Gramophone's editor introduces the latest issue of the magazine
The Proms has become such an important part of our country’s cultural fabric that it’s easy to take it for granted. But we shouldn’t, which is why we’ve devoted a substantial section of this issue to exploring what the festival offers attendees in London and listeners throughout the world. Eight weeks of concerts – sometimes several a day – spanning repertoire from early music to the 21st century, performed by the world’s greatest musicians and ensembles, including the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras, Daniel Barenboim conducting the complete Beethoven symphonies, baritone Bryn Terfel opening proceedings and tenor Joseph Calleja drawing them to a close. In the first 12 hours of sales, 97,000 tickets were bought: a record, and one which stands up admirably next to any pop festival or sporting event.
In this special Proms issue we’ve focused on one of the main themes of the season: the music of Debussy, whose 150th anniversary is marked with an exploration of his visionary, innovative works throughout the festival. The French composer’s approach to colour and expression changed 20th-century composition; even today, composer Oliver Knussen tells us that Debussy’s presence hovers over every note he’s ever written. Geoffrey Norris speaks to Knussen and other leading Debussy interpreters about the composer’s life and legacy and about the works they are bringing to the Royal Albert Hall.
As well as offering full concert listings, we also find out what’s involved in transmitting the Proms beyond the concert hall, to the millions who listen on the radio or online, or who watch on television. We also celebrate the vast number of major youth ensembles appearing throughout the festival and look at what’s being offered in the programme of chamber music concerts.
The 2012 Olympics will, rightly, focus the world’s attention on London for two thrilling weeks. But while the world’s greatest athletes push the limits of achievement and excellence in the velodrome, the pool or on the track, let’s remember that the world’s greatest musicians do the same, every summer, just down the road in South Kensington.
Martin Cullingford is editor of Gramophone - brought up in Britten country on the Suffolk coast, when not practising the guitar he can often be found enjoying Evensong.