BBC outlines bleak alt-Proms

BBC outlines bleak alt-Proms


norman lebrecht

July 03, 2020

Beneath many paragraphs of hype about rolling out old Proms from the archives, the BBC has given first details of the live two last weeks of this summer’s Proms, to be played before an empty Royal Albert Hall.

In the final two weeks of the Proms, from Friday 28 August, there will be a series of live performances from the Royal Albert Hall from some of the greatest musicians of our time alongside emerging talent. In what promises to be an emotional return to the Royal Albert Hall, the Proms presents a range of performances fulfilling our founding to mission to present ‘the best of classical music for the widest possible audience’

As the beating heart of the Proms, each of the BBC Orchestras will perform as part of the live element of the festival, and in long-standing Proms tradition, the BBC Symphony Orchestra will open and close the series, beginning with an opening night conducted by Chief Conductor, Sakari Oramo and culminating in a Last Night of the Proms to bring the nation together. Led by the BBC SO’s Principal Guest Conductor, Dalia Stasevska, the 2020 Last Night of the Proms features soprano Golda Schultz, in what promises to be a unique and poignant occasion.

Celebrating a wide range of musicians and music the line-up includes pianist Mitsuko Uchida with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle, violinists Nicola Benedetti and Alina Ibragimova with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Jonathan Cohen, a recital from cello sensation Sheku Kanneh-Mason and his pianist sister Isata Kanneh-Mason, Aurora Orchestra led by Nicholas Collon, performances from pianist Stephen Hough, singers Sophie Bevan, Allan Clayton and Robert Murray and sitar virtuoso Anoushka Shankar with electronic artist Gold Panda and the Britten Sinfonia under Jules Buckley.

New Music is central to the Proms and a number of composers will be commissioned to write works that respond to the current world-wide situation caused by Covid-19. Composers include Thomas Adès writing a new piece for the LSO Prom and Andrea Tarrodi for the Last Night of the Proms. Alongside these works Richard Ayres explores Beethoven’s journey into deafness, as well as his own hearing loss, with a very personal new work performed by Aurora Orchestra.

The presenting team for the live TV performances includes Katie Derham, along with Tom Service, Suzy Klein, Danielle de Niese and Josie d’Arby.

Whilst it’s unlikely there will be an audience at the Royal Albert Hall, the live performances will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3, BBC Four and iPlayer.

So – no foreign orchestras obviously, nor any orchestras except the BBC’s from outside London. Why’s that?

And no single traffic-stopping star.

It’s bleak.



  • Cynical Bystander says:

    It might be bleak but it is better than nothing. aside from anything but deafening silence from Dowden and the Government about what is now the Cinderella sector of life in lockdown, at least the BBC has managed something. Even the most curmudgeonly might want to choke on a half hearted ‘Bravi’? We might do well to remember that the BBC and other organisations are not the source of where they and we find ourselves and that in many respects the man charged with looking after there wellbeing is as poor, if not worse, at delivery as the rest of his colleagues.

    • Tony says:

      However the “better than nothing” excuse is wearing a bit thin for me and hardly satisfying. The Proms deliver a Smorgasbord of quality, what we have here is an apology for a packed lunch.

    • Annnnnnnnnon says:

      At least the musicians are working. That is the main case here; irrespective of the programmes! Life is looking up for them after having been ignored and put to the back of the queue for many months/years.

  • Edward says:

    traffic-stopping stars come with traffic-stopping fees, and with the industry strapped for cash, and likely minimal, if any, ticket sales, they probably can’t afford it.

    • Andrew says:

      The BBC isn’t strapped for cash when it can announce a new £100 Million spend on “diversidee”. We must remember that it is larded with moolah from the unjust tax levied on every UK live television viewer (regardless of whether they ever watch the BBC).

    • Stereo says:

      Well said Edward. Conductors fees come close to bankrupting orchestras at the best of times let alone now.

  • Will Duffay says:

    Just for once, Norman, could you try to be postive about the BBC and especially about the Proms? They’re doing what they can in quite extraordinarily difficult circumstances. I suspect you’re obliged by the Spectator (edited by Dominic Cummings’ wife) to attack the BBC at every possible moment, but please do try to ease off from time to time.

