The Proms: An insider's guide

With 76 concerts over 58 nights, how do you find the best? Here, classical experts and enthusiastic amateurs share their tips for a successful season


Philip Pullman



Author


I didn't attend a Prom in the Albert Hall till I was in my twenties, because we didn't live anywhere near London, but the atmosphere was familiar and welcoming.

The main thing is the lengthy, leisurely, considered planning of a Proms series, the sense that if you listen to most of it you'll hear not only the odd and unusual but also the great classics. I didn't know when I was young that one day my own son would be playing in a Prom, but seeing him a year or two ago with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in a concert that included John Adams' The Chairman Dances was a pleasure. I hope to hear him again this year (Prom 34).

Joyce DiDonato

Mezzo-soprano

I'm singing in Prom 53 which marks the Handel and Haydn anniversary year. It's my second time appearing at the Proms and the first time I've sung with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, which I'm thrilled about. My manager is London-based and when he first signed me, he said, "I can't wait for you to sing at the Proms." I was terrified, but he said, "No, no, when you get there you won't believe the atmosphere in that hall." And he was right: it's magical. You look down from the platform and you see a sea of people standing. There's a great dialogue that happens between the audience and the performer – that hunger, that sense of "Yes, please, thrill us!" – that thrills me. I'd like to go to some Proms, but I only arrive in London the day before my own. I do catch the Proms on the internet, though. It is best experienced live, of course. Londoners are so lucky.

Gavin Esler

Newsnight presenter and author

The best thing about the Proms for me is the location. I always think I am listening to the best music in the world inside a wedding cake. I love the way that the concerts combine the familiar, the very familiar, the challenging and the completely (for me, at least) unknown. For me Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man is this year's must-see – the celebration of the best instincts of America (Prom 21). The Mendelssohn (Prom 72) Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night's Dream is another favourite. I am a huge fan of James MacMillan's music, and his Seven Last Words from the Cross (Prom 6) is another must-see. There's a UK premiere of Philip Glass's A Toltec Symphony (Prom 37) which intrigues me: I am in two minds about Glass and would like something to push me one way or the other. And no matter how many times I hear the big Beethoven symphonies, I can never get enough.

Charles Hazlewood

Conductor

I love the egalitarian nature of the Proms. For £5 you can stand within a few feet of some of the world's greatest musicians. I just made my debut with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, which was a bit like driving a rocket ship – you're standing on stage with 100 soloists. I am looking forward very much to their Proms (Proms 61 and 62), especially Prom 62 which involves the Haydn Military Symphony and Shostakovich's Symphony No 10. The Haydn blew London's mind when it was performed here in the 1790s and to hear Mariss Jansons and this world-class orchestra will no doubt blow all our minds now.

Tony Palmer

Film director

There's nothing like the Proms anywhere else in the world. It's the biggest existing public patronage of classical music for the people, and if the Proms teach us anything it is that there is a vast audience for this. My top choice is the series celebrating the collaboration of Diaghilev and Stravinsky. When we made my Stravinsky documentary in 1981, we interviewed Diaghilev's secretary, Boris Kochno, who said, incredibly, that this was the first interview he had ever been asked for. He described Diaghilev as "a chess player – he moved each piece around the board until he won". Where Stravinsky and Diaghilev were concerned, the dancers hated the choreography; Stravinsky was furious when Diaghilev owed him money and once the entire company slunk out of the best hotel in Monte Carlo at 3am without paying the bill because the hotel had overbooked and dared to move them to smaller rooms.

Tasmin Little

Violinist

I adore the audience at the Proms. I played at the Last Night in 1995, John Drummond's farewell season. He'd asked me to play both Vaughan Williams's The Lark Ascending and Saint-Saëns's Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. The audience had been getting rowdy in true Last Night fashion, so I wondered what would happen in The Lark Ascending, which ends very quietly. I thought maybe someone would whistle. Instead, there was a 16-second silence. That was incredibly special. This year I'm looking forward to hearing Jac van Steen conduct in Prom 67. I've just been on the jury of the Leeds Conducting Competition with him and found him a hugely inspiring person. Also he's doing Dvorak's New World Symphony, one of my very favourite pieces.

Katie Derham

Broadcaster

I grew up in south Manchester so there wasn't much chance to attend the Proms. But our household had a tradition of a Last Night bonanza. My involvement in Maestro last year transformed my whole experience of music. At last year's Proms I was watching to see how conductors would do pieces I was preparing to conduct myself. This year I'm presenting the National Youth Orchestra Prom on 8 August. They're being conducted by Vasily Petrenko, a very exciting young Russian, and will play the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto with the wonderful Stephen Hough. They'll also play Respighi, so again it's a mix of familiar and unfamiliar.

Chi-Chi Nwanoku

Double bassist and broadcaster

Being a traditionalist, my heart is drawn towards a programme such as Prom 73. Vienna was always the classical music metropolis. So with music by Haydn and Schubert (the Ninth Symphony), in the hands of the Vienna Philharmonic and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, I reckon we'll be in for a good night. I love the inclusive nature of the Proms. It recognises rising stars such as Karen Geoghegan, who's still at student at the Royal Academy and is making her debut playing Mozart's Bassoon Concerto in Prom 28.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape