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Packing out the Proms

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They are the hottest tickets to this year's BBC Proms, but live performances of Doctor Who music are not the only London concerts for BBC National Orchestra of Wales this summer. David Jackson, pictured, reveals how they will be taking centre stage at the world famous festival


EACH summer, the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales get to know the M4 corridor very well indeed.

For in July and August we travel to London to perform at the BBC Proms.

Based at the world famous Royal Albert Hall, it's the world's largest music festival and this year alone there will be 75 concerts during eight jam-packed weeks, with coverage across BBC television and radio.

We're always excited to take part each year, as the Proms are a very special experience and have an international following.

The Royal Albert Hall is so huge that more than 5,000 people can gather on any one evening to hear a performance - and the atmosphere in the hall is always electrifying.

The BBC's six performing groups - five orchestras from across the UK plus the BBC Singers - form the backbone of the BBC Proms each year, along with two talented amateur choruses - the BBC Symphony Chorus, and our own BBC National Chorus of Wales. Add to that a wonderful array of international orchestras and guest soloists and you have an amazing festival.

The amount of talent available to the Proms means that we've been able to take part in some exciting projects in previous years. Last year we performed Bernstein's gigantic Mass at the Proms, alongside the National Youth Orchestra of Wales, National Youth Choir of Wales and students from Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and in 2011 we joined our colleagues from the BBC Concert Orchestra in Havergal Brian's Gothic Symphony (which, with more than 1,000 performers, is for obvious reasons rarely performed).

So what of this year? Among our highlights will, of course, be our two Doctor Who Proms. Since 2006, we've recorded Murray Gold's spectacular soundtrack music to Doctor Who.

These days we record it at BBC Hoddinott Hall, our home in the Wales Millennium Centre, which coincidentally happens to be based just a stone's throw from the Doctor Who production team's base in Cardiff Bay.

It's always a pleasure for the orchestra to play in these soundtrack sessions - the music is masterfully composed and orchestrated, and we think it's an important way of introducing a new generation to orchestral music through Doctor Who.

It's such a thrill to hear the opening theme tune when an episode starts on TV, so you can imagine how exciting the experience is when the music's performed live in our family concerts at the BBC Proms.

This year's two Doctor Who Proms are understandably very popular, with advanced tickets selling out in a matter of hours, but there are still more than 1,000 'promming' (standing) places for just £5 each but they are only available on the day.

But if you are unable to make it, every Prom is broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, so everyone can enjoy the festivities, wherever they are. The Doctor Who Proms will also be shown on BBC One later in the year.

But while they are a highlight, our Doctor Who Proms are just part of the vast programme of music that aims to cater for all tastes.

This year the programme includes such diverse music as Cerys Matthews, the John Wilson Orchestra, operas by Wagner and world premieres - there really is something for everyone at the Proms.

As well as the Doctor Who Proms, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales will be giving four more concerts, including two with our Principal Conductor, Thomas Søndergård. Having just completed his first season at the helm, these are his first appearances at the Proms, and he's as excited as we are to be there.

One of the pieces that he will be conducting is Richard Strauss's epic Alpine Symphony, which is always an incredible work to hear performed live.

The orchestra for this piece will be expanded to more than 125 players as the composer calls for 20 horn players, including 12 off-stage horns, as well as a much larger string and woodwind sections than normal.

The percussion players have to get to grips with cowbells, a wind machine and a thunder machine.

During the same concert the orchestra is joined by BBC National Chorus of Wales, for their first performance led by Thomas Søndergård.

With more than 100 members of the public giving up their free time regularly to perform with us, the chorus performs to an extremely high standard, and we'll be looking forward to hearing them alongside our orchestra and the BBC Symphony Chorus.

While there is so much going on at the BBC Proms, not everyone is able to make it to London. So we will also be in Caerphilly on September 7 for BBC Proms in the Park - an event that always has a real party atmosphere, and will be a great end to our Proms season.

¦ David Jackson is Director of BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales YOUTH CHOIR HELPS LAUNCH PROMS YOUNG singers from Wales will help launch the BBC Proms 2013 tonight.

Members of the National Youth Choir of Wales will be performing to a live audience of 5,000 at the Royal Albert Hall during the First Night Of The Proms, although the concert will be broadcast to worldwide audiences.

The choir has been rehearsing all week in Llandrindod Wells and Birmingham with singers from other parts of the UK for the event.

Their chorus master is Simon Halsey who has worked for many years with Sir Simon Rattle at the Berlin Philharmonic.

And among the singers is Aled Wyn Thomas, 20, from Llanwnnen, near Lampeter. Since the tenor joined the choir in 2009, he has been involved in two Proms concerts - in 2009 and 2012.

He said: "Both Proms were very special as in 2009 we kicked off the last week of the festival by singing Handel's Messiah to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the composer's death. Last year, we were lucky enough to sing Leonard Bernstein's Mass for the first time in the history of the Proms.

"Tonight promises to be the most exciting in the choir's history as, for the first time ever, we will have the honour and privilege of performing at the opening night of the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, one of the most prestigious evenings of music in the world."

The choir will be joining forces with other choirs from across the UK to form a massed choir of 450 members to sing Ralph Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony.

Matthew Thistlewood, manager of the National Youth Choir of Wales, said: "We give our young people great musical experiences by allowing them to work with the best conductