As is the case every year, all eight Sundays of the 117th BBC Proms season are devoted to choral works, the world’s largest classical music festival. Other outstanding moments among the 90 concerts – 74 in the Royal Albert Hall, 12 in Cadogan Hall and the Last Night of the Proms celebrations in all four nations of the UK – include the return of Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, Nigel Kennedy in a solo Late Night recital devoted to the music of JS Bach, Steve Reich with three of his seminal works in a Late Night Prom, and the first Comedy Prom, hosted by comedian and pianist Tim Minchin.
The Choral Sundays include the first Proms performance of Havergal Brian's gargantuan The Gothic Symphony, featuring the combined forces of around 1,000 performers – more than any other single work ever given at the Proms – as well as the Requiems of Verdi and Mozart, Mendelssohn's Elijah and Beethoven's Missa solemnis.
A strand of unconventional concertos – for more than two soloists or for unusual instruments – brings pianist Martha Argerich back to the Proms for Beethoven's Triple Concerto (with the Capuçon brothers on violin and cello in their Proms debut year). Other highlights include a new concerto written for husband-and-wife team, violinist Viktoria Mullova and cellist Matthew Barley, and concertos for flugelhorn and clarinet, for string quartet and for coloratura soprano. Perhaps the most unusual solo turn with orchestra is DJ Switch's debut with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in Gabriel Prokofiev's groundbreaking Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra.
The bicentenary of Liszt is celebrated with a mixture of his major and rarely performed works. The piano concertos serve as dazzling bookends to the season, performed by Benjamin Grosvenor on the First Night and Lang Lang on the Last, while Marc-André Hamelin also evokes the virtuosity of Liszt in a Late Night Prom. Khatia Buniatishvili's recital at Cadogan Hall also celebrates Liszt, while Kevin Volans's new BBC commission is a homage to this visionary composer. The season also includes Liszt's major symphonic works, the Dante and Faust Symphonies, as well as rarities such as La notte, the second of his orchestral Funeral Odes, never heard at the Proms before.
A focus on the music of Brahms includes complete cycles of his symphonies and concertos, and two consecutive evenings devoted to his music. Bernard Haitink and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe give the Brahms Nights (joined in both by pianist Emanuel Ax), completed with a Late Night Prom from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in which pianist Angela Hewitt and conductor Andrew Manze place Brahms alongside his contemporary, Schumann.
The spotlight also falls on Frank Bridge, the teacher of Benjamin Britten who deserves to be better known in his own right, and Belá Bartók, whose three piano concertos are all included this season for the first time. There are notable birthdays for Sir Richard Rodney Bennett and Steve Reich, both 75 in 2011, and anniversary moments for Henri Dutilleux, Percy Grainger, Bernard Herrmann, Gustav Mahler, Thomás Luis de Victoria and Stan Kenton.
First complete Proms performances of Rossini's William Tell conducted by Antonio Pappano and Berlioz's adaptation of Weber's Der Freischütz with Sir John Eliot Gardiner – two major works in the French grand opéra tradition – complement a thread of French music by living composers Marc-André Dalbavie, Pascal Dusapin and Henri Dutilleux which throws light on French music since 1900.
Underlining the importance of new music to the Proms, there are 11 BBC commissions and, for the first time, four contemporary music Proms Saturday Matinees at Cadogan Hall.
Among the BBC-commissioned composers are Georges Aperghis, Sally Beamish, Graham Fitkin, Robin Holloway, Simon Holt, Joby Talbot, Kevin Volans, Judith Weir and Stevie Wishart with other major premieres for Michael Berkeley, Judith Bingham, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Anders Hillborg, Colin Matthews and Sir John Tavener.
Perhaps surprisingly there are also premieres for Benjamin Britten, whose Piano Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge receives its London premiere, and Brahms, when Dejan Lazić gives the UK premiere of his recent piano version of the Violin Concerto.
