds and further TV highlights of Proms over the years on BBC iPlayer.

All About Audiences

Audiences are always at the heart of the Proms, but this year they will play a unique role in helping shape the programme. Radio 3 is inviting listeners to share their favourite ever Proms moments and will take inspiration from these and reflect them on air, making this truly the People’s Proms.

David Pickard, Director BBC Proms, said: “These are challenging times for our nation and the rest of the world, but they show that we need music and the creative industries more than ever. This year it is not going to be the Proms as we know them, but the Proms as we need them. We will provide a stimulating and enriching musical summer for both loyal Proms audiences and people discovering the riches we have to offer for the first time.”

Alan Davey, BBC Radio 3 and Classical Music Controller, said: “The BBC Proms every year heralds a summer of classical music and this year we will deliver the same joy, inspiration and transformation to peoples’ lives that such music brings, albeit in a different way. We’ll be celebrating 125 years of the biggest classical music festival in the world by connecting audiences through a multimedia offering of incredible recorded gems in our PROMS Archive, together with audience suggestions of their all-time favourite PROM for our airwaves and a return to the unique magic that real, live music brings in the last two weeks of the festival. The Proms will continue to mean summer for music lovers everywhere.”

Jan Younghusband, Head of BBC Music TV Commissioning, said: “As the nation unites in these unprecedented circumstances, BBC TV, Radio and Online all team up to support the PROMS’ mission of bringing classical music to as many people as possible. BBC Four and BBC Two will once more hold a unique place in this once-in-a-lifetime cross-platform celebration, providing audiences with the opportunity of enjoying weekly stand-out PROMS performances from our precious filmed Archives, leading up to the joyous return of live broadcast concert and a new-style but still glittering Last Night of the Proms on BBC Two and BBC One.”


  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Shame but I do hope we don’t have to put up with the presenters who are usually awful just the concerts please.

  • Stephen Diviani says:

    Strikes me that the press release does ‘tell it straight’:

    ‘The current situation with COVID-19 means the season we had originally planned is sadly no longer possible. Instead the Proms in 2020 have been reconceived in a different format, but our aim remains the same – to create the world’s greatest classical music festival by reflecting world class music-making from leading artists around the globe, highlighting emerging talent, and featuring work by some of today’s most exciting and innovative composers.’

    Personally, I think it’s great that the Beeb didn’t just give up but has re-thought things so that we will have the Proms 2020, albeit in a different form as they explicitly state. Who knows, come the autumn there may even be an audience for the concerts!

  • Mark London says:

    I see Salzburg festival are going to have concerts with live performances from 1-31 August ! I wonder if the possibility of open space concerts , like ‘ Proms in the park ‘ throughout August was investigated?

  • Bored Muso says:

    As we all thought – past archive recordings, and why not?
    Doubt any concerts will take place with live musicians and audiences…. Shame there just HAS to be another virtual disaster like everyone else jumping on the waggon and self promoting their groups to say’we’re still here’.
    Just hope auntie respects the performers and technicians in all these repeats and pay them for repeat performances…..!

  • Dave says:

    Proms PR team on solid form: multiple uses of “unique”, got their “compelling” in early, and wheeled out “unprecedented” just when you thought they’d overlooked it.

    I wonder whether the historic Prom broadcasts will go out “as was”, without the puffery that is foisted on us nowadays. Too much to hope, I fear.

    • Stephen Diviani says:

      If the repeats each evening on BBC R3 are any indication, historic Proms broadcasts will be ‘as was’. Agree with you entirely about ‘puffery’: come back Tony Scotland!!

    • RobK says:

      We even had “truly the peoples’ Proms” 🙁
      Fatuous nonsense from the grisests of éminences….

  • Rob says:

    They’ve been off for years.

  • If the BBC is going to re-air concerts from their Proms archive I do hope they delve into those from the distant past and not just those from the new century. The expectation is that tapes of concerts from at the 1960s through to the 1990s (at least) still exist and some of these could be resurrected for broadcast.

  • christopher storey says:

    If there was one good thing to come out of this whole disaster, it would be the demise of the BBC

    • engineers_unite says:

      totally agree.

      When you look at what the crap they have been pedalling for the last 10yrs from “climate change” practically every spare minute with that arch crapper pseudo scientist Harrabin, to the gushing superlative presenters splurging crap every time they open a mega lipstick gummed mouth to present a prom,

      the final straw was COVID, which consisted of 8 weeks of -infection-NHS heroes-virus-infection-NHS-lockdown-clap-hoorah-infection-heroes -record got stuck…

      We luckily got shot of that overpaid loathsome John Humphrys, the paedos like Savile, we can finally get rid of the ARCHERS, and that twat Robinson too.
      KILL the BBC, just get it over with and DIE.

  • Lewes Bird says:

    christopher storey : a period of silence from you (preferably permanent ) , would be most welcome

  • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

    Are there any details of what this season’s programming would have been ? Maybe some Proms Guides were printed and will become collectors’ items ?

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    The Royal Philharmonic Society used to have war time programmes (I think they are in the British Library now). They are very funny if you imagine them being read in that strange English way of speaking that was prevalent in the 30’s and 40’s. Something along the lines of – Should the air raid sirens sound during the performance, audience members are very welcome to leave and cross the road to the air raid shelters in Hyde Park.

  • Una says:

    Haven’t got time to read a book about it, but it was announced on Radio 4 that there would be something rather than nothing. It’s not about the Proms but actually saving the RAH as a venue and on the brink of closing.

  • Miko says:

    Why, Norman, do you bother with this pointless blog? Patron saint of embittered old toads who harboured fantasies of being great performers, whose lack of talent and application condemned them to a life of sniping from the shadows. There are more worthwhile hobbies, surely…I don’t know, fishing? gardening? stamps?
    Probably something socially distanced enough to prevent your “vision” of the music scene from spreading beyond the confines of your mumbling sadness.
    I don’t wish you ill, Norman, but I (and SO many others in the music profession) have grown weary of your “news”. So perhaps a little self furloughing might be in order, you’ve done your worst.