Giant organ tunes up for world's biggest music festival

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The Independent Culture

The biggest music festival in the world started last night when the restored organ at the Royal Albert Hall reverberated to the sound of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor for the opening of the BBC Proms.

The biggest music festival in the world started last night when the restored organ at the Royal Albert Hall reverberated to the sound of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor for the opening of the BBC Proms.

The 110th season of concerts has already sold nearly 130,000 tickets out of the 250,000 available for 74 concerts, 4,000 more tickets than at the same point last year. Seats for Proms favourites such as Sir Simon Rattle and the pianist Alfred Brendel, who is making his final Proms appearance, have nearly sold out although there are always 1,000 £4 tickets to stand available on the day.

Key themes this season include work by three composers who died in 1934 - Holst, Delius and Elgar - as well as two who were born that year - Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. The influence of the East on Western classics is investigated in concerts including works such as Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, which is based on sixth-century Chinese poetry, and Bartok's ballet suite, The Miraculous Mandarin.

The cellist Yo-Yo Ma is bringing his Silk Road Ensemble of musicians found on the old silk route between China and the Mediterranean for their British debut. The organ, the largest instrument in the country, has not been heard since 2001 because of a £1.7m refurbishment. But it will be used in several performances this year including Janacek's Glagolitic Mass and Britten's War Requiem.

All the concerts are broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and streamed via the BBC Proms website. BBC1 and BBC2 are broadcasting 10 of the main concerts live, with a further 20 performances being shown on BBC4, more than ever. Programmes can be requested on demand after being broadcast, with the Last Night of the Proms the most requested programme on Radio 3 last year.

This year's Last Night falls on 11 September, which will have a particular poignance for Leonard Slatkin when he makes his last appearance as conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra days after his 60th birthday. In his first year in charge of the orchestra, he had to hurriedly amend the Last Night programme which followed the terrorist attacks in America, which prevented his family flying from their home in Washington DC. Tonight's Prom, the Nation's Favourite Prom, is, by definition, among the most popular with several pieces chosen by audience vote.

It will give an unusual moment of glory to Roberto Carrillo-Garcia, the principal double bass player of the Hallé orchestra, which is performing the concert.

One of the chosen pieces is "Son lo spirito che nega", from Mefistofele by Boito which has a whistling part. The bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu cannot whistle, so Mr Carrillo-Garcia will step in. He grew up on the island of La Gomera, near Tenerife, where his father used a whistling "language" called El Silbo, an emergency signal that carried long distances over its hilly terrain. He passed on a talent for whistling.

DON'T MISS...

¿ 17 August Alfred Brendel, the pianist, makes his final Proms appearance before retiring, with Beethoven and a Harrison Birtwistle premiere

¿ 19 August Sir Simon Rattle conducts the first period instrument performance of Wagner's Das Rheingold

¿ 30 August André Previn conducts his wife, Anne-Sophie Mutter, on the violin

¿ 31 August The King's Consort with Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610

And for children: 24 and 25 July The Blue Peter Prom, including Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra, Ravel's Bolero, Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance and the theme from Harry Potter

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