BBC Proms in the Park 2011: Westlife, Josh Groban & Lang Lang

Update Tuesday 6 September 2011: For more information on the Last Night of the Proms, Proms in the Park and to follow my live blog of proceedings on the day go here.

The BBC Proms Press and PR office makes me laugh a bit. They don’t intend to, I know. It’s twice now I’ve received a communication from them on a Sunday.

The first time I thought I’d done something wrong, something which warranted some poor soul to have to trek into Broadcasting House early on a Sunday morning and pen something scathing and threatening so that I didn’t say or do anything which might endanger the forthcoming season. When I read the email and discovered it proudly announced the statistics from the first day of ticket sales, I smiled. After all, didn’t the press intern have to go into Broadcasting House to send that email anyway? Because surely, them lot at BBC Proms Press and PR don’t have remote access, do they? Surely their budget gets ploughed into the season of musical entertainment.

I’m digressing. Digressing from the point of this post. Because having received an email from the same adorable lady again on a Sunday morning, I’m meant to be writing about the BBC Proms in the Park 2011 and the news that Westlife will be headlining the park-bound open air gig on Saturday 10 September 2011 which sisters the Royal Albert Hall Last Night just across the road.


Proms in the Park is always a bit how I imagine me being an older sibling would have been if I’d been one. I would have been in my late-teens still living at home during the University holidays, maintaining my bookishness, opting to watch late night documentaries on BBC Two about depleted stocks of cod in the North Sea while my younger brother played rock music in his pokey bedroom upstairs. We would meet for an evening meal every night and nod at each other because we had the same surname, but other than that he kept his space and I kept mine.

So it is with Proms in the Park. The most remarkable aspect of the BBC Proms for me. The truth is that in the fifteen years that Sir Terry Wogan has hosted the thing, I’ve never attended it. I’ve been happy to queue one year to attend the Proms in the Albert Hall on the last night – happy to queue to listen to any Prom concert in the season pretty much, but the idea of sitting in a park with an umbrella, some sausage rolls and a few bottles of Cava (for myself) doesn’t especially excite me. Proms in the Park just isn’t on my radar (some years, the Last Night in the Albert Hall isn’t either – it certainly wasn’t last year, as the video below will prove).

And yet, considerable numbers of people flock to the Hyde Park gig. It is – on a smaller scale compared to the likes of the Eurovision – an event all in its own right. It’s a party on a summer’s evening. An excuse for friends to get together and have a picnic, safe from anyone accusing them of being achingly middle-class. It’s the one night of the year it’s perfectly acceptable – perhaps even encouraged – to be middle class.

This year’s big pull – the big headline act – is Westlife. I know little about them, other than always getting them confused with Boyzone. They’re not a pull for me, but they might be for others. Glamorous soprano Katharine Jenkins – last seen splashed across BBC Television in the Christmas Doctor Who – has a spot in the show. So too tenor Russell Watson.


But the big attraction for the line-up is tenor Josh Groban (above). A hugely talented and sickeningly versatile singer who I first saw deliver an electrifying performance playing the Russian chess player in the Royal Albert Hall concert performance of Tim Rice and Benny/Bjorn’s concept musical Chess (there’s a version he performed on Swedish TV embedded below). The boy can sing masterfully with a microphone and proved himself more than capable to taking on the demanding role. He has a massive following in the States and the UK and appears to be able to turn his hand to anything. For my money, he’s not on TV enough in this country by any means.

One other notable appearance at the concert will be that of pianist Lang Lang who has a busy night on Saturday 10 September doing a stint inside the Royal Albert Hall as well as one in the open air for the park audience. You’d think his agent would have insisted the BBC used it’s considerable expertise in mounting a live relay so the pianist didn’t have to venture outside. Maybe it’s time for him to get another agent.


Information about buying tickets for the Proms in the Park is available here. I’m really not spelling it out on this blog post otherwise I risk looking like nothing but a mouthpiece for the BBC. And seeing as they don’t pay me for me using my personal blog to promote their content I am quite happy to make it the responsibility of you the reader to click somewhere else to find out the necessary information. Do though. It promises to be a nice night, just so long as it doesn’t rain.

