Berlin Phil and Philadelphia Orch join dumbed-down BBC Proms

Berlin Phil and Philadelphia Orch join dumbed-down BBC Proms


norman lebrecht

April 26, 2022

The BBC Proms, announced this morning, feature such highlights as ‘the first-ever video game Prom’, Art-rock band Public Service Broadcasting with a new album; ‘ Radio 1 Relax ‘ and an Aretha Franklin evening.

You have to dig deep to find classical limelighters.

The Berlin Philharmonic with Kirill Petrenko will play Mahler 7 and Shostakovich; Klaus Mäkelä arrives with the Oslo Phil; Marin Alsop leads Vienna Radio; the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra; and Yannick and the Philadelphia play Beethoven’s Eroica and Florence Price.

That’s about all, folks.

Proms director David Pickard said: ‘How quickly music is moving…What might have been appropriate 10 years ago is very different from what we can do today. Back then, there wasn’t the wealth of fantastic music for us to do a gaming Prom. But this year, with so many film composers turning to the genre, we can put on something really special that reaches a completely new audience.’

Remember when the Proms were classical and no special pleading was required?


  • Simon says:

    When are they scheduling a Eurovision Song Contest prom? That’s what I want to know…

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Yes, I hope they soon get their priorities in order!!

    • David Dreebin says:

      There is going to be a Eurovision Song Contest this year broadcast from Italy. But this is entirely separate from the BBC Proms. Not sure what your point is…

  • Jonathon says:

    ‘That’s about all, folks.’??? Really?? Have you even bothered to look through the full programme? Appalling journalism, if that’s what it can be called. The season is bursting to the seams with phenomenal talent, and some fabulous programmes.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Very true.
      “That’s all folks” apparently refers to Berlin Philharmonic and Philadelphia being the only top notch traditional orchestras in the 2022 Proms. One can far do worse than that.

      • music lover says:

        Well….The Finnish Radio Symphony,the WDR Cologne,all the British orchestras,they shouldn´t be underestimated!!!!!!!

        • Petros Linardos says:

          Absolutely. There is plenty of talent. I should have written “marquee names” or something similar.

    • John Randolph says:

      Appalling journalism? You either didn’t comprehend his comment or you are willfully misconstruing it.

    • Peter says:

      But didn’t you hear? There are ONLY about 60 classical concerts at this year’s Proms, overwhelmed by the – *checks notes* – 11 non-classical concerts (and one non-Western classical concert). Clearly it’s the end of civilisation as we know it.

  • Player says:

    Pretty dismal.

  • Dave says:

    So a Prom season’s defined by how many big-name foreign bands perform, is it? It’s brave of the BBC to program even a few, given the issues that scuppered the Boston SO’s UK visit. (Clue: a B-word that the BBC are trying not to mention any more, despite its continually damaging effects on the UK.) A space to be watched.

    The more hyperbole that accompanies the annual Proms announcement, the more depressed I get, particularly when it’s about Radio 1 this and Radio 6 that… And if the “completely new audience” that they have in mind for the gaming music prom consists of gamers, well, they’ll be at home gaming. A moratorium on pointless new compositions by faddish composers would be welcome when there’s so much back catalogue that doesn’t get performed but should. Save your commission money, BBC, you’re going to need it when the government kills the licence fee.

  • Ya what says:

    Hands down this is the worst Proms season yet.

    Every year I feel like it can’t get any worse, and yet every year manages to surprise me.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Your comment reminds me of Woody Allen’s…”the food is terrible, and the portions as so small”!!

  • Rob says:

    It’s probably been dubbed the “Russian Proms”, because there’s a piece of Russian music in nearly every concert. And Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 in a new arrangement, really??
    Was the new arrangement paid for out of the licence fee ‘petty cash’? I guess we’ll all find out later, unless World War 3 comes crashing in.

  • Gareth Jones says:

    Thin gruel – though to be fair, the BBC has endured hostile Tory governments these last twelve years and feels it has to demonstrate “relevance”. Nobody in Britain has advocated for the arts since Chris Smith

  • Albert Dock says:


    I agree with your comments about dumbing down though!!!

