MUSIC / Tiddly om Prom Prom: Michael White looks forward to the greatest music festival in the world

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AROUND the London Underground are posters advertising a promotion between Coca-Cola and Capital Radio as the greatest music festival in the world. They lie. The greatest music festival in the world is the Proms season. It starts on Friday, and its status is endorsed by the barrage of statistics that precedes it: 66 concerts, 58 days, 128 soloists, 36 ensembles, 300,000 British radio listeners per concert, sales to 40 broadcasting stations worldwide . . .

The sheer scale makes it tempting to see the Proms as a touchstone of contemporary music tastes. But the fact is they mainly reflect the judgement of the man who runs them: John Drummond, a patron of Medician dimensions since he also acquired control of the European Arts Festival; critics have noted that among EAF grants is one he made to himself, to finance six Proms.

But I come not to bury Caesar. The Proms contain much new work - 17 premieres this year - and provide living composers with their biggest platform. They raise cheers for British music through the advocacy of the BBCSO. And they meet the BBC objective of 'accessibility'. Ticket prices have increased, but arena standing places are still only pounds 2.50 and radio listening is free.

This year's most performed composers are Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Mahler, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky (no surprises there); the busiest orchestra and conductor (ditto) are the BBCSO and Andrew Davis the only soloist to appear more than twice is the baritone David Wilson-Johnson. Here are 12 Proms which are representative and recommended.

Fri 17 July: Verdi Requiem. A big noise on the first night from Andrew Davis and choruses.

Thur 23 July: John Tavener's We Shall See Him As He Is. Byzantine austerity from the cult figure of British contemporary music. London premiere.

Fri 24 July: Cleveland Orchestra, probably America's finest, with Christoph von Dohnanyi and his wife, the legendary soprano Anja Silja.

Sun 26 July: Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades, a semi-staging of the current Glyndebourne production, with electrifying Russian voices and Davis in his other life as Glyndebourne's music director.

Thurs 30 July: Music for a Venetian Coronation. Period performers re-enact what might have happened at the coronation of the Doge in 1595 when Giovanni Gabrieli was the organist at St Mark's.

Sun 2 Aug: Alexander Goehr's The Death of Moses. New work, old sounds, written for the period instruments of John Eliot Gardiner's English Baroque Soloists and first performed at Expo 92.

Sun 9 Aug: National Youth Orchestra. Always one of the most spirited evenings in the season, this year with Mahler's 'Resurrection' Symphony.

Mon 10 Aug: James MacMillan's Veni Veni Emmanuel. A new percussion concerto for the ubiquitous Evelyn Glennie, written by the composer who scored a Proms hit with The Confession of Isobel Gowdie.

Thurs 13 Aug: Peter Maxwell Davies conducts Peter Maxwell Davies in Black Pentecost, an early Eighties environmental protest piece, still relevant.

Tues 8 Sep: Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov. The acclaimed Opera North production, with Britain's leading bass (hot from Bayreuth) John Tomlinson.

Thurs 10 Sep: Vienna Philharmonic/Boulez. The more remarkable of the two VPO appearances this year, because of Boulez (an unlikely partner and an unlikely repertory).

Sat 12 Sep: the Last Night, recommended not for the repellent jingoism but for the veteran Tatyana Nikolaeva playing Shostakovich's 2nd Piano Concerto.

Proms 92: Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (booking 071- 823 9998), and Radio 3. Brochure pounds 3 from the RAH, newsagents and bookshops.

(Photograph omitted)