The opening week of the BBC Proms will feature a newly formed Ukrainian orchestra that includes refugees and musicians who have been exempt from fighting, in a move the event organisers say will be a “powerful statement”.
The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, which will play on 21 July and will be led by the conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, includes 75 military-age musicians from European orchestras who have been granted military exemptions from Ukraine’s Ministry for Culture.
David Pickard, the Proms director, said many in the British arts world have felt helpless as the conflict in Ukraine has escalated but that the orchestra’s presence would help. “I think everybody who’s involved in this project believes that is such a powerful statement to put these people together,” he said.
Pickard also confirmed that unlike some other cultural events, Russian musicians and conductors have not been banned from performing at the Proms, which this year features 84 concerts and more than 3,000 performers from across the world.
He said Russian performers would not be required to make a statement condemning Vladimir Putin’s regime because that could “put them in danger”, but added that he was confident there were none who were public supporters of Russia’s actions. “I think if there were somebody that were to express those views, to be putting it bluntly, there’d be no place for them,” he said.
The Last Night of the Proms will once again be led by the Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska, who became embroiled in a row in 2020 over a proposal to perform Land of Hope and Glory and Rule, Britannia! as instrumentals because of social distancing rules limiting the number of musicians in the Royal Albert Hall.
That decision was eventually reversed but in the aftermath Stasevska was blamed, even though she had nothing to do with it, and her family received threats. Boris Johnson and the then culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, both criticised the original proposal in a move decried as a “phoney culture war”.
On 10 September, Stasevska will be joined by the cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the Norwegian opera singer Lise Davidsen and there will be a world premiere by the UK composer James B Wilson. Land of Hope and Glory and Rule, Britannia! will both be sung.
Wilson’s work is part of a line up that is one of the most diverse ever, with a celebration of George Walker, the first African-American composer to win a Pulitzer, a prom dedicated to Aretha Franklin, work by Amjad Ali Khan, a session dedicated to South African jazz and an evening with Cynthia Erivo, who will be singing songs by Nina Simone and Gladys Knight among others.
Last year’s event was staged as restrictions were being eased and was rocked by Covid-19 travel disruption with cancellations and late changes to the lineup. But this year Pickard said he did not anticipate the pandemic affecting proceedings. “We are planning on a normal summer,” he said. “We don’t have any contingencies … If something happens, then we have to change it.”
This year’s Proms is billed as “a homecoming of large-scale orchestral repertoire”, with Verdi’s Requiem being played on the first night while Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra perform Mahler’s Second Symphony. There will also be a first of its kind Gaming Proms, with music from the world of computer games played by the Royal Philharmonic, conducted by Robert Ames.
“Minimalism meets baroque” when a new work by Anthony Roth Costanzo mixes Philip Glass and Handel’s work at the Printworks venue, which is better known as a clubbing destination. With “live painting” from George Condo, choreography by West Side Story’s Justin Peck and creative input from the fashion designer Raf Simons, it is seen as an event aimed at reaching new, less traditional Proms audiences.
In the BBC’s centenary year, there will be the world premiere of This New Noise by Public Service Broadcasting. This is a multimedia piece including clips from the BBC’s archive and is named after the Guardian’s chief culture writer Charlotte Higgins’s book about the organisation that was released in 2014.