The star soloists include pianists Martha Argerich, Marc-André Hamelin, Angela Hewitt, Stephen Hough, Lang Lang, Maria João Pires and András Schiff; violinists Nigel Kennedy, Tasmin Little, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Gil Shaham and Christian Tetzlaff; flautist Emmanuel Pahud and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Susan Bullock leads a line-up of featured singers including mezzo-sopranos Sarah Connolly and Christine Rice and bass Matthew Rose, and there are Proms debuts for outstanding young pianists including Khatia Buniatishvili, David Fray, Benjamin Grosvenor, Alice Sara Ott and Yuja Wang.
As well as many of the leading British orchestras – often with their principal conductors – ensembles come from all over the world. Among them are such great partnerships as the Philadelphia Orchestra with Charles Dutoit; Academy of Santa Cecilia, Rome, with Antonio Pappano; Israel Philharmonic with Zubin Mehta; Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra with Sakari Oramo; Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre with Valery Gergiev; and Les Talens Lyriques with Christophe Rousset.
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Manfred Honeck and Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France with Myung-Whun Chung give two Proms each, as do the Budapest Festival Orchestra with Iván Fischer and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe with Bernard Haitink. British conductors Sir Colin Davis and Sir Roger Norrington bring the Gustav Mahler Jungendorchester and Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra respectively.
The Budapest Festival Orchestra and Iván Fischer create the first Audience Choice Prom in their second concert of the season: leaving the programme entirely in the hands of the audience, with stacks of music on hand, Fischer will take requests from the house.
Among the other outstanding moments of the season are three film music Proms – a concert of blockbuster soundtracks from iconic movies including James Bond, Star Wars and Harry Potter with the BBC Concert Orchestra and Keith Lockhart; a celebration of the Golden Age of Hollywood from John Wilson and his Orchestra; and the debut of the inimitable Spaghetti Western Orchestra.
The Human Planet Prom is inspired by the landmark BBC One show and accompanying BBC Radio 3 series, Music Planet. It features music from the series by Nitin Sawhney played by the BBC Concert Orchestra, as well as music and musicians from Greenland, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, the Sakha Republic and Zambia, brought to London specially for this Prom. Presented by John Hurt, the voice of the TV series, the concert is repeated the following day and features big-screen highlights from the TV programmes. The event spills out of the Hall and into Hyde Park for an afternoon of free family fun in Kensington Gardens.
More family fun comes in a spectacular free live show as the Proms collaborates with CBBC's hit television series Horrible Histories for the first time, while there are more participatory Proms Plus workshops and introductions aimed at children and families than ever before.
BBC Radio 3 broadcasts the Proms exclusively live and, for the first time, all will be available in HD Sound via bbc.co.uk/radio3.
The Proms reached a record-breaking 18 million people on TV in 2010. This year, concerts are broadcast across BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Four and BBC HD, with BBC Two and BBC HD maintaining a schedule of weekly Proms on Saturday nights. For the second year, Katie Derham will be the face of the Proms on BBC Two and the BBC Four Proms will be led on screen by Charles Hazlewood, Suzy Klein and Petroc Trelawny.
All Proms on radio and TV are available at bbc.co.uk/proms for seven days after broadcast.
The all-new Proms website offers all the latest details of events and how to book, and fans can browse a wealth of related content and listen live in HD Sound or catch up with all the TV and radio broadcasts. There will also be comprehensive programme notes for every concert, behind-the-scenes Proms blogs, photo and video galleries, reviews, comments and more.
Roger Wright, Director BBC Proms and Controller BBC Radio 3, says:
"Building on the tremendous success of last year's Proms, which achieved higher than ever attendances at the events and a record TV reach of 18 million, I hope that our audiences will respond again to the wealth of great music, outstanding artists and new ideas. I am keen to underline the BBC's commitment to funding, organising and broadcasting this great national institution and proud of its unequalled ability to bring the best classical music to such wide audiences
For the full program and ticket information visit www.bbc.co.uk/proms