Formula saves the BBC Proms 2017! This may be the beginning of the end for Sir Henry Wood's dreams of the Proms as serious music. Fortunately The Formula, perfected by much-maligned Roger Wright, is strong enough to withstand the anti-music agendas of the suits and robots who now run the Proms. Shame on those who rely on formula instead of talent, but in dire straits, autopilot can save things from falling apart. So, sift through the detritus of gimmick and gameshow to find things worth saving (Read here what I wrote about The Formula) In the long term this strategy will bring new audiences sold on strategy, not the quality of the product. Not at all the same thing.
Daniel Barenboim is a Proms perennial, for good reason, so we can rely on his two Elgar Proms (15 and 16 July) especially the Sunday one which features a new work by Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Deep Time, which at 25 minutes should be substantial. Pascal Dusapin's Outscape on 19/7, 28 minutes, also substantial. Another "regular" Proms opera, Fidelio on 21/7, with a superlative cast headed by Stuart Skelton and Ricarda Merbeth, though Juanjo Mena conducts. Ilan Volkov conducts Julian Anderson's new Piano Concerto on 26/7 , though the rest of the programme, though good, isn't neccesarily Volkov's forte On 29/7 Mark Wigglesworth conducts David Sawer's The Greatest Happiness Principle. On 31/7, Monteverdi Vespers with French baroque specialists Ensemble Pygmalion
On 1/8, William Christie conducts the OAE in Handel Israel in Egypt and on 2/8, John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists do Bach and my beloved Heinrich Schütz. On 8/8 Gardiner returns with Berlioz The Damnation of Faust, with Michael Spyres. First of this year's four Mahlers is Mahler's Tenth (Cooke) with Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (12/8). Robin Ticciati, back with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on 15/8 with an interesting pairing, Thomas Larcher Nocturne-Insomnia with Schumann Symphony no 2.
Throughout this season, there are odd mismatches between repertoire and performers, good conductors doing routine material, less good conductors doing safe and indestructible. Fortunately, baroque and specialist music seem immune. See above and also the Prom featuring Lalo, Délibes and Saint-Saëns with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles on 16/8 Perhaps these Proms attract audiences who care what they're listening to. Schoenberg's Gurrelieder on 19/8 with Simon Rattle, whose recording many years back remains a classic but may not be known to whoever described the piece in the programme "Gurrelieder is Schoenberg’s Tristan and Isolde, an opulent, late-Romantic giant." Possibly the same folk who dreamed up the tag "Reformation Day" like Nigel Farage's "Independence Day" Nothing in life is that simplistic The music's OK, but not the marketing.
Sakari Oramo conducts the BBC SO in Elgar Symphony no 3 (Anthony Payne) on 22/8 Potentially this will be even bigger than the Barenboim Elgar symphonies, since Oramo is particularly good with this symphony, which may not be as high profile but is certainly highly regarded by those who love Elgar. On 26/8, Jakub Hrůša conducts the BBC SO in an extremely well chosen programme of Suk, Smetana, Martinů, Janáček and Dvorák. More BBC SO on 31/8 when Semyon Bychkov conducts a Russian programme Marketing guff seems to make a big deal of national stereotypes, which is short-sighted These programmes cohere musically, but that's perhaps too much to expect from the new Proms mindset.
On 1/9, Daniele Gatti conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Bruckner and Wolfgang Rihm. An odd pairing but one which will come off well since these musicians know what they're doing They are back again on 2/9 with Haydn "The Bear" and Mahler Fourth which isn't "sunny" or "song-filled". It's Mahler, not a musical. Gergiev brings the Mariinsky on 3/9 with Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich Symphony no 5. Another huge highlight on 7/9 : the Wiener Philharmoniker, with Daniel Harding in Mahler Symphony no 6 - so powerful that nothing else needs to be added to sugar the pill. For me, and for many others, that will be the real Last Night of the Proms Party time the next day, with Nina Stemme as star guest.