    • Player says:

      Fact check: The Spectator is not edited by Dominic Cummings’ wife, but by Fraser Nelson. She is on its staff as a commissioner of pieces and as a columnist.

    • Andrew says:

      Why should we go easy on the BBC? We’re forced to pay for it and its relentless negativity. The shamdemic lockdown and consequent mass unemployment has been fed by the BBC’s irresponsible news agenda.

    • Alan says:

      Please get your facts correct. Mary does not edit the magazine.
      Kinda weakens anything else you say on here.

    • Tony says:

      We all want to be positive about the BBC, and there is so much to be positive about. That reality does not make the BBC universally correct about everything, and to be nice about them universally just because we like them does them no favours – quite the opposite in fact.

      I love my dog, but if she messes on the lounge carpet I will not praise her for being a good dog.

      p.s. what does this really have to do with Dominic Cummings?

    • Talking the talk says:

      Why? It’s just given what could be possible, this is quite a farce and illustrates perfectly the paucity of imagination, creativity and flair that the bbc can often display when engaging with ‘classical’ music. It reflects their box ticking, grey ‘middle management’ agenda and rather tragically the almost complete lack of any sustained and inspired commitment to bringing the most diverse and enriching music to people of all backgrounds in the UK. Instead of using this as a real opportunity to do things more creatively it seems to me they are doing the very minimal possible to tick the box of ‘do something/anything’

  • pjl says:

    no ‘star’??? Uchida; Hough; Ibragimova. I would rather her them than Lang Lang if that is the type of star you are missing.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Sounds like an interesting programme and well done to the BBC for at least trying. The longer music is off the tv and radio the more excuse there is for someone to claim that there is no call for it. Don’t forget this government – and I use that term very loosely – has it in for the BBC, any excuse etc. etc.

  • Schoenberglover says:

    Even if it’s bleak, I think I’ll still be grateful for the fact that I get to listen to ‘live’ music via the broadcasts. Just like the excellent Wigmore Hall series which ended last week, knowing that it’s happening live even if you can’t be there in person makes it special.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    ==It’s bleak.

    No, the editorial tone of SD is bleak !

    • Anon. says:

      Haha! When it comes to the Proms it wouldn’t matter what was programmed Norman would complain or find fault. If there were NO Proms he would find issue, if there were proms as usual there would be issues and complaints. The only way the Proms could please Norman is if there was a season of nothing but Mahler, Mirga and Yuja Wang.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    “a “Fantasy Proms” season will draw on the BBC’s rich archive of performances, with highlights including Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and the celebrated 2007 Proms debut of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.”

  • Ian J. Munro says:

    It is disappointing we can’t have the Proms in their normal format with visitors from across the globe. However, what we do have is an excellent chance to re-live some marvellous performances from the past 40 years, or in my case as I wasn’t around 40 years ago, I can hear some of these performances for the first time. Many of these performance haven’t made it on to CD eg Hickox Belshazzar’s Feast and may not have been played on the radio or television for many years, if again since their original broadcast. Along with Salzburg, Lucerne and Berlin the Proms is showing it can think outside the box and produce some sort of festival. The last two weeks of live concerts I see as a statement of hope that the arts have survived and live music can be made once again. An audience might be missing but at least with broadcasting we can enjoy from the comfort and safety of our homes. It won’t be the same but at least it is something and I await the 2021 season with relish.

  • Alan says:

    We should be televising a classic performance from the archive every night on BBC 1 at 7.30pm.

    • BillOxford says:

      Possibly not on BBC1 but certainly on BBC4, which has of late offered a pretty dire selection of pop music ‘classic broadcasts’ (aka Top of the Pops repeats from the 1980s/90s), and virtually no classical music at all.

  • Donald Halliday says:

    Probably the best that can be done in the circumstances. If this marks a return to simultaneous broadcasts on Radio 3 and BBC 4 then, particularly for those of us in the sticks with decent sound systems and screens, it could be even better than the occasional, expensive trip down to London to stand in the gallery. I am sure the BBC will do a great job, as they did with the recent Wigmore Hall concerts. Now, if they partnered these live Prom concerts with some similar live morning concerts from The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh (to put at least something into an Edinburgh Festival for this year) then life would be bliss! Let’s get the cameras into The Queen’s Hall as well.

