1,000 seats at BBC Proms, no foreign bands

1,000 seats at BBC Proms, no foreign bands


norman lebrecht

May 27, 2021

The BBC has rolled out a six-week Proms season at the Royal Albert Hall, stacked with British ensembles and a pledge never again to consider abolishing Rule, Britannia from the Last Night concert.

A plan to do so in Brexit year showed just how far BBC executives had lost touch with the public mood.

The only non-British ensemble in the season is the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, conducted by the English composer George Benjamin.

A performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by Joshua Bell, paired with Astor Piazzolla’s Buenos Aires version, seems a tad too clickbait to be discussed in this serious space.

Other highlights are a first-night commission from Sir James MacMillan to accompany Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music and an attempt by the Aurora Orchestra to perform Stravinsky’s Firebird from memory. Blindfold, perhaps.

There’s not a lot here to set blood rushing through the national arteries, but we are still in Covid times.

It is hoped that one in five seats will be occupied.

You can access a full listing here.


  • Rob says:

    “It is hoped that one in five seats will be occupied.”

    The other seats taken up by legs, shopping, granny’s toupee and wait for it… the Kensington variant-ion on a theme of covid.

  • Eric says:

    What a bizarre thing to say about the Vivaldi/Piazzolla concert. You do realise it’s Piazzolla’s centenary this year? Why would they not programme one of his performed works? Only 2nd time at the Proms as far as I can tell from the Archive. And somewhat ironic to say the least that this particular blog can talk about clickbait…

  • Patrick says:

    A terrible decision not to host foreign orchestras. I truly hope this has to do with Covid rather than with Brexit, but I wouldn’t be so certain …

    • La plus belle voix says:

      Why should orchestras, and indeed soloists, outside the UK play as a loss-making activity?

    • MWnyc says:

      There have been plenty of orchestras from beyond the EU to play the Proms in the past, so I doubt Brexit has much to do with it.

      It’s much more likely to be because of uncertainty as to what border restrictions from which areas will be in place when the concerts happen.

    • Realist says:

      Do you realize how difficult it is for anyone, including artists, to come into the UK right now? 3 tests, 10 days of quarantine for a cost of at least 200 pounds; or 4 tests and 5 days of quarantine for close to 300 pounds, plus 95 pounds per person for the permitted paid engagement visa, now applicable to all artists coming from the EU. Maybe restrictions will have eased by then, but there is no guarantee. How is that viable for an entire orchestra?

    • Realist says:

      Do you realize how difficult it is for anyone to come into the UK right now, including artists? 3 covid tests costing at least 200 pounds plus ten days of quarantine , or 4 tests plus five days of quarantine at a cost of 300 pounds, plus 95 pounds per person for the permitted paid engagement visa, now applicable to all EU artists coming into the UK. How is that viable for an entire orchestra? Maybe restrictions will have eased by then, but no one knows.

    • Music fan says:

      Considering the lousy job Boris Johnson has done with COVID, what foreign ensemble would want to visit the UK this summer?

    • Music fan says:

      Considering the terrible job Boris Johnson has done with COVID, what foreign ensemble would want to be in the UK this summer?

      • Marfisa says:

        Comments entered twice, twice. This is, I think, because of bad web design. When you submit a comment, instead of an acknowledgement of submission you see a blank comment, think you forgot to submit it, and repeat your comment. Can something be done about this, please? It is very disconcerting, not to say embarrassing.

    • Hobbes says:

      Of course it does. As things stand, it would be 5-10 days quarantine for an entire orchestra when they come, and the same when they leave. Any idea of the logistics and cost involved? We’ll find out the damage that Brexit has wrought next year…

  • La plus belle voix says:

    The programme is great. A return to the Proms’ roots. Pity the advertising blurb is so toe-curlingly naff and condescending to boot. Three examples should suffice:

    “The Scottish Chamber Orchestra and their young Principal Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev showcase Mozart’s final three symphonies . . . ”

    “500 years after his death, Renaissance prince of polyphony Josquin des Prez takes the spotlight in this Cadogan Hall Prom . . . ”

    “Pack your tissues for a night rich in emotion and drama. Conductor Ben Glassberg and the BBC Philharmonic are joined by a host of British opera stars in an evening of opera excerpts on themes of separation and reconciliation . . .”

