This post has been corrected. See below for details.
The Proms in London is the biggest event in all musicdom. It is advertised as the world’s largest music festival, which it is. The first concert is Friday, and it runs nightly (with two programs some days) until Sept. 7. The breadth of this festival is, well, breathtaking in its scope, diversity and importance. All of Britain’s great orchestras and many of the world’s great musicians participate.
But what makes the Proms really special is the accessibility, and that is whether you’re in London or L.A. or anyplace else.
The festival was founded on the idea that the best and cheapest “seats” would be standing room in the center of the vast Royal Albert Hall, where there is room for up to 1,400 who pay only around $7.50. An additional 3,500 seats surround the hall, and nearly every concert is sold out.
And thanks to the BBC, which sponsors the Proms, every program is broadcast and streamed live, as well as archived for a week. Listening couldn’t be easier. The Beeb offers a player at www.bbc.co.uk/radio3 for live streaming.
You can also hear BBC Radio 3 on iTunes; it is found in the list of classical music radio stations. The rate for the streams, which determines the sound quality, is 320 kbps, the highest I’ve come across for radio (NPR stations in the U.S. are 128 or less). In addition, the BBC provides the ability to view online (but not download) the full lavishly illustrated and extensively annotated program book of each concert.
Among the things that have caught my eye for the first week are a performance of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” on period instruments (from 1913) Sunday and the world premiere of Thomas Adès’ “Totentanz” on Wednesday. As the summer progresses, Daniel Barenboim will conduct Wagner’s complete “Ring” cycle in concert; Midori will join Esa-Pekka Salonen for the Peter Eötvös’ “DoReMi” (a concert that the violinist premiered with the Los Angeles Philharmonic earlier this year); a scene from Stockhausen’s indescribable opera “Mittwoch,” which premiered in Birmingham last summer; and “The Last Night at the Proms,” where the Limeys get loony, at which Marin Alsop will become the first woman to conduct.
There are 75 programs. Listen to them all and you’ll get an education.
[For the record: An earlier version of this post and photo caption misspelled “DoReMi.”]