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Marin Alsop to be first woman to conduct Last Night of The Proms after 119 years


More than a century of male-dominated baton wielding will finally be brought to an end when Marin Alsop becomes the first woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms. 

The 119th season will conclude with a first, when the New York-born Alsop, who is principal conductor of the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra, takes charge of the world-famous finale in September.

Ms Alsop, 56, was not chosen because she was a woman. Her musical strengths simply made her the best person to conduct this year’s festivities, which traditionally provide a flag-waving finale to the two-month series, the BBC said.

The music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, who made her Proms debut in 2003, Ms Alsop joins an illustrious list of Last Night conductors including Proms founder Sir Henry Wood and Sir Malcolm Sergeant.

Ms Alsop will conduct a Last Night programme which features star soloists the violinists Nigel Kennedy and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, a sea-faring theme and an appropriately transatlantic flavour.

The concert will once again conclude with the traditional trio of "Rule, Britannia!", Elgar’s "Pomp and Circumstance" and "Jerusalem".

But it is the brief speech which the Last Night conductor must deliver to a global viewing audience, a combination of jokes and an attempt to control a rowdy audience, which Ms Alsop said would be the most challenging element of the evening.

“The whole world is watching you, you’re addressing the biggest audience of your career,” Ms Alsop said. “It’s the nearest a classical musician gets to an acceptance speech at the Oscars.”

Marin Alsop added: “As an American, I am doubly excited to be invited to conduct the Last Night of the Proms, since it is such a quintessentially British occasion. I have felt at home from the first moment I conducted in the UK."

"I always enjoy working with the British orchestral musicians and I’m particularly looking forward to interacting with the audience, who play such a crucial role in making this a night that is utterly unique and special. It is a great honour that I know will be a highlight for me.”

Roger Wright, Director of the BBC Proms, said: “Marin hasn’t been chosen because she is a woman conductor. She knows and loves the Proms and has a very good relationship with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. We’ve built a programme for the Last Night that plays to her strengths.”

Mr Wright said the absence of a female conductor was due to historical factors. “There are some renowned orchestras which are male dominated. There are issues about the sort of schooling conductors go through and how family roles have been divided traditionally; role models have been slow to come through."

“It’s great that we now have a number of very good women conductors. Marin is one of five women out of around 50 conductors at this year’s Proms. But the BBC can only solve so many problems of the world.”

He did not believe that having a female conductor would alter Last Night’s atmosphere of patriotic fervour. “It’s not just about the conductor, it’s about Nigel Kennedy and Joyce DiDonato. The Last Night is also about taking that audience further with 'The Building of the House', a lighter piece by Britten.”

Daniel Barenboim will conduct the first ever complete Wagner "Ring Cycle" at the Proms in one Summer, when the Royal Albert Hall series opens in July. Bryn Terfel will sing "Wotan in Die Walküre".

A first Urban Classic Prom, simulcast on BBC3, Radio 1 and 1Xtra, will feature the rapper Fazer, Laura Mvula and Maverick Sabre, joined by the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Mr Wright said the Urban Prom would deliver a dynamic meeting of musical cultures, introducing young grime and rap fans to works by the avant-garde Russian composer Mosolov and the German composer Henze, who was influenced by Serialism and atonality.

Punk veterans The Stranglers will perform with the London Sinfonietta at a late-night Prom, which will be broadcast live on both Radio 3 and the 6Music rock station. Laura Marling and Cerys Matthews will also appear.

Matthews, the singer-turned-6 Music presenter, said: “It’s using the huge palette of colours and the extreme dynamics of an orchestra to make new music. I hope it will be a collision.”

A Prom due to be conducted by Sir Colin Davis, the London Symphony Orchestra’s principal conductor, who died this week aged 85, will now be turned into a tribute to the musician, who enjoyed a 50-year association with the event.

The price of daily Proms tickets has been held at £5 for the eighth year. Each Prom will be broadcast live on Radio 3 with television coverage set to include a new weekly “highlights” show on BBC2, presented by Katie Derham.

Tickets go on sale from 9am on Saturday 11 May via bbc.co.uk/proms.