The picture used of lovely Mr Groban in this blog post was taken from the Josh Groban website. If you want me to take it down then drop me a line. Don’t start getting your lawyers involved. I’m really quite approachable without any of that silly nonsense.The picture of the park full of Proms in the Parkers was taken in 2008 by Flickr User Chris Jobling and was used here in accordance with the Creative Commons wotnot that some Flickr users subscribe to. So there.

Sunday Reading

This is the first of what I hope will be a regular post, curating some of the stuff I’ve enjoyed reading over the week, the stuff which interests me and (I hope) stuff I you may not have already seen. All of it posted here in time for Sunday morning reading.

A joyous three page trip down memory lane in this feature article about Super 8 film on, the way in which the format and it’s limitations forced young experimenters down a specific narrative path and how that in itself influenced the work of them later as film directors. Thought-provoking. A timely reminder that digital video wasn’t the first technical advancement in the field to make film-making a popular past-time.

If you’re a social media user and you work for a large scale organisation like say the BBC you could either listen to the College of Production podcast about ‘personal use of social media’ or you could take a leaf out of the book of personal etiquette the players of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales did this week.

They wrote to the musicians of the Orquestra Sinfonica Brasileira pledging their support for the Brazilian musicians who risked losing their jobs because of their conductor Roberto Minczuk wanting to cut the orchestra payroll. BBC NOW players advised their Brazilian counterparts they had urged their conductor to enter into negotiations to turn the situation around, the same conductor who stood on the platform to conduct the Welsh players later that day. Difficult for the BBC? Cause for ‘important’ people to suck in their teeth? No. Of course not. We’re all adults.

The letter concludes with one very sensible (almost too obvious) line to placate those concerned about the image of the BBC. If you’ve got time, listen to the BBC College of Production podcast anyway.

Sticking with classical music, Telegraph blogger Stephen Hough shares some interesting insights into the pros and cons of pianists performing their all important concertos with or without the score. I had no idea that there was even a point in time when the trend began for soloists to perform from memory or indeed that it was considered you might be improvising if you weren’t performing whilst reading from the music.

English National Opera’s online video (I refuse to call it a viral) promoting Nico Muhly’s new opera ‘Two Boys‘ is doing the rounds this week and for good reason. In promoting a new opera, ENO have made mainstream the notion most have understood for a long time (though perhaps not articulated) that the way to hook the audience’s interest is to not talk directly about the music, the story or the production itself. In promoting an opera (or any ‘serious’ music event) you’re best off talking about it or one of it’s themes in a slightly disconnected way.

So it is with this video (below) which takes social media functions and translates them into real life. The video looks ‘real’, but clearly every single person has in some way agreed to have their contribution included in the resulting edit. I mean, surely, ENO are obtaining permission for those contributions, aren’t they? Or are they all just brilliant actors?

I’ve downloaded the new TS Eliot The Wasteland iPad produced by Faber this week. It’s a deliciously simple example of how the tablet now affords producers the opportunity to collate and present content in a handy, seductive way. In the Guardian piece (a gratifyingly lengthy collection of talking heads) Faber are understandably keen to downplay this as ‘the saviour of the book’. I’m inclined to agree. It’s just a nice thing. A nice way to gain access to an art form I wouldn’t otherwise have considered. Yes. Really.

Bad news for Disney employees in this piece which provides the perfect primer about the operational details of the entertainment giant. And an interesting insight into how Cirque du Soleil manage to pull together the spectacles they do editorially. I was surprised about how the narrative appeared to follow the choreography. Definitely worth a read.

People are still writing about Glastonbury. In case you’re interested, I’m on the side of the doubters on the subject of the Womble signing. Shirley Bassey was understandable. But a bunch of guys in suits miming to a recorded track? That’s a step too far, even for me.

If you’re knitting – like I am – then you might be interested in American craft retail operation Hobbycraft’s social media operation encouraging knitting fans to post pictures of their creations on the company’s Facebook page. I am tempted. But I think I should probably get a few more rows in first.

The picture in this post is of some flowers good mate Leigh bought me and The Chap when she came to stay for a night this week. A lovely night spent chatting about shitty situations and how to turn them around.

Bach’s Toccata and Fugue performed by Tim and Roland Taylor

A brilliant two-man performance of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue from former BBC Radio 3 Interactive Editor and radio producer (he responsible for the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’s appearance at last year’s BBC Proms) Roland Taylor and his brother Tim.