  • alan says:

    More dinosaur views from NL in his latest bash at the BBC and the Proms! My first Prom was with Sir Adrian Boult, whose music making I loved then and love now. Times have moved on, we have the musicians of today playing a much wider repertoire and efforts are made to bring in ever wider audiences, all the time whilst maintaining performance standards. This is a cause for joy – it’s what live music-making should be. If I want Boult et al, I stay at home and put on a recording.

    After the past few years, this season should be an opportunity for celebration, bringing musicians and public together in provocative encounters (sorry, interesting concerts) that can be soothing, absorbing and emotionally moving.

  • Andreas B. says:

    “that’s about all, folks” – really?

    Mehta, Gardiner, Rattle, Schiff, Bychkov, LPO, LSO, RPO, Philharmonia, The Sixteen, OAE, English Concert, all BBC Orchestras, Ulster, Aurora, Chineke!, WDR Symphony Cologne, Finish Radio, CBSO, Hallé, Mahler Chamber, …

    Also: Kirill P. will conduct his orchestra, as will Vasily.

  • Rob says:

    There’s two “Relaxed Proms”. Which means you can attend the rest of the season all agitated and angry, or check your blood pressure because your ‘cbeebies’ prom was sold out.

    • Una says:

      Those are for those who sadly have dementia or some who can’t help making a noise through some disability. No, not turn up in your PJs on a bean bag!

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        I would have thought those types you mention would be suitable for some precious minority grouping.

    • guest says:

      ‘Relaxed’ concerts are a newish-and-about-bloody-time thing which cater for, amongst other groups: (younger) people on the autistic spectrum who might not make it through a whole programme and might not handle the louder volume of certain repertoire. But these people absolutely deserve to be catered for. Who says a classical concert always has to be 2 x 50 minutes of sitting absolutely still and silently? Good music can touch and enrich all our lives, given the right setting.
      There are a few comments here mocking ‘inclusive’ programming, but this is really out-dated thinking. I’ve played in orchestral concerts of video game music, very well attended and received. It’s a new audience, it might not translate into attendance at ‘traditional’ orchestral programmes, but that’s not entirely the point. You may have noticed the generally lower attendances at concerts the world over, since 2020. For heaven’s sake, today I saw a Wiener Philharmoniker Facebook post advertising ‘Rest-karten’ (unsold tickets) for their next subscription concert. Such a thing was completely unheard of until now. Join the dots, people…

      • Robin Smith says:

        The Pandemic ?

        • Guest again says:

          Yes of course it’s the pandemic, but those many many unsold empty seats at most current-day orchestral concerts will not go away in a few months, and probably not even in a few years. The pandemic wasn’t a blip in the world of classical concerts, it is a sizeable detour (I recall astute people saying as much on Day One, and I didn’t believe them but I do now).
          In the meantime, orchestras and festivals have to find a way to survive if they’re to continue presenting even some of the ‘good’, ‘worthwhile’ traditional and new-but-serious repertoire: so the now 20-year-old necessity for most classical music companies to really seriously look for new audiences (initially and still largely due to the continual erosion of government funding levels) has been upped and will most likely stay that way, and you’ll probably keep seeing echoes of those issues at the Proms.
          So I’m afraid we might need to learn to live with the effrontery of one concert of video games music in a Proms season, or one Relaxed Prom, or what have you.

      • music lover says:

        Spot on!!!!!Absolutely agreed,both as music lover and performer.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        The Proms has regularly had the John Wilson Orchestra playing film and stage music – but the musicianship is of a very high standard indeed.

      • David Dreebin says:

        Very well said, especially as I’m on the autistic spectrum myself. Just one very minor point: if you don’t wish to write in your full name I’d prefer, say, your first name rather than just “Guest” but it is, of course, your call.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    This is the 21st century not the 18th. Everyone would be moaning if the proms. did not move with the times…. wouldn’t they?

    • David Dreebin says:

      I’m sorry you’ve currently got more downvotes than upvotes but I’ve tried to redress the balance! Generally agree with you, Elizabeth, although there should be at least a few ‘traditional’ items, still. To be fair, I haven’t actually looked at the 2022 programme yet!

