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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Nick Kimberley

BBC Proms 2023: the 20 concerts to book now, from Anna Lapwood to a Northern Soul night

In March, the BBC announced its intention to disband the BBC Singers and reduce the salaried staff of its orchestras. Widespread anger led to talk of strikes that would have disrupted this year’s BBC Proms; what was already a PR disaster was looking like becoming a catastrophe for the corporation. A couple of weeks later, the Beeb paused – but didn’t cancel – the decision, so at this point, the full Proms programme remains in place. The concerts are dominated by classical music but with plenty of sidesteps along the way. Here’s our selection of the most inviting and intriguing to book as soon as tickets go on general sale on May 13.

Prom 2, Keep the Faith: Northern Soul with BBC Concert Orchestra

Does Proms respectability sound the death knell for Northern Soul? Or does it herald a new era for this most sub of musical subcultures? Edwin Outwater, conducting, will hope to breathe fresh life into those classic 1960s floor-fillers: dust off your baggy trousers and bowling shoes.

Saturday July 15

Prom 4, Pekka Kuusisto conducts Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen

Violinist/conductor Kuusisto likes to go his own way. He soloes in Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, but he’ll refresh that familiar music with folkish improvisations alongside Swedish cittern-player Ale Carr. Vivaldi may never sound the same. His programme also includes Beethoven’s First Symphony and an avian extravaganza by Andrea Tarrodi.

Sunday July 16

Prom 9, Mariza sings Fado

Mariza (Carlos Ramos)

The Portuguese word Fado shares the same root as the English ‘fate’; the music that bears the name has an appropriate sense of staring death in the face. Fado continually reinvents itself and no-one has done more to bring its idioms into the 21st Century than Mariza. Her Proms debut will showcase her contributions to the music’s evolution.

Friday July 21

Proms 10 & 11, Horrible Histories, ’Orrible Opera

Opera has always had a delightfully cavalier attitude to history, something that it shares with the CBBC show Horrible Histories. For these two Proms (the second is a relaxed performance; both are British Sign Language interpreted), opera’s wonky sense of historic accuracy will guide the fun and games.

Saturday July 22

Prom 15, Anna Lapwood: Moon and Stars


Me: I love the soft, delicate sounds of the organ. Also me: #organ #organtok #pipeorgan #classicalmusic #mars #theplanets #gustavholst #organist #musician #royalalberthall #musicalinstrument

♬ Holst: The Planets, Op.32: I. Mars, the Bringer of War - Gustav Holst

If you’re walking past the Albert Hall in the middle of the night and think you hear the distant rumble of an organ, chances are it will be Anna Lapwood grabbing a rare opportunity to practice on the hall’s mighty instrument. Her late-night solo Prom offers suitably nocturnal music by Glass, Debussy and Hans Zimmer.

Tuesday July 25

Prom 18, Tribute to Lata Mangeshkar, Bollywood Legend

Has anyone ever recorded more music than ‘playback’ singer Lata Mangeshkar? Nobody knows exactly how many songs she recorded, but 50,000 may be a conservative estimate. For over 70 years she was the singing voice of Bollywood (she died in 2022). Michael Seal, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and guest vocalists pay tribute to the Nightingale of India.

Friday July 28

Prom 22, Ryan Bancroft conducts BBC National Orchestra of Wales with Isata Kanneh-Mason

(Robin Clewley)

The Kanneh-Mason family continues to carve out its special niche in British musical life. While cellist Sheku plays in the Last Night of the Proms (September 9), sister Isata tackles Prokofiev’s virtuosic Third Piano Concerto, which makes all but impossible demands on the soloist. Bancroft’s programme also includes Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, with its ominous ‘fate’ motif.

Tuesday August 1

Prom 27, Klaus Mäkelä conducts BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra with Yuja Wang

Gone are the days when Yuja Wang was routinely dismissed as all show, no substance. Now she’s fully established as one of the finest musicians of the day. As part of the Proms’ celebration of Rachmaninov’s 150th birthday, she performs his coruscating Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. It should nicely set the scene for Walton’s wide-screen epic Belshazzar’s Feast.

Friday August 4

Prom 31, Glyndebourne Festival Opera presents Dialogues of the Carmelites

(James Bellorini)

There’s an unwritten rule that you can’t put nuns on the stage and be serious; Francis Poulenc ignored it with his opera about a Carmelite convent during the French Revolution. It has its creepy moments but also a claustrophobic power. It’s a brave choice for Glyndebourne’s annual Proms visit but it just might suit the Albert Hall’s immense spaces.