    • Donald Halliday says:

      My comment was made shortly after the EIF (quietly) had announced a series of BBC broadcasts of recordings of some past Queen’s Hall morning concerts. The programme comprises 15 concerts over what would have been the weeks of the 2020 Festival. The programme is a rich one and I am looking forward to tuning in for all of them! The details are at:

      It is still a pity that the collaboration between the BBC and the EIF has not (yet?) been able to include some live performances for this year. The musicians are there, they need the work, and we need to be with them. The EIF tantalises us with the promise of a number of ‘artistic interventions across the city’ in August as part of its The Ghost Lights project. Let’s hope we can all join in.

  • V.Lind says:

    I’m so glad to see the responses here — for the most part very positive about the BBC’s great effort to make something out of all this. I had read the story in a paper, and wondered what would happen here — just won $5 off myself.

    It is a difficult time. Many festivals have had to cancel altogether, many halls are silent, and very many musicians are unemployed. The BBC is doing its best. In times to come, this summer will be looked on as an anomalous one in the Proms’ long history, and people will learn about the Covid-19 pandemic the same way a some (very few) seem to have learned about the Spanish flu that followed WW I.

    No, it is not what it was and will be, but it is something, and I for one think the BBC should be lauded for making the best of a tough situation and announcing it with such cheer. And I applaud the majority of my fellow-posters for their marvellous response.

    I live abroad and I don’t know what I would do without the BBC. I listen to radio — BBC 3, 4, 4 Extra and Scotland — online. I read the website, which occasionally offers live coverage of major events internationally. I can find BBC TV programmes I want to watch online. That often, though not always, includes some of the news shows. (I can’t get regular BBC News, though I can get the Radio 4 news programmes and many Radio 5 Live — some have rights issues, and sport coverage certainly does. As I can get Sky News Live and the Parliament Channel, I am not short on UK news).

    So these eternal whinges about the BBC mystify me. I know ITV and other services produce excellent programmes — that is no longer the sole preserve of the BBC. But the latter still has some of the best drama, documentaries and other programmes in the world, and I miss the fact that I can no longer rely on something good on a Sunday night.

    Some people don’t know when they are well off. And complaining right now that the Proms is not the same as usual is just pathetic. Things are tough all over, not just in the world of classical music. Some people have had to do without so much that they have lost their businesses. You have at least something. You might show a little positivity, if not actually gratitude.

  • david hilton says:

    Golda Schultz stops my traffic.

    She’s a perfect choice for the Last Night of the Proms vocal artist. And easily as good as recent singers who have undertaken that slot.

  • BillOxford says:

    Given the warning that the RAH is ‘on the brink’ (like many other venues, by the way), the BBC’s plans will at least assist the venerable Hall but I can’t help thinking that the RAH devoid of an audience will be quite a depressing spectacle and that a more suitable location might have been a wise choice for this year. I cannot imagine how the Last Night will go – presumably a rather sombre programme; any attempt at levity will surely fall flat without the traditional participation of the Prommers.

  • Distant Prommer says:

    All I can say is Bravo BBC for bringing us something we can look forward to, especially now under these circumstances. My great disappointment is not being able to go to an actual concert this year. I have been at the Proms every year since I was 15, 64 years ago. Never missed a year. Hopefully next year then.

  • Victoria says:

    Apart from no foreign orchestras and no single traffic-stopping star, what about no audience?
    Theatres in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands etc have resumed performances with (small) audiences. Why aren’t the Proms trying? Even Glyndebourne is welcoming an audience this summer..

    • muso48 says:

      “Theatres in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands etc have resumed performances with (small) audiences. Why aren’t the Proms trying? Even Glyndebourne is welcoming an audience this summer..”

      Glyndebourne’s offering is outside in the gardens – perhaps you hadn’t noticed.

      Those other countries have indeed resumed performances with limited audience because they are further ahead in reducing infection and venues are legally allowed to open up to the public. In this country they are not yet allowed to do so – do you really not know that? – but the BBC said they will sell tickets if the rules change in time.

      So many people here just looking for a hole to pick….

  • Harold says:

    You can go to the pub and breach the distancing but not a classical concert. Well, it’s clear where the govt see the votes.