Many years ago when access to the Proms brochure and programme archive was as straightforward a process and leaping down the stairs at Broadcasting House and opening a cupboard, I recall stumbling on the Winter Proms season print and thinking how odd a concept it seemed. This, obviously, because it my mind the Proms is something that shapes the summer.
The idea that someone would even entertain the idea of mounting a similar kind of programme in the winter seems like a bizarre thing. Reading Alison Garnham’s chapter in the Proms history book edited by Nicholas Kenyon highlights that the then revival of the Winter Proms in 1947-52 brought the BBC into conflict with other concert promoters who smelled unfair competition. The season wasn’t financially viable either.
I digress. Kind of. Will this year’s Proms season announced today, if it was to be available in print, cast a similar spell on future fans furtively rifling through that same cupboard? I like to think so.
For someone like me – an unreliable, fickle and sometimes critical Proms devotee – there is little difference for me as a consumer this year as opposed to previous years. I’m a predominantly a listener. I prefer imagining the Royal Albert Hall as I listen on the radio. Memories collide. The unfamiliar is introduced. The summer is made sense of.
While its easy to scroll through the listings for this year’s season – 6 weeks of archive broadcasts across TV and radio plus two weeks of as yet-to-be-defined audience-free live performances – and think that this will be seen as a phoney season because I don’t have the choice to attend in person, the reality is that Proms 2020 is exactly what its always been: a series of concert broadcasts I can listen to on the radio. Only this year I get to browse through the past twenty years or so and relive some moments.
I’ve pulled-out a handful of things that catch my eye from a cursory glance of the list. But basically, the summer is sorted – an entire season of archive broadcasts. That, frankly, is good enough for me.
Thoroughly Good Highlights from BBC Proms 2020
Tavener’s The Protecting Veil (1989) – Tuesday 21 July – Radio 3
Norrington conducts Beethoven and Schubert (1989) – Monday 27 July – Radio 3
Sondheim at 80 (2010) – Friday 31 July – Radio 3
Richard Hickox (2006) – Sunday 2 August – Radio 3
Neville Marriner (1994) – Thursday 6 August – Radio 3
Rattle and Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand (2002) – Sunday 9 August – BBC Four
Andrew Manze conducting Vaughan Williams Symphonies 4-6 – Tuesday 12 August – Radio 3
Argerich, Barenboim, and West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (2016) – Sunday 16 August – BBC Four
Kissin (1997) – Wednesday 19 August – Radio 3
Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra (2007) – Sunday 23 August – BBC Four
Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic (1987) – Wednesday 26 August – Radio 3
Ibiza Prom (2015) – Friday 28 August – BBC Four
Rachmaninov Vespers (2017) – Sunday 6 September – Radio 3
Not and exhaustive list of my listening committments, but enough to delight and act as a substitute. What we need to do next is follow the Royal Albert Hall’s lead and make this count for classical music, live performance, and the wider arts. This season is the supporting evidence for the campaign audience, performers, and broadcasting organisations alike need to get behind: to reiterate the lifelong value of music in the minds of those who have the power to ensure the UK arts sector survives post-COVID19.