Monday August 7

Prom 39, Iván Fischer conducts Budapest Festival Orchestra

The last of three Proms with Fischer and his “laboratory for the orchestra of the future” features fellow Hungarians András Schiff (playing Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto) and composer György Ligeti (arias from his opera Le Grand macabre). Earlier in the day, Prom 38 presents Audience Choice, where listeners select the programme.

Sunday August 13

Prom 43, György Kurtag’s Fin de Partie

Music mattered to Samuel Beckett and several of his stage-works have been made into operas. The most ambitious is Kurtag’s Fin de Partie (Endgame), first performed in Milan in 2018, when the composer was 92. Ryan Wigglesworth conducts BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in this UK premiere.

Friday August 17

Prom 46, Rakhi Singh directs Manchester Collective

Manchester Collective pays a rare visit to London with a bracing selection of defiantly urban music. It opens with Hannah Peel’s Neon, whose response to city life is summed up by the composer in words that could describe the whole programme: “Opulence, decadence and bustling activity.”

Saturday August 19

Prom 47, François-Xavier Roth conducts Les Siècles with Isabelle Faust

(Felix Broede)

There was a time when period instrument orchestras and modern orchestras were poles apart. For this concert, Les Siècles plays both roles: period for Mozart (including his final symphony), modern for Ligeti’s Violin Concerto, with Isabelle Faust the soloist. There aren’t many outfits that could manage that combination.

Sunday August 20

Prom 55, Andris Nelsons conducts Boston Symphony Orchestra with Jean-Yves Thibaudet

Three of the four works on Nelson’s programme have the energy to bring any concert to a rousing climax. Ravel’s La Valse is preceded by Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Gershwin’s Piano Concerto (soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet). Exalted company for the European premiere of Carlos Simon’s Four Black American Dances, as yet an unknown quantity.

Saturday August 26

Prom 56, Simon Rattle conducts London Symphony Orchestra

Sir Simon Rattle rehearsing with the LSO (PA)

The end of an era? This will be Rattle’s final performance as LSO music director. As valedictions go, it’s heartfelt: he’ll be conducting Mahler’s Ninth Symphony with its repeated ’farewell’ motif. Rattle may be leaving, but it’s hard to believe that he won’t be back, if only fleetingly. Meanwhile, enjoy him while he’s still here.

Sunday August 27

Prom 61, Anthony Parnther conducts Chineke! Orchestra

As Europe’s first professional orchestra of majority black and ethnically diverse musicians, Chineke! prides itself on performing black composers. To be sure, Haydn and Beethoven are on the programme, but so are Samuel Coleridge Taylor, US composer Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (named after his British predecessor) and Valerie Colman’s 2020 tribute to health workers, Seven O’Clock Shout.

Friday September 21

Prom 62 and 63, Nicholas Collon conducts Aurora Orchestra

It’s Aurora Orchestra’s party trick: playing a complete work by heart, no scores allowed. This is the toughest nut it’s had to crack so far – Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Conductor Collon will have to be on his toes. We’re also promised a dramatisation of events surrounding the infamous fiasco of its 1913 premiere.

Saturday September 2

Prom 64, John Eliot Gardiner conducts Berlioz’s The Trojans

John Eliot Gardiner celebrated his 80th birthday in April. Time to slow down? Not a bit of it. Four hours long, Berlioz’s The Trojans is among opera’s biggest challenges, a rarity in opera houses let alone at the Proms. The starry cast includes tenor Michael Spyres, alongside Gardiner’s dynamic Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique.

Sunday September 3

Prom 66 and 67, Rufus Wainwright and BBC Concert Orchestra


Wainwright has never been one to look backwards but for these two Proms, he revisits first his 20-year-old Want One album – “filled with the stuff of greatness” wrote one critic – and then its follow-up, Want Two. Both were elaborately orchestrated; here, Wainwright goes several steps further, adding the full BBC Concert Orchestra to the mix.

Tuesday September 5

Prom 68, Thomas Gould directs Britten Sinfonia

Despite losing its Arts Council grant last year, Britten Sinfonia soldiers on, determined to remain one of the country’s most versatile and inventive ensembles. Its Prom swings back and forth between the baroque and modern takes on the baroque, with Max Richter’s witty dismantling and reassembling of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as its climax.

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