Proms 2008: the highlights

The Proms, the annual summer festival of (mainly) classical music held (mainly) at London’s Albert Hall, started its 2008 season last Friday with the inauspicious withdrawal through illness of Finnish soprano Karita Mattila.

The Proms used to seem like a two month-long gathering of all the geeks, swots and hapless toff and jerks in England (and Colonies). The festival came across as a celebration of the smug, self-satisfied bourgeoisie.

Having overcome such dispiriting prejudice, I now reserve my criticisms for the Proms programme itself. It always has gems, sometimes a multiplicity. But it’s largely a succession of one tedious 19thC symphony after another, albeit played by a rich variety of leading orchestras. I tend to home in on the vocal music.

Proms 2008 highlights I’m waiting for include:

Thurs 31 July – Monteverdi’s Poppaea (Danielle de Niese)

Mon 11 August – Puccini’s Il Tabarro (Barbara Frittoli)

Sun 17 August – Beethoven Mass in C

Fri 22 August – Mahler 5 etc (Angela Kirschlager)

Sun 24 August – Bach’s St John Passion

Sun 31 August – Verdi’s Requiem

Mon 8 Sept – Mahler 6 (Chicago SO)

That’s less than 10% of the total festival, but a mouth-watering prospect nevertheless.

To its credit, the BBC transmits all 76 concerts live on the indispensable Radio 3, with a few also on BBC Four TV. But, as with so many big events, the BBC’s presence transforms the Proms. In applying its Middle England gloss to the events it covers, the BBC changes them. It’s what makes its Wimbledon output inferior to French TV’s coverage of the Paris Open. And makes Glastonbury virtually unwatchable.

Online access: many BBC radio programmes are available online, streamed. Please see the BBC channels’ web sites for details. Archived radio and TV is accessible online via:

www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer

Gerry Smith

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