The BBC Proms are going to outer space: 2019's season highlights

The first weekend of the Proms coincides with the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's moon walk

The BBC Proms will blast into hyperspace this summer, with a series of interstellar concerts marking the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings.

Alongside classics like Holst's The Planets, the season will include a Sci-Fi Prom, featuring scores from films such as Gravity and Alien: Covenant.

A CBeebies concert will take children on a journey to the Moon, including a close encounter with The Clangers.

And the season opens in July with a new piece inspired by the first Moon walk.

Zosha Di Castri's Long Is The Journey, Short Is The Memory will be premiered on Friday 19 July, under the baton of Karina Canellakis - the first female conductor to oversee the First Night of the Proms.

Meanwhile, art-rock band Public Service Broadcasting will play their concept album Race For Space in a special late night Prom.

The record, which combines sparse electronic beats with archive audio recordings from the US-Soviet space race, will be presented in a new arrangement with the Multi-Story Orchestra.

Image source, Mathias Bothor
Image caption,
Karina Canellakis is one of seven female conductors appearing at this year's Proms

Running from 19 July to 14 September, the 125th Proms season will also see concerts from cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, West African singer Angélique Kidjo and American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, who will be the featured soloist on the Last Night of the Proms.

Although the festival was planned as the Brexit deadline approached, Proms director David Pickard said there were "almost no" plans put in place to ensure foreign musicians could play if Britain left the EU without a deal.

"To be fair, there were a couple of orchestras who raised the issue with us at the end of last year," he told BBC News, "but I think the music world is incredibly resilient.

"Most orchestras I've spoken to have said, 'Well, there's probably going to be a lot of extra paperwork and there might be a few more costs, but we'll find a way of doing it somehow.'

"And what was the contingency plan we could have made? We were trying to second-guess the whole time what the implications would be - but not knowing what the future would hold, there was no contingency that would have been foolproof."

All of this year's concerts will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, and 25 of the shows will be screened on BBC television. Tickets for each of the concerts start at £6.

Here are five further highlights from the 2019 programme.

Queen Victoria's Piano

Image source, Royal Collection Trust / HM Queen Elizabeth II

The Proms will celebrate the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria's birth by transporting her piano from the drawing room of Buckingham Palace for a one-night-only performance.

The gilded instrument, painted with cherubs and monkeys, will deliver music by Victoria's favourite composer, Mendelssohn, as well as several songs composed by her husband, Prince Albert.

"They are really actually very charming," said Pickard.

"I guess I would say that, but they definitely are worth hearing."

The one with (20% of) Radiohead

When he's not pushing Radiohead into disturbing new sonic directions, guitarist Jonny Greenwood has a sideline as an avant-garde composer - most notably on film soundtracks such as There Will Be Blood, Norwegian Wood and the Oscar-nominated Phantom Thread.

He makes his Proms debut on 10 September, curating a programme that includes Steve Reich's hypnotic Pulse and Heinrich Biber's Passacaglia in G Minor.

The concert culminates with the world premiere of Greenwood's Horror Vacui - which aims to simulate electronic sounds using 68 string instruments played acoustically.

A night of Nina

Image source, Getty Images

After bringing Quincy Jones, Charles Mingus and grime to the Proms, conductor Jules Buckley has turned his attention to soul-jazz legend Nina Simone.

Titled Mississippi Goddam, after Simone's powerful civil rights protest song, the night promises to "explore her background and enduring influence" as a musician, lyricist and activist.

The concert will feature Selma star Ledisi, amongst others, performing tracks like I Put A Spell On You, My Baby Just Cares For Me and Feeling Good.

Buckley is also in charge of a hip-hop Prom, which will showcase scratch DJs, beatboxing and even graffiti art.

The will-it-go-wrong Prom

Image source, Solomon's Knot

The singers from British musical collective Solomon's Knot will perform four Bach cantatas from memory, without a conductor at a late-night Prom on 14 August.

"They're a young baroque group, who've just sprung up but have quite a big following," said Pickard.

"Their concerts are incredibly communicative because they're either looking at you or they're looking at each other. It's hard to explain the dynamic but they're a very interesting group."

But while performing without a conductor adds a frisson of danger, this respected and experienced collective won't put a foot wrong.

"Will it go wrong?" they tweeted on Thursday. "Of course not!"

Climate change concertos

Image source, Jackie Morris / Penguin Books
Image caption,
An illustration from The Lost Words, which inspired one of this year's Proms

There's a strong environmental theme to this year's programme, with works such as Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, inspired by his walks in the Austrian countryside, and Richard Strauss's Alpine Symphony, which depicts a day's climbing in the Bavarian Alps.

The season will also feature the European premiere of In The Name Of The Earth, by Pulitzer Prize-winner John Luther Adams.

Inspired by the landscapes of America, and humanity's perilous relationship with nature, the work will be performed by eight choirs positioned around the Royal Albert Hall, immersing the audience in the music.

Meanwhile, the Lost Words Prom takes its inspiration from Robert McFarlane and Jackie Morris's book, The Lost Words (pictured above), which "reclaims" words like acorn, adder and bramble, after they were expunged from the Oxford Children's Dictionary in favour of modern terms such as broadband and celebrity.

The family-focused concert will blend jazz, classical, beatboxing and sound effects; while McFarlane will update his lexicon of lost words with a few new entries.

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