Saturday 24 August 2019

Proms chief unveils programme and hopes last night will not be political

This year’s highlights will feature hip-hop and a tribute to Nina Simone.

This year’s programme includes hip-hop (BBC).
This year’s programme includes hip-hop (BBC).

By Sherna Noah, Press Association Senior Entertainment Correspondent

The Last Night Of The Proms should not be a political occasion, the chief of the world-famous music festival has said, despite tensions over Brexit.

The programme for this year’s event has been announced and it includes the first ever Prom dedicated to hip-hop.

Other highlights include an evening dedicated to Nina Simone, and a concert to mark the 50th anniversary of man landing on the moon.

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The Proms’ David Pickard (BBC)

Since the Brexit referendum, some concert-goers at the Last Night Of The Proms have shown their solidarity with the European Union by waving EU flags.

Asked whether this year’s finale, a traditionally patriotic occasion, will be a political hot potato, Proms director David Pickard told the Press Association: “I hope not.

“I want the Last Night not to be a political occasion but a musical occasion.

“It’s a time for letting your hair down, it’s a time to celebrate the end of this great festival and I don’t want it to be a political platform.

“In the end, I can only say, from the three or four years I’ve been doing this job, the Last Night Of The Proms, whatever the political tensions there might be, has always been and always felt like a great celebration of music.”

The festival, based at the Royal Albert Hall and most famous for its classical music programme, will be featuring hip-hop with an orchestra.

“There will be some breakdancing. There will also be some MC-ing and DJ-ing,” Pickard said.

“We felt that, with the huge popularity of a musical like Hamilton, which is based around hip—hop, now is the time to tap into something that is a very important, popular form of music.”

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Erard Piano in White Drawing Room 1 Royal Collection Trust (© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019)

He added: “It’s now quite an old…(music genre). It’s no longer the new thing. It’s part of our society.”

The event will also see Queen Victoria’s piano come out of the Royal Collection to be played outside Buckingham Palace for the first time.

“It’s the piano that she owned, that she played,” Pickard said.

“We are thrilled that they allowed it out of Buckingham Palace… so we can see it and hear it in action.”

A Mendelssohn piano concerto will be performed on the instrument, featuring a composer “who would have been writing for exactly that kind of piano.”

This year, there are 12 new commissions by men and 11 by women.

And for the first time, there will be a woman, Karina Canellakis, conducting the First Night.

Marin Alsop previously became the first woman to conduct the Last Night Of The Proms.

We still stand for what he wanted to be - the best of classical music for the widest possible audience David Pickard

Pickard said that “we still inherit the past of a male-dominated compositional world” and “sadly conducting has been seen as a male preserve in the past”.

But he added: “We have seven women conductors this summer…. It’s more women conductors than we’ve had at the Proms.”

The Proms, which last year sparked controversy over the casting of Maria in West Side Story, will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of its founder, conductor Sir Henry Wood.

“We still stand for what he wanted to be, the best of classical music for the widest possible audience…,” Pickard said.

“So much has changed in the breadth of music that people listen to, and I hope he’d be pleased that we’re reflecting that in the Proms today.”

The event will also include the premiere of Radiohead star Jonny Greenwood’s new piece Horror Vacui, while three new works will reflect “the changing world around us” and climate change.

The TV coverage of BBC Proms is to be produced by an independent production company for the first time after BBC Studios lost the bid.

The Proms run from Friday July 19 to Saturday September 14. More info can be found at BBC.co.uk/proms.

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