Two buzzy stories about Cheltenham Festival and BBC Proms


Are things changing in the classical music industry? Maybe. Two announcements today certainly have a buzz about them and have drawn my eye. I realise that two examples is hardly evidence, but then this isn’t meant to be an academic study, nor an essay. Brace, brace. You may not agree. Well, maybe not with the second one.  

First, Cheltenham Festivals (6-13 July) announcing their new artistic director Jack Bazalgette. The Hackney-based choral conductor, animateur, and artistic programmer has in recent years been associated with the through the noise concert series alongside ttn managing director Jack Crozier) securing leading classical artists and getting them to play in clubs, pubs and sundry other unusual locations drawing in a vibey crowd with plastic glasses of booze and fingers ready on their mobile phones. The resulting visuals in some of the tastily produced YouTube videos give off a late-night clubby atmosphere. It’s where Thoroughly Good Muse and test audience member Lorna and I went to last year for their season launch. Both individuals are ridiculously positive, energetic and hopeful.

Jack Bazalgette and a concert from Cheltenham Festivals

And whilst I can’t imagine Bazalgette is looking to completely transform Cheltenham into a series of through the noise satellite events , it says something that the Cheltenham management and board have appointed someone like Bazalgette, especially given his first programming will be seen in the Festival’s eightieth year. This isn’t an appointment of someone at the end of their career, but arguably at the beginning of it. Whilst I’ve always enjoyed Cheltenham concerts, I’m very much looking forward to seeing what Bazalgette comes up with .  

And the second announcement today. This is the thing that might raise a few eyebrows. Even so. I’m going to press on regardless.  

Earlier today, the BBC Proms announced it had its busiest opening weekend of ticket sales ever, with a 36% uptick on previous years, and up 15 events already having sold out (except for 1000 promming tickets available on the day). Eleven of the fifteen concerts are classical – core classical stuff with very little to scare the horses musically. The total of ‘almost’ 125K tickets is impressive given that capacity crowds are (I think I’m right in saying) around 4000 or so.  

The sold-out Proms are:  

First Night of the Proms conducted by Elim Chan (19 July),  
Everybody Dance! The Sound of Disco (20 July),  
Sir Mark Elder conducts Mahler’s Fifth (21 July),  
Verdi’s Requiem (23 July),  
CBeebies Proms (27 July, two concerts),  
Yunchan Lim performs Beethoven, Bruckner and Tüür (29 July),  
Sam Smith (2 August),  
Anne-Sophie Mutter performs Brahms with the West–Eastern Divan (11 August),  
Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony (12 August),  
Britten’s War Requiem (17 August),  
Aurora Orchestra performs Beethoven’s Ninth (18 August),  
Holst’s The Planets (25 August),  
Doctor Who Proms (26 August, two concerts),  
Simon Rattle conducts Mahler’s Sixth (6 September) and  
Florence + The Machine: Symphony of Lungs (11 September).         

No real surprise that the Sam Smith or Florence and the Machine gigs sold out given that they’re pulling in a different crowd, similarly so the Sound of Disco (who even the outgoing Proms Director David Pickard was seen on Twitter in the ticket queue buying tickets for his son). Whilst these and the painful Doctor Who Prom are as far from classical as they can possibly be (just because it has an orchestra in it doesn’t mean its classical), the fact that so many actual classical events feature in the sold out fifteen (including Britten’s War Requiem) is encouraging.  

I don’t especially mind the crossover as it happens. It, like the many repertoire changes at Radio 3, aren’t intended for the likes of me. If it blurs the lines and softens the hard edges for the likes of my pal Lorna then I’m quite OK with it. What people appear to be buying are the crowd-pleasers and the family-oriented stuff. And that if its really the case, is surely A Good Thing, because that means younger family members are (potentially) being introduced to classical. Just because I don’t want to go to some of them is neither here nor there.  

Maybe its not that the industry is changing then, maybe its that I’m changing my view of the industry. Maybe I’m a little bit more at ease with the genre fluidity (to coin a phrase). People will get to what they want to listen to in their own sweet time. Its about the first experience paving the way for the returning experience. Maybe Cheltenham and the BBC Proms are on course to making the right change. 

Cheltenham Festival runs 6-13 July

BBC Proms runs from 19 July – 14 September