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Friday 13 December 2019

Proms premiere for Turing tribute

The Pet Shop Boys new orchestral work inspired by Alan Turing is to be given its world premiere at the BBC Proms
The Pet Shop Boys new orchestral work inspired by Alan Turing is to be given its world premiere at the BBC Proms

An orchestral work by the Pet Shop Boys based on the life of codebreaker Alan Turing - whose endeavours are said to have shortened the Second World War by up to two years - is to be given its world premiere at the BBC Proms.

Brilliant mathematician Turing led a team decoding messages at Bletchley Park , whose work remained secret until many years after the war's end, and also designed the "bombe" machine which decrypted German messages.

He was given a posthumous royal pardon in December for his conviction for an act of "gross indecency" in 1952, which led to his chemical castration and also saw his security clearance being withdrawn for his post-war work at GCHQ. He went on to commit suicide in 1954.

Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, who first charted as Pet Shop Boys 29 years ago, will perform their new work A Man From The Future, based on Turing's life and work, in full for the first time this summer.

It is among the 92 concerts throughout the two-month season which were announced today by the Proms outgoing director Roger Wright, who is also controller of Radio 3.

Performances include two of the final works by the late Sir John Tavener, who died last year, as well as the Proms debut of choirmaster Gareth Malone, accompanied by a group of Military Wives.

The season will also feature a return after 17 years for Sir Neville Marriner, who at the age of 90 is possibly the oldest conductor to perform at the Proms.

Ten international ensembles, including orchestras from Qatar, Lapland and China will perform for the first time at the Proms, which are focused around London's Royal Albert Hall.

The Turing premiere will feature in the opening Late Night Prom on July 23 with the BBC Concert Orchestra. It will also include an orchestral medley of Pet Shop Boys songs which was first prepared in 1991 for the duo's first world tour, as well as composer Angelo Badalamenti's arrangements of their music, performed by a guest vocalist.

Finally Tennant and Lowe will join the orchestra for their new work. The pair are no strangers to orchestral scores having worked with the Dresden Symphony Orchestra to create a soundtrack to the 1925 silent movie Battleship Potemkin and a Sadler's Wells ballet The Most Incredible Thing.

Pet Shop Boys said: "It is an honour for us to be invited to present some new music at The Proms and to celebrate Alan Turing 60 years after his death."

Wright said: "When I heard about the piece I just talked first to Neil 'does it have a home? this is something that could be of interest'.

"All I would say is it's around 40 minutes, it's for orchestra, it will have a key part for a narrator/actor and will obviously be telling the Turing story but not in a strictly narrative way but it is obviously inspired by the work he did."

The work, which will also include electronic instrumentation and a choir, has its text based on Andrew Hodge's biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma.

The climax of the annual concert run, the Last Night Of The Proms will be conducted by Sakari Oramo, who will also play violin at a concert earlier in the season - thought to be a Proms first.

The Proms, which begin on July 18, also feature Sir Simon Rattle conducting The Berliner Philharmoniker and performances from eminent soloists such as trumpeter Alison Balsom and violinist Janine Jansen.

There will be a collaboration with the National Theatre to present the War Horse Prom featuring music from the hit stage production and music from the era and Malone's Proms Military Wives Choir.

The centenary of the start of the First World War will also be marked with a performance of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem - based on Wilfred Owen's poetry - and what is believed to the Proms debut of New War Hymn which was written by the event's founder Sir Henry Wood as a response to the outbreak of the conflict.

Concerts aimed at viewers of pre-school channel CBeebies and performances of sporting themes such as Horse Of The Year Show and Match Of The Day are also to feature in this year's BBC Proms.

They are part of the ongoing effort to broaden the appeal of the classical music season which will also see appearances by acts such as Rufus Wainwright and Paloma Faith.

Proms director Roger Wright pointed out there had been a long tradition of scheduling performances beyond the classical core, with concerts dating back to the early days more than a century ago featuring the equivalent of today's pop tunes.

The Sport Prom will be hosted by Gabby Logan and will include Mozart's popular equestrian theme, commonly known as A Musical Joke, as well as the Ski Sunday theme, Pop Looks Bach by Sam Fonteyn.

The two CBeebies Proms will feature a newly commissioned work as well as music, characters and faces familiar to young viewers.

"The idea that we should put on Proms for pre-schools is going to be an interesting experience when you listen to that on Radio 3. A certain amount of gurgling will be going on," said Wright.

He said it was an extension of family-friendly Proms events which began with the Blue Peter Prom.

Addressing concerns about acts such as Wainwright and Faith appearing on the bill, after rapper Fazer featured in an Urban Prom in 2013, Wright said: "Remember Soft Machine played at the Proms in the early '70s. So the notion that this is something brand new is complete nonsense."

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