BBC Proms review: The extensive archive of performances and virtual events are not to be sniffed at

With some justification, it has been styled “the biggest music festival in the world”, but what matters now is that the BBC has the biggest archive of the best Proms performances to draw upon until the time is right to go live.

It’s a pity the planning is too carved in stone for the BBC Proms to readjust with more live performances, especially feasible now al fresco, before the very last stages, but what the organisers are offering is not to be sniffed at.

While we are trafficking in superlatives, I am happy to put it on record that the greatest concerts I have ever heard all fell within the last 10 years of Claudio Abbado’s peerless musical life. For example, his Mahler with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra: hand-picked “friends of Claudio”, who really did make the best band in the world.

One of their rare excursions outside the usual short charmed time together in Switzerland was to the Proms, so their Mahler Third Symphony makes a spectacular climax to a bumper BBC Radio 3 “First Night” on Friday.

The novelty is a Beethoven mash-up by the ingenious Iain Farrington, featuring the BBC Grand Virtual Orchestra (and Choir) of more than 350 musicians from the BBC Orchestras and Choirs. The (re-)composer describes it as “taking Beethoven’s music and putting it in a musical washing machine to see which colours run”.

Sunday’s visual “First Night” on BBC4 is one of the perfect Proms, the electrifying Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s second with her City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. It culminates in an unorthodox but always compelling Fifth Symphony from Beethoven, also embracing Gerald Barry’s typical mix of humour and unease in “Canada”, its spirit fully embraced by tenor Allan Clayton.

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Other gems from the archive include Leonard Bernstein’s Mahler 5 with the Vienna Philharmonic (I remember queueing from midday, and the results were well worth it).

Live streaming begins on 28 August, though it seems unlikely there will be an audience in the Royal Albert Hall. As with the archives, the gamut is duly run: from Mitsuko Uchida and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Simon Rattle to Anoushka Shankar and Gold Panda.

From Friday,



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