Details have been announced for BBC Proms 2008 which run from 18 July to 13 September. It is the 114th season and the first under the festival's new Director, Roger Wright. The headlines are likely to draw attention to the Doctor Who Prom (on the morning of 27 July), which features music from the TV series and is followed in the evening, rather incongruously, by a performance of Messiaen's La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ. There is also a long-awaited return to the Proms by Nigel Kennedy, who performs the Elgar Violin Concerto at Prom 2 (19 July).
As ever, the Royal Albert Hall will play host to a wide array of top visiting orchestras, although this year's selection doesn't quite seem to match the parade of top bands in the 2007 festival. The still-impressive line-up is led by the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle and includes the Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by Bernard Haitink, the New York Philharmonic under Lorin Maazal, and the Western-Eastern Divan Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim. French composer Olivier Messiaen is handsomely represented in his anniversary year, as are Vaughan Williams and Stockhausen, who would have been eighty this year. The Last Night will be conducted by Sir Roger Norrington and feature Bryn Terfel and Hélène Grimaud.
Opera lovers can look forward to performances from both ends of the spectrum as Glyndebourne Festival Opera brings a semi-staged performance of Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea with soloists including Alice Coote and Danielle de Niese (Prom 18, 31 July) and 7 September sees a concert performance of Messiaen's enormous Saint Francis of Assisi - Ingo Metzmacher conducts the forces of The Netherlands Opera with a cast that includes Rodney Gilfrey and Heidi Grant Murphy. There's more opera in the form of Puccini's Il tabarro with Barbara Frittoli and Lado Ataneli and the BBC Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda on 11 August coupled with Rachmaninov's First Symphony, and Rimsky-Korsakov's Kashchey the Immortal with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Vladimir Jurowski (5 September). Among several concerts led by Jirí Belohlávek will be a concert performance of Janáček's Osud with Amanda Roocroft and Rosalind Plowright, and the Verdi Requiem with a starry line-up including Violeta Urmana, Olga Borodina, Joseph Calleja and Idebrando d'Arcangelo.
Belohlávek also conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the first night of the festival, an interesting programme featuring Messiaen, Pierre-Laurent Aimard in the UK premiere of Elliott Carter's brief Caténaires and Karita Mattila in Strauss' Four Last Songs, alongside works by Mozart, Beethoven and Scriabin (his Poème d'extase). Other high-profile soloists include Murray Perahia who will play Mozart with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Haitink, coupled with Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony, on 9 September. The same orchestra tackles another symphonic giant on the previous evening, Mahler's Sixth, coupled with the UK premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage's Chicago Remains. Simon Rattle and his Berlin orchestra likewise take on two pillars of the symphonic repertoire: Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony is coupled with Wagner on 2 September and Shostakovich's Tenth is coupled with Brahms' Third on the next evening. Gustavo Dudamel, whose performance of the same Shostakovich work with his Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra was a highlight of last year's season, returns at the helm of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in a programme which includes Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique and the UK premiere of Anders Hillborg's Clarinet Concerto (with soloist Martin Fröst, 13 August).
Other highlights promise to be Pierre Boulez conducting the BBC Symphony in an all-Janáček programme on 15 August, Sir Charles Mackerras leading the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Handel's Belshazzar on the following evening and Valery Gergiev leading the London Symphony Orchestra in a complete performance of Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty on 20 August. There's a Bach Day on 24 August which will see Simon Preston put the Albert Hall's organ through its paces in an hour-long programme before John Eliot Gardiner and his Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists perform the St. John Passion. Chinese cellist Jian Wang closes the day – also the final day of the Beijing Olympics – with a late prom of three of the composer's Cello Suites. Pianist Lang Lang is given free rein a week later when he takes to the stage in the afternoon for a solo recital. Many will be fascinated by the Stockhausen Day on 2 August, too, which along with performances of the works dotted around the rest of the festival will provide a rare opportunity to get fully immersed in the infamous composer's music.
Among other concerts by foreign orchestras are visits by the Orchestre de Paris under Christoph Eschenbach in Mahler and Pintscher on 11 September; the Oslo Philharmonic under Jukka-Pekka Saraste in Lindberg (another UK premiere, his Seht die Sonne), Sibelius and Rachmaninov on 30 August; and the Gürzenich Orchestra under Markus Stenz on 22 August who, with Angelika Kirchschlager, perform Beethoven, Mahler (Symphony No.5), Stockhausen and what looks to be a fascinating set of orchestrations of Schubert songs by David Matthews, Manfred Trojahn, Colin Matthews and Detlev Glanert.
A new initiative for this year's Proms is Proms Plus, a series of some 70 events, mainly held at the Royal College of Music, which includes introductory talks, composer profiles and a literary festival. What looks likely to make this season memorable is the prominence given to the featured composers, of whom Messiaen seems to have done particularly well. Contemporary music is also, on the whole, very well represented. More details can be found on the BBC Proms Homepage.
By Hugo Shirley
See also our preview of the 2008 Edinburgh Festival here.
See also our preview of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden's 2008-09 season here.
See also our preview of the Opera national de Paris' 2008-09 season here.
Plus our preview of the Barbican's Great Performers 2008-09 season here.
And read our preview of the London Philharmonic's 2008-09 season here.
Also see details of Welsh National Opera's 2008-09 season here.