By Claire Dickson
This isn’t stemming from a set of AirPods. Nor is it the sound of the neighbour’s less than promising piano student competing with your Love Island catch-up session. This is the BBC Proms 2021 (there are catchier corporate advertisements in existence though). Despite living out its 127th season, the festival is certainly moving with the times in embracing a more eclectic range of genres. What began as a coupling of Chopin and Bizet premieres alongside the likes of Haydn and Liszt has met in the middle with the works of South African cellist Abel Selaocoe who blends traditional playing styles with improvisation, singing and body percussion and jazz saxophonist/DJ Nubya Garcia to name but a few. Efforts have also been made to attract a younger audience with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain remaining a key feature (almost reaching the lofty heights of the English National Opera’s free tickets for under 35s scheme).
Furthermore, the musicians partaking in concerts have become increasingly representative of the age, ethnicity and gender of society as a whole, demonstrated by 29 year old Jonathon Hayward making his proms debut and female conductor Dalia Stasevska taking up the baton on the First Night – a role to be reckoned with. In making its fourth appearance at the festival, The Chineke Orchestra made up of majority black and Asian musicians has added ammunition to the campaign for ethnic diversity in composers as well as performers. American black composer Florence Price’s piano concerto was seen as a triumph whilst the music of mixed-race British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (referred to by white New York Musicians as the ‘African Mahler’) continues to be championed by the orchestra. Added to this, ticket prices remain user-friendly as promming tickets can be obtained for 7 pounds each – an important measure in eradicating the stereotype that classical music belongs to and is dominated by an upper-middle class bracket of society. Nonetheless, the aforementioned progressive reforms are yet to succeed in detracting from the master strokes of the huge Viennese noises which audiences find in Beethoven and Mozart and haven’t grown weary of. In fact, following the strained separation period between live music and its devotees it can be said there was a fresh enthusiasm tangible in the promming arena as the oboist gave the first A of the night and the sound of successively tuning instruments rippled round the stage. And so after 80 years of pervading the Royal Albert Hall with the sights and sounds, glitz and glamour, interest and attraction of the BBC Proms, the 2021 edition has emerged. And perhaps it is only in the present day that founder Henry Wood’s ideal in bringing the best of classical music to the widest audience possible ‘making its beneficent effect universal’ is embarked upon.