  • Maria says:

    So what? The Proms are for everyone, at an affordable price, and and not for the elite, or armchair critics, the or the no alls. Aretha Franklin was wonderful. Don’t suppose you even saw the film? There is plenty to choose from, both old music and new. Why some Brits, but particularly the English, always bash up and knock the good in our country, both the BBC and the Proms itself, I shall never know. It’s like a form of middle class superiority in itself by masking some negative comment. If you don’t like Aretha, don’t go! Simple, it’s not compulsory. Looking firward enormously to going to the Proms. Spoiled for choice and a 400 mile round trip to get there.

  • Rabengeraun says:

    Thank God I was lucky enough to be born early enough to experience some of the great Proms artists – Bernstein (VPO – 1987), Abbado, Haitink, Wand.

  • Stephen says:

    I thought it looked rather good – but I have no agenda other than to appreciate good music.

  • J Barcelo says:

    I think it’s a dazzling program and I’m very envious of Londoners who can attend much of it! Mahler 2 with Rattle, 7 with Petrenko! The 4th, too. The Wreckers and the Mass by Ethel Smyth. Dream of Gerontious by Elgar. And so much new(er) music! It’s not all the same old stuff heard over and over. If there’s anything missing it’s music from Latin America. You have no idea how blessed you are to have a festival that brings such variety and so many world-class performers. Wish I could be there.

  • Brian says:

    No mention in the BBC’s announcement about masking requirements, distancing, or vaccine checks at the door. With the UK currently seeing 32,000 Covid cases a day, a packed, poorly ventilated Albert Hall doesn’t seem like the wisest place to be if things continue at this pace.

  • Standby says:

    “Remember when the Proms were classical and no special pleading was required?”

    Yes, I remember the amazing John Drummond days. Now the Proms have been completely and utterly ruined by frizzy haired assistants who eat guacamole. I can tell you if the Berlin Philharmonic came and played Maxwell Davies’s 1st Symphony or Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy, the place would be absolutely rammed!!

    • V. Lind says:

      My hair is not frizzy but I love guacamole. Are we now getting foodist around here too? Is there nothing certain people won’t sneer at?

      Of course I have not eaten guacamole in the UK so I am not sure if you do it right. Best we ever had was in Mexico, and it was made in front of us at an isolated seafront caf while we took copious mental notes. I have made it that way ever since.

    • Wannaplayguitar says:

      My hair is frizzy. I eat guacamole. I like Aretha Franklin. Should I be feeling more guilty about the programming at 2022 BBC Proms?

  • Derek H says:

    I note a return for Ethel Smyth’s music, with 3 works at the London Proms – The Wreckers Opera (LPO), Concerto for Violin and Horn (CBSO), and Mass in D major (BBC Symphony) as well as lieder and piano trio at regional proms in Birmingham and Glasgow.

    I believe her works have rarely been performed, in Proms, since her death in 1944 (for example: the Opera in 1994 and the Mass in 1960).

    It will be interesting to see what audiences think of them.

  • Sheila Novitz says:

    Yes, I do remember when the Proms were classical and no special pleading was required. I am still back there. And very sad. Glad I’m ancient and ready to flee a world where vulgarity and noise have replaced beauty and intellect.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I don’t know to which century you are referring? The early 19th in Vienna when the folks preferred Rossini to Beethoven? Which one was better than now? The riot in Paris over the Rite of Spring in the early 20th?

    • Clyde Blair says:

      Good luck on Mars. Not everyone likes Bruckner.

    • Roger Brett-Freeman says:

      I like film music. I like Aretha Franklin. I don’t do gaming. I do question whether the Proms is the right platform for this type of music. A pop/rock concert is unlikely to programme classical music so why is a Prom season playing pop?
      Two different audiences surely.

  • Jim C. says:

    Has someone been paying to have all the rah-rah comments put in here? This season sounds obviously dismal and dumb. Who’d defend it who likes classical music, and thus a regular reader here?

  • Paul Johnson says:

    The Berliner Philharmoniker play Mahler 7. They did so under Rattle in 2016. I’m a Mahler nerd but couldn’t they have picked another Mahler symphony?

