This year’s programme is full of nods to current fads, with the non-classical quota – at least ten of the 83 concerts – creeping steadily up. ‘Multi-genre’ is how the BBC describes this policy, and it spans Afro-pop to jazz, hip-hop to electronic music, plus Radio 3’s new discovery, ‘meditative listening’ (as though the ecstatic music of Arvo Pärt had never been in high fashion). Those who are quietly maddened by Radio 3’s daily half-hour of an unannounced hotch-potch known as In Tune Mixtape should steer clear of late-night Prom 36, which follows the same pattern, and which the BBC initially thought might also be held in total darkness. Health and safety saw off that little idea, but we are still being kept in the dark as to what will be performed.
This year’s CBeebies Proms begin with a musical trip to the Moon with the sparky Chineke! BME orchestra (3 and 5), and the family-listening strand continues throughout the season, as does the emphasis on women composers. ‘Earth and the environment’ is another theme, with major new works highlighting the climate-change debate: John Luther Adams’s In the Name of the Earth (66) will rope in over 600 singers, while the Lost Words Prom (49) will take a new book by Robert McFarlane and Jackie Morris as the text for a meditation on the disappearing languages of nature. The lunch-hour Cadogan Hall chamber proms will tell the whole story of classical music in eight concerts.
But this orgy of virtue-signalling conceals two retrograde steps. The first is that the excellent policy of taking the Proms out of central London – which two years ago saw one happening in Hull – has now evaporated. The second is that, apart from a late-night concert marrying the Malian kora with Italian trance-music (62), there is virtually no acknowledgment of music beyond the borders of Europe and America. There used to be a regular ‘world-music Prom’, but now even that has gone. Yet Britain is still – for the time being at least – a multi-ethnic country: when will the Proms take this as their cue to present the sophisticated classical musics of the wider world?