    • sonicsinfonia says:

      BBC dumbing down continues in full flow. LSO produces childrens’ concerts for 5 year olds with less condecension than this!

  • SVM says:

    There are some very welcome outings of neglected repertoire, but some of the programmes seem very short (for example, there is a concert that appears to comprise solely the Bartók 2nd Violin Concerto)… presumably, they are really cases of “Programme to include”?

    The plans for promming sound very disappointing — although they have not yet made a final decision on whether standing will be possible, I do not understand why they have already ruled-out queueing (which used to be outdoors, so not really a transmission risk, especially if they space people 2 metres apart) and in-person ticket sales (most shops that are still in business are open again, and most of them handle in-person transactions all the time). I appreciate that many venues have not re-opened box offices, but promming is a special case in that, historically, it was an ‘on-the-door only’ model (so no need for staffed box offices and specialist computer systems), unlike the mixture of advance bookings and ‘on-the-door’ sales (I can understand that maintaining said mixture is logistically and financially complicated in the context of social distancing restrictions). And then, to add insult to injury, imposed an unavoidable booking fee on top of the existing price (and since promming tickets are still, quite rightly, available on the day only, it is impossible for regulars to avoid paying the booking fee repeatedly… in other words, this booking fee is effectively a backdoor price increase to promming tickets, and I resent the opaque way that such an increase, which may well be justifiable, has been made)! And all this in a context of a *summer* festival (unlike last summer, we can be pretty certain that COVID-19 is more dangerous in the winter than in the summer) and in a country where daily deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test result (i.e.: not necessarily caused by COVID-19) are already down to the single figures. Moreover, based on current evidence and recent scientific research, it seems that the risk COVID-19 being transmitted via surfaces or cash is minimal.

  • Mark (London) says:

    As I see the programme zone concerts are barely 30 minutes

  • J Barcelo says:

    Unless I missed it, no Mahler symphony anywhere! How things have changed. Too much Brahms, but the Korngold Coleridge-Taylor symphonies are sure interesting. I won’t be packing my bags this year; travel is challenging and getting tickets will be difficult, no doubt. I do with the BBC would set up a Roku channel so those of us in other places could subscribe and enjoy the concerts with a pint of Fuller’s ESB.

  • Peter Smith says:

    From the Proms web site:

    Booking Period 1
    for all concerts between 30 July and 20 August

    Monday 21 June: Proms Planner opens
    Friday 25 May, 11:59pm: Proms Planner closes

  • Corno di Caccia says:

    Yes. Once again it’s Proms time when Auntie Beeb remembers that some of its Licence Fee payers actually like to watch classical music concerts on the telly. Oh, I recall the halcyon days when such treats were a regular weekly occurence when we had such broadcasting giants as David Attenborough and Humphrey Burton doing things properly. Andre Previn’s Music Night, a late-night offering called Diversions which featured all the BBC orchestras of the time playing good solid chunks of music. Regular Live concerts from the London’s South Bank (Royal Festival Hall) and the Fairfield Halls, Croydon. Televised Edinburgh and Three Choirs Festival concerts. It seemed like a land of plenty. Now all we can look forward to are more neatly-packaged televised Proms concerts (not shown Live anymore of course, not even the First and Last Nights), presented by the usual array of glittering nobodies. The dumbing down continues apace. Still, we have to be grateful to Auntie (a rather naughty Auntie these days it would appear) for not forgetting us. It’s certainly worth every penny of my Licence Fee. Not!

  • fflambeau says:

    “A performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by Joshua Bell, paired with Astor Piazzolla’s Buenos Aires version, seems a tad too clickbait to be discussed in this serious space.”

    What NONSENSE.

  • fflambeau says:

    A truly dreadful “assessment.” Even worse than the usual blather.

  • Harold Wilkin says:

    Some concerts, including the opening night programme, are very short measure for some reason. At least they are going ahead with normal concerts. The Edinburgh Festival has already announced that concerts will take place outdoors (no thanks) with details being released on 1st June.

  • Saxon says:

    Programmes will likely evolve over time (some are ridiculously short, so likely waiting to see what they can play). And there a four mystery slots which may well be foreign orchestras waiting to confirm.