Editorial: My Fair Lady, Les Troyens and Beethoven Cycle feature in 2012 BBC Proms

Olympic theme influences many of the 92 concerts in the summer festival

19 April 2012

John WilsonWhile the country's sportspeople prepare to gather for the London Olympics, there's also a sense of the "Best of British" about the BBC Proms season, announced today.

Gilbert and Sullivan, Ivor Novello, and even Wallace and Gromit will feature in the two-month-long festival, which also places an emphasis on birthday tributes to several of our great composers. Oliver Knussen and Simon Bainbridge's 60th birthdays will be the focus of several events, alongside 80th birthday tributes to Hugh Wood and Alexander Goehr. It's great to see that these artists, who represent several of the foundations of the creativity of the UK contemporary music scene, will be able to take the spotlight.

On the opening night of the Proms, four beloved British conductors will "pass the baton": Martyn Brabbins, Sir Mark Elder, Edward Gardner and Sir Roger Norrington. They'll perform works by Turnage, Elgar, Delius and Tippett, with singers Bryn Terfel, Sarah Connolly, Susan Gritton and Gerald Finley.

It's not all about British connections, though. Daniel Barenboim makes an historic visit with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, who will perform the first complete Beethoven cycle at the Proms in more than 60 years and in the process become the first non-BBC orchestra-in-residence at the festival. Though the Beethoven symphonies are a regular staple of the Proms, it will be interesting to witness a single ensemble and mighty conductor taking them all on in the same season (and I'm particularly happy to see one of my favourite singers, Waltraud Meier, is amongst the soloists for the Choral symphony).

Opera is particularly well represented this year. For the first time, both the Royal Opera and ENO will appear in the same season, bringing huge works to the festival: the cast of the ROH's new Les troyens will reunite under Music Director Sir Antonio Pappano while Edward Gardner will bring back the cast of ENO's acclaimed Peter Grimes, including the wonderful Grimes of Stuart Skelton.

Marking the 150th anniversary of Debussy's birth, Sir John Eliot Gardiner will conduct Pelléas et Mélisande, with the period instruments of his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. John Adams conducts his Nixon in China with Alan Oke and Gerald Finley, and Glyndebourne's Marriage of Figaro comes to the festival in a semi-staging.

On the choral front, there are also several unmissable events, especially Sir Mark Elder's rendition of Elgar's The Apostles with the wonderful Rebecca Evans and Alice Coote as soloists - surely a dream team in this underrated work.

As for the popular Last Night, outgoing Chief Conductor of the BBC SO Jiří Bělohlávek conducts Czech music by Dvořák and Suk, with Joseph Calleja singing tenor arias by Puccini, Massenet and Verdi. As always, the final week features starry appearances, including Bernard Haitink and the Vienna Philharmonic, Simon Rattle and the Berlin Phil, and the Leipzig Gewandhaus under Riccardo Chailly. It's great to see such world-class talent coming back to the festival, even in such financially undercertain times for the arts in this country.

For me, though, I have to admit to a slight bias as to my "top pick" of the season. The incomparable talents of John Wilson and his orchestra (previously showcased in acclaimed concerts on Rodgers and Hammerstein and movie musicals) are bringing a complete performance of Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady to the festival on the second night, using Andre Previn's Oscar-winning orchestrations and with a cast including Anthony Andrews as Henry Higgins. Having witnessed several previous concert performances of the piece by Wilson up and down the country, I can guarantee it'll be a great occasion. And by complete fluke, my book on the show, Loverly: The Life and Times of My Fair Lady, is being released by Oxford University Press the previous week. Who said academia's out of date?

by Dominic McHugh

Tickets go on sale from 9am on Saturday 12 May 2012 via bbc.co.uk/proms or 0844 209 7353 and in person at the Royal Albert Hall

More information is available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/proms/.

See also http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKVABVDYuCk&feature=share for a video introduction to the season by Roger Wright.

Photo credit: John Wilson at the BBC Proms, Chris Christodoulou/BBC