No tone unspurned in the search for the sounds of a thousand years

From Bartoli and Bell to Rameau and Rattle: the pick of this year's Proms, chosen by Michael White
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The Independent Culture
The theme for the last Proms season of the 20th century - beginning at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday - is suitably millennial: the aspirations, hopes and fears of mankind as expressed in music. This is not a theme to limit anybody's options - if you can think of a single item of repertory it excludes, do write to Nicholas Kenyon and tell him: he'll be pleased to know - and its warm embrace covers the whole Ades to Widor (no Zemlinsky this year) of music history.

With BBC commissions from Richard Rodney Bennett, Peter Maxwell Davies and Giles Swayne, and other new works from David Matthews, Judith Weir, the cultishly unpronounceable Einojuhani Raut-avaara and the strikingly dead Conlon Nancarrow (speaking from the grave through music nobody wanted to do when he was alive), it leaves no tone unspurned. And the featured composer, Carl Nielsen, is for my money the most thrilling and dynamic of all modern symphonists.

If you've never heard a Nielsen symphony, try No.4 on 13 August and don't plan to do much afterwards. It's not a piece to follow up with small talk; more for dancing home, six inches off the ground, and feeling massaged into life.

These are my pick of the Proms:

Cecilia Bartoli (17 July). One of the brightest personalities, and biggest stars, of the bel canto opera circuit, Bartoli sings Mozart and Haydn arias with the pioneering period-performance conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt and his own band, the Vienna Concentus Musicus (visiting the Proms for the first time).

Les Boreades (19 July). Rameau's final opera, in a touring Age of Enlightenment Orchestra performance which has just played at the Salzburg Festival. The American sopranos Barbara Bonney and Heidi Grant Murphy take the leads. Simon Rattle conducts. A prestige project.

The Kingdom (1 Aug). Elgar's grandly visionary and deeply Catholic oratorio, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under Andrew Davis and Swedish soprano Hillevi Martinpelto presiding as the Blessed Virgin.

Dialogues of The Carmelites (4 Aug). Poulenc's nuns-on-the-run opera of spiritual resistance to the Reign of Terror - as seen recently at ENO, but done here in true French style by the touring Opera du Rhin from Strasbourg under its (British) music director Jan Latham-Koenig.

Nielsen's Symphony No. 4 (13 Aug). One of the most inspirationally exciting of all latter-day orchestral scores, played by the City of Birmingham Symphony under Sakari Oramo, the man who has the hard task of following in Simon Rattle's shoes.

Andreas Scholl (27 Aug). A late-night concert of baroque vocal music that features the young cult-countertenor of our times - who turns it all into a family enterprise by bringing along his soprano sister Elisabeth.

Joshua Bell ( 29 Aug). The young, tight-trousered, all-American glamour violinist - as heard throughout the soundtrack to the film The Red Violin - plays Walton's Concerto with the BBC Symphony and Leonard Slatkin.

Pelleas et Melisande (30 Aug). Glyndebourne's annual visit to the Proms - this year with a semi-staging of the impenetrably vague dramatic masterpiece of Claude Debussy, in Graham Vick's new, suitably equivocal production. Some liked it, some didn't. But there was no denying the sheer sonic impact of John Tomlinson's Golaud.

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (6 and 7 Sep). No orchestra in the world has a grander pedigree - and here it comes with Britain's charismatically Berlin-bound maestro Simon Rattle, in a two-night stand of Beethoven and Mahler.

Evgeny Kissin (9 Sep). The dazzling young Russian pianist - 28 and with the world at his fingers - plays Chopin's E Minor Concerto under Zubin Mehta. Last year his solo recital-in-the-round was one of the undoubted highlights of the whole Proms season. This year he shares his billing, but with probably the same result.

All performances are at the Royal Albert Hall