BBC Proms to return as ‘we know and love’ it after a bumpy time, says director

The BBC Proms’ forthcoming season will see the event back as “we know and love” it after the music world went through a “bumpy time” after the pandemic, the director has said.

This year’s expansive 90-concert programme features debut performances from Florence Welch and Sam Smith, a disco night and a host of international orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic and the West-Eastern Divan.

Following an extended period of uncertainty around their future, the BBC Singers will also celebrate their centenary year with seven performances within the 2024 run.

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Florence Welch of Florence And The Machine (Matt Crossick/PA)

Speaking to BBC Radio 3 on the Proms programme launch day, BBC Proms director David Pickard said: “I think people don’t remember now just how long it was for the performing arts world to come out of Covid because we still had distancing for a while.

“We planned the 2021 Proms in distancing, with distanced orchestras. And the thing of course that was very slow to come back was international travel.

“So it’s no wonder that we’ve had fewer international orchestras in the past, and they of course have also had to slightly build their war chest to be able to afford to come (and) tour in Europe.

“So I’m just so thrilled that we feel like this is the Proms that we know and love after a bit of a bumpy time for all of us in the classical music world.”

Singer Welch, of indie-rock band Florence And The Machine, will perform her Brit Award-winning 2009 album Lungs alongside Grammy-winning composer Jules Buckley and his orchestra when she takes to the stage on September 11, marking her only UK performance of the year.

For their show on August 2, Smith will sing a rendition of their Grammy-winning 2014 debut album In The Lonely Hour with the BBC Concert Orchestra to mark the record’s 10th anniversary.

On securing exclusive performances with the artists, Mr Pickard said: “This isn’t just another trip after Glastonbury, this is something very special and we’re excited about the idea of opening up a different type of music to the Proms, but actually retaining the sense that this is an orchestral festival.

“And hopefully it will bring in the sort of audience that might not necessarily come to the Proms but now feel very welcome.”

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Sam Smith will make their BBC Proms debut this summer (Ian West/PA)

Controller of Radio 3 and BBC Proms Sam Jackson also said the look and feel of Smith’s Prom will be “entirely appropriate for the festival” after the singer has become known for their dramatic outfits and shows.

“We’ve worked very hard with Sam Smith and their management on how we can create something that is authentically Proms,” Mr Jackson added.

The programme will also see Grammy Award-nominated multi-instrumentalist, singer and producer Jordan Rakei present tracks from his new album The Loop and there will be an array of family events and concerts for children including a new Doctor Who Prom and a CBeebies Prom.

While the BBC Singers will feature in the First and Last Night performances and on August 25, they will also perform a host of pieces they have premiered over their 100-year history.

Earlier this year, the broadcaster announced it had agreed upon a sustainable plan for the future of the in-house chamber choir after it had been reviewing alternative funding models for its performing groups.

The broadcaster’s initial plans to scrap the BBC Singers sparked a backlash, with more than 140,000 people signing a petition urging the BBC to reverse its decision.

Discussing their relationship with the choir at this time, BBC Proms controller Mr Jackson said they are in a “really good place”.

BBC Proms 2020
Nicholas Chalmers conducting the BBC Singers during the First Night of the Proms 2020 (Chris Christodoulou/BBC/PA)

He added: “The BBC Singers are confirmed as full-time, salaried BBC staff. We’re working with them really closely on plans for their centenary year at the Proms, but also across Radio 3.

“Later in the year as well, for their actual anniversary in the autumn, we’ve got lots of plans lined up so we’re in a very positive place.”

The BBC’s own ensembles, including the BBC Concert Orchestra and BBC Philharmonic, will feature across 38 Proms, and a further 20 orchestras and more than 25 choirs from all over the UK will perform throughout the season.

Hong Kong-born conductor Elim Chan will conduct the First Night of the Proms, featuring soloists Isata Kanneh-Mason and Sophie Bevan and a world premiere of Ben Nobuto’s Hallelujah Sim.

The Last Night will be conducted by Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo, featuring pianist Sir Stephen Hough and soprano Angel Blue, who will be making her BBC Proms debut.

The Proms will pay tribute to the late Sir Andrew Davis, a joyful conductor who has led the Last Night concert numerous times and was due to perform this summer before his death from leukaemia aged 80 earlier this month.

Mr Pickard, speaking on BBC Radio 3, described Sir Andrew as a “wonderful personality” and “a brilliant and wide ranging conductor” who will be “sorely missed” at the Proms and by the classical music community.

The programme this year features 10 female conductors and nearly a third of the Proms will feature an ethnically diverse soloist or conductor, the BBC said.

Reflecting on the gender and ethnic diversity within the Proms, Mr Pickard said: “I think for all of us, this is a journey we’re on.

“If you look back 15 years and see where we are now, we’re in a very, very different place. We still want to go further.

“And for me, the interesting thing is, for instance with women conductors, is the new conductors that are making their debuts this summer that are women because that’s what we all need to do in the profession.

“And it’s an issue for the whole industry, of finding and developing the talent.”

Outside of the capital, Gateshead will host a weekend-long residency and a new Proms residency will launch in venues across Nottingham as well as at the newly opened Bristol Beacon, including a debut from Bristol’s Paraorchestra.

Nigel Kennedy performs at the Proms
Nigel Kennedy performs with the BBC Concert Orchestra (Yui Mok/PA)

Other Proms will take place across the UK in Aberdeen, Belfast and Newport.

The upcoming season will also mark the last before Mr Pickard steps down as director of the BBC Proms after being appointed to the role in 2015.

Every Prom will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and will be later available on BBC Sounds, while 24 programmes, including the First and Last Night of the Proms, will be broadcast on BBC television and iPlayer.

The BBC Proms 2024 will run from July 19 to September 14, with tickets starting at £8.