A reminder of how the arts can best market itself by taking something well known and adding a narrative to it. For my money that’s got something to do with the originators of the idea having a sense of humour about themselves and a passion for the music they charmingly send up. If you’ve got neither of those things you’re going to have trouble coming up with anything near as good as this.

The piece is also another reminder to me at least of how it’s easy to forget that BBC people past and present often have considerable talent which their jobs don’t afford them an opportunity to display necessarily.

My question about Glastonbury

Media Blog has a post about Andy Parfitt’s ‘pre-emptive’ blog post re: Glastonbury. It makes for interesting reading, not least because I’m left wondering about other ‘summer events’ the BBC mounts and – inevitably – in particular, the BBC Proms.

I can’t think of any occasion when anyone has criticised the BBC for the very many people necessary to mount the considerable undertaking of a summer long season of consecutive live broadcasts from the Royal Albert Hall.

And what I’m wondering is whether there’s a sense that a value judgment is made about classical music over the output from Glastonbury.

Don’t know. Really not sure. And, come to think of it, I’ll probably be shot between the eyes for even asking the question.

And in case anyone needs the blindingly obvious pointed out I not rank either as more important. Just so we’re clear.

Thrills, spills and tunes from Salford

BBC Five Live film critic blokey Mark Kermode and his straight man presenter friend Simon Mayo join forces with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra on Friday 10 June 2011 for a day of film music broadcasts in what will turn out to be a special day for them, for Radio 5 Live and for BBC Radio 3 as well for a whole variety of different reasons.

The programme itself – a collection of film music inlcuding Danny Elfman’s Batman Suite and the Star Wars’ Suite – is fitting for Kermode and Mayo to mark ten years of their film show on Five Live. But it’s also a programme which has been discussed already at the planning stage in a round table discussion on Five Live so we’re led to be believe.

Personally, I can’t believe any orchestra would be scheduled to play a gig so close to the actual event without knowing exactly what the programme will be, although the audience choice Prom might set a new bar where that concert-planning protocol is concerned.

The concert will go out live in its entirety of BBC Radio 3 Live with Mark Kermode anchoring in between pieces. Mark Kermode on Radio 3? That’s a first. Two names never associated before now. Will they be associated again?

This isn’t – as I suspect – a measure of BBC Radio 3 necessarily being dumbed down. Film music – obviously – is much-maligned amongst classical music snobs but its place on the network is undeniable. Kermode’s appearance – not only presenting, but playing the chromatic harmonica as well – is less about giving Radio 3 a new appearance but more the currency needed in bring Kermode’s loyal fans from Five Live and onto – albeit briefly – the BBC’s classical music network. If I was Controller of Radio 3 I’d been making it a 3 line whip for all listeners to keep listening to the network long after the final chords of Elfman’s Batman Suite were played. Mind you, that’s probably why I’m doing the job I am and Roger Wright is Controller of Radio 3.

Not only is Kermode presenting the live evening concert from the BBC Philharmonic’s new home in Salford but he and Mayo are also broadcasting a cut down version of the gig during the afternoon show on Five Live. This concert isn’t just about them on Radio 3. It’s about them previewing the music to a potentially new audience on a different network, tempting them to tune in later on in the evening.

This ‘cross-fertilization’ of audiences across different radio networks comes at an interesting point in time. Now more than ever classical music producers and marketeers are consider how to pull in audiences into the concert hall. How to ensure interest remains in classical music. A recent debate featuring Stephen Fry and DJ Kissy at Cambridge University highlighted that the discussion point isn’t going away fast, especially during this cash-strapped time for arts organisations.

This broadcast across two networks with a cut-down preview on one and a full concert on another isn’t the first demonstration of a perceived link between the two audiences. In October last year there was a live broadcast debate between both Five Live and Radio 3 audiences discussing the deliberately simplistic question: Which is better? Sport or the Arts?

I can’t quite put my finger on whether it’s a refreshing ongoing experiment or one brought about by committee.

I hope it’s the latter because I’d hate the though there’s someone around who thinks getting people interested in classical music is merely about analysing audience trends.

Mind you, the extent of my research hasn’t been huge it has to be said. I’m still marvelling from what the digital marketing lady at the London Philharmonic Orchestra inspired me to think about last summer.