    • Clyde says:

      How about some Shostakovich, a better realization of Mahler’s mantra. (A listener bored and embarrassed with Mahler hysterics, although I’ve heard great #2 and #8 live.)

    • Clyde Blair says:

      Are you THE Paul Johnson? Enjoy your writing alot, some of it, whew, took me awhile. Especially get a kick out of Intellectuals. Something about great writers bashing around their women folk and any real or perceived rival. Guess that’s life.

    • PRK says:

      Needs to get practiced up for next season’s performance of it at Carnegie Hall.

  • music lover says:

    Have you really read the BBC Proms program, and not the Raymond Gubbay season announcement? The program is fantastic, and you have arbitrarily chosen three or four popular concerts to bash the BBC. Even a casual look at the program reveals you paint a totally wrong picture.

  • La plus belle voix says:

    A pretty dire year. And the copy is cringeworthy: “Leif Ove Andsnes stands in for Mozart . . . and plays . . . the dark-hued Concerto No. 20, and the gloriously playful Concerto No. 22 . . . zooms in on the year 1786, and finds Amadeus at the absolute peak of his game.” Lord help us. As for “powerful Scandinavian soundscapes from Sibelius”, well Finnland is a Nordic realm not part of Scandinavia, neither geographically nor ethnically.

    And the usual drudgery by RVW: “The Lark Ascending”, the opening of which is fine, it’s just the rest that is soporific. Nothing like a good edit wouldn’t fix, such as excising a few hundred measures in the middle and then removing the blather of the folksongs. No idea why the Brits love it. Good, the strident opening of his Fourth Symphony is effective even if the opening quite Germanic first movement then rambles on. Plus Tippett’s Fourth, hope the seats are comfy. What a stunning idea, to programme Tchaikovsky and Mahler No. 4 as well. These symphonies really have a lot in common, being, er, the composers’ fourth essay in the genre. Is that really the over-arching programming idea this season? Or have I missed something?

    Add in Chineke, an ensemble that hires on the basis of ethnicity first (i.e. reverse discrimination) and musical talent second, along with the Aurora Orchestra playing from memory for the spurious reason that it “deepens the relationship with the music” (academic research demonstrates precisely the opposite), as their website claims, and all the boxes have been ticked.

    The Sixteen sing Spem. Good luck with that.

    Finally, why do good music when you can do bad instead? Florence Price & Ethyl Smith, guess someone apart from Davies had to come from Sidcup.

    Going for a plethora of thumbs down on this . . .

    • Stan says:

      Please, it is “Ethel Smyth” but apart from that I think you have aimed well and scored direct hits on your chosen targets.

      Pity you didn’t have a rifle for The Lark Ascending! 🙂

      • La plus belle voix says:

        I’m aware of course that it is Smyth; apols. that the spellchecker got the better of me this time. Pity you didn’t actually take issue with the music itself. As for that lark, I’d prefer, ethically speaking, a shotgun.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I personally find most Mozart passe these days and would long for something that just ISN’T that!! Another Mozart piano concerto and I’ll start hitting people!! The tortured mien of Uchida? (I know how she feels!)

    • Clyde Blair says:

      I feel better. Listening to the score for North by Northwest. Very emotional this evening. Be well and thank you.

    • David Dreebin says:

      You are right, mate – I mean about there being a plethora of thumbs down! It doesn’t help being misogynistic in your criticism of Florence Price and Ethel Smyth (you haven’t even bothered to spell her surname correctly). Nor criticising the beautiful ‘Lark Ascending’ by RVW.

      • La plus belle voix says:

        I’m aware of course that it is Smyth not Smith; apols. that the spellchecker got the better of me this time. Pity you did not take the chance actually to deal with her music, but merely nitpick. And yes, I do bother.

        Criticising Price and Smyth is about as misogynistic as lambasting Mozart and Beethoven would be misandristic.

    • Tzctslip says:

      Goodness forbids that there’s an orchestra given opportunities to people that otherwise are almost never seen performing in classical concerts.
      Next you’re going to complain against the Simon Bolivar Orchestra because they get their musician on the basis of economic discrimination of well of people.

