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BBC Proms director David Pickard to step down after nine years

Pickard, who was appointed in 2015, has said he plans to ‘explore new projects’

Ellie Muir
Friday 24 November 2023 09:22 GMT
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BBC Proms director David Pickard said he is looking forward to ‘eight glorious weeks of music making’
BBC Proms director David Pickard said he is looking forward to ‘eight glorious weeks of music making’ (PA Media)

The director of the BBC Proms has announced he will step down after nine years of leading the classical music event.

David Pickard, who was appointed in the role in 2015, will leave the company in October 2024. He has said he plans to “explore new projects”.

He said in a statement: “It has been an immense honour and privilege to run the world’s greatest classical music festival alongside an incredible team, working with many of the most exciting orchestras, musicians and artists on the planet.

“By the end of next summer I will have planned and delivered nine Proms seasons and it feels like the right time to move on and explore new projects. After the critical and box office success of the 2023 Proms, I look forward to delivering one more season in 2024.”

Pickard has been credited with increasing the diversity of artists and composers at the Proms during his tenure. This year, for the first time, both the first and the last night of the Proms were conducted by women.

Pickard said that female conductors taking a prominent role in the classical music festival was moving in the “right direction”.

Speaking about female conductors featured on the Proms, he also said that “we still inherit the past of a male-dominated compositional world” and “sadly, conducting has been seen as a male preserve in the past”.

During Mr Pickard’s tenure, the BBC Proms became embroiled in a row over the decision not to sing “Rule, Britannia!” and “Land Of Hope And Glory” on the Last Night in 2020.

Newscaster Katie Derham and David Pickard at the Royal Albert Hall 'Walk Of Fame' launch, 2018 (Alamy Stock Photo)

The decision was later reversed with the BBC confirming in August that the traditional anthems would be sung after criticism from then-prime minister Boris Johnson.

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The BBC director-general at the time, Lord Hall, said it had been primarily a “creative” choice but added that there had been discussion about Britain’s imperial history by Mr Pickard and his team.

There were also complaints by Conservative political figures after a pro-remain group handed out EU flags that were used during the Last Night of the Proms.

There were some EU flags spotted during the BBC’s coverage of the evening in September 2023 when “Rule, Britannia!” played at the Royal Albert Hall, which usually prompts the audience to wave flags.

Sam Jackson, controller of BBC Radio 3, said Pickard has done a “fantastic job” and thanked him for his work.

Mr Jackson added: “It was a pleasure working alongside him this season, where I saw first-hand his commitment to musical excellence and reaching broader audiences - leading to record-breaking figures on BBC Sounds and iPlayer.

Pickard had been general director of Glyndebourne for more than a decade and spent eight years as chief executive of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment before being appointed as BBC Proms director.

He had previously told the PA news agency in 2019, during a time of political tensions around Brexit, that he wants the Proms “not to be a political occasion but a musical occasion”.

The Proms also sparked controversy in 2018 over a US actress playing the part of Puerto Rican immigrant Maria in an a performance of West Side Story.

Canadian singer and actress Mikaela Bennett then took on the role after Broadway star Sierra Boggess from Colorado quit, saying she would be denying “Latinas the opportunity to sing this score”.

The BBC will begin its search for a new director early next year.

With additional reporting from the Press Association

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