19 Aug 2019

What makes the BBC Proms so special?

From Upbeat, 1:00 pm on 19 August 2019

The BBC Proms director David Pickard is continuing to push for diversity – diversity in the artists, diversity in the repertoire and diversity in the audience.

He says having a vast array of musicians, performers and cultures combining with classical music is important.

BBC Proms

BBC Proms Photo: Supplied

“Classical music is such an international art form,” he says. “It’s very important that we represent on the stage…as many different people from different backgrounds as we can.”

The Proms is trying to attract a broader audience by diversifying, and by making the concerts affordable. The 2019 Proms has been receiving huge crowds.

“In terms of social diversity, we have a massive opportunity at the Proms because … prices are so cheap,” he says. “I think a lot of people feel that going to concert is a luxury, but when you come to the Proms for just six pounds for any concert, it's really within the reach of pretty much everyone, I think.”

A lot of consideration is also going into who might be in the audience and how the team at the Proms can provide a comfortable environment for them to enjoy the music. “We have to make sure that we actually look after the people when they come,” he says. “We had many people with autism there who need to be treated… with great consideration. Even down to things like turning hand dryers off in the toilets. We were very proud of the fact that we think about all the things around the concert to encourage people to come as well.”

As director of the Proms David Pickard is trying to destigmatise classical music, making it approachable. “I think … many people do get introduced to classical music for the first time through the Proms and hopefully stay with it for the rest of their lives,” he says.

Last Night of the Proms

Last Night of the Proms Photo: BBC

Audiences will continue to see more people like them, from artists from various parts of the world, to more female conductors. The Proms had its first female conductor, Marin Alsop, about 10 years ago. “[I] sat up and thought ‘this is ridiculous. This can’t possibly be so’,” he says. “I think that was a turning point.”

“I think somewhere in that audience watching on the TV, there were some young girls watching the woman standing on the podium … and saying, I think I can do that, too. And what we're benefiting from now is those people 10 years on, who might have been 15 then, and are 25 now, [are] actually coming into the profession and coming in conducting for us at the Proms.”

The Proms have also made a commitment that by 2022 the concerts will have an equal split between male and female composers’ works being performed. “We've sort of achieved that target early in a way where I think we have slightly more men than women this year, but it's more-or-less on a par,” he says. “We can't redress the past, but we can make sure that things are different for the future.”

RNZ Concert is broadcasting a range of BBC Proms performances over the next five weeks. You can find the BBC Proms schedule here.