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Proms serves up another season of hope and glory

11 July, 2019 — By Michael White

YOU know it’s summer when the Proms come round again. And when the 2019 season starts next week (Friday, July 19) it will, as always, feel as though half the world is packed into the Albert Hall – which may not be the most comfortable concert venue going, but is one of the most loved and most spectacular.

This year there are 75 events in the season, running every night until September 14. Highlights of the programme include big anniversaries for Berlioz and two female composers very much in the ascendance now that we’ve all woken up to the fact there are female composers of historical significance: the 17th-century Barbara Strozzi and the 19th-century Clara Schumann.

If you’re not familiar with their music, here’s an opportunity to catch up. And if Clara is of interest, you should know that there’s a new CD of her keyboard works just out, on the Decca label, from the promising Isata Kanneh-Mason – another member of the dazzling family of young performers first made famous by her cellist brother Sheku.

I was at a Decca party last week where Isata played some of her Clara Schumann repertoire, impressively. And she tells me she’ll be one of the artists presenting the 2019 Proms for TV, which is something else to look out for.

Twenty-five of this year’s Proms are to be televised, mostly on BBC Four at weekends.

And as usual, every night gets broadcast live on Radio 3 – which makes the whole thing like an “open sesame” to the world of classical music.

When I was a child, with little or no access to live performance, it was collecting Proms on the radio that was my introduction to Brahms, Beethoven, Wagner, and a lot else besides. It was like a home university course.

And so it still is, for millions of people who tune in throughout the world – entirely free, thanks to the BBC, and one of the most generous gifts going.

If you’d rather be there in person at the hall, you can join the promenaders with a £6 standing ticket: not a lot to pay. And if you’re serious about doing the season, the best thing is to buy the Proms guide – available in newsagents and bookshops – and plan your listening.

Just remember that it all starts on Friday, July 19, when the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus perform Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass – a piece that, in the right hands, takes your breath away with its high-impact rhythmic energy and brilliant colours.

The concert begins 7.30pm, and it’s one of the televised events. For further details, see bbc.co.uk/proms

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