  • John Kelly says:

    John Wilson with the Sinfonia of London – good. No John Wilson Orchestra concert – bad.

  • Violinista says:

    The only reviews of the Proms season are the ones that are written after the season is over

  • Vincent Thurgood says:

    I probably would go to see Maxwell Davies’ First Symphony, were it to be programmed, Standby.
    I was a bit disappointed that featuring Xenakis this year seems to involve a chamber music programme in Belfast, and a piece each in two other Proms. No challenging electronic stuff. Not exactly extensive coverage. Ditto, George Walker.
    I hope we get a Birtwistle tribute as a change of programme. Maybe a reprise of Panic?
    Good to see Schnittke’s Viola Concerto getting an airing and Shostakovich’s last symphony. Fun if you like that kind of thing. Plus Dream of Gerontius and Spem in Alium for the dawn-timers.

  • Chuckroast says:

    Just a sign of the times in which we live.

  • John Randolph says:

    What are you talking about dude? This is a festival with several works by England’s great composer (Ethel Smyth) and even one by America’s great (Florence Price). You obviously need to report to the reeducation camps immediately.

    • La plus belle voix says:

      Dear Mr Ranolph,

      I respect your views on Smyth and Price; if you get more enjoyment from their music than, say, that of Berkeley or Ruggles, then so be it.

      Just by the way, ad hominem arguments (referencing I guess Uighur reeducation camps in this case) never help, lacking as they do both deduction and syllogism. Attacks like these merely debase the original debate, and turn healthy difference of opinion into pernicious altercation.

  • Clyde Blair says:

    I guess just relax, maybe the gaming etc will pull listeners in. I love Lark Ascending. I know Britten hated the “folk” inspired genre. But, the Tallis Fantasia is maybe #1 in my desert island list. I know, that’s saying alot. But a recent performance with John Wilson and Phil players brought me to my knees. Never mind Spem, but you never know. Epiphanies abound. Regards. Like your open reply format.

  • Clyde Blair says:

    SOOO much music to love. Keep an “open” mind, not uncritical or non-discriminatory or unthinking.

  • Donna Pasquale says:

    I imagine this post was written before any announcement from the BBC. Indeed I am sure, if I could be bothered looking them up, it’s the same NL post from previous years. I’m sure it’s actually a rehash of the original commentary by Slipped Disc on the inaugural Henry Wood season .

  • Lawrie says:

    NL has obviously not read the WHOLE programme of concerts. There are some absolute corkers, and much needed in our troubled times.
    P.S. Music, like all good things, must move on.

  • Albert says:

    Someone said all British orchestras are playing at the Proms? NO, the Proms forgot AGAIN the RLPO and I can’t understand why.

    • Albert Dock says:


      I know how you feel.
      The Phil tend to appear every two years. On past form they are due in 2023.

  • Stephen Owades says:

    Brexit may have had something to do with the Boston Symphony eliminating its London appearance next month, but since that announcement was made the entirety of the BSO’s European trip has been cancelled due to a big Covid outbreak among the orchestra and chorus during performances of Britten’s War Requiem in Boston—so it wouldn’t have occurred anyway. I suspect that other international orchestras will be getting back to the Proms only gingerly, given the continuing risk of Covid.

  • Lloydie says:

    Every year for the last 50 years I have relished the day the Proms prospectus comes out. I am no longer buying it from this year on. So many concerts ruined by mediocrity, and using orchestras as social engineering. I shall vote with my feet – and my money. Mr Lebrecht’s article is spot on: programming is not the priority, whatever the BBC may say – it is complete wokeness. Doubtless I will be criticised as stuffy and reactionary – I am neither. If you love it – fine. You go. I shall take my presence – and my money – elsewhere. Every season gets worse.

  • Alyn James says:

    Slightly off-topic I know, but what’s happening in the sound engineering booth at the Proms? Some of the balances have been puzzling – I’ve heard a second oboe playing louder than three trombones! I don’t know what’s been done to Heinz beans but the “new recipe” saw me defecting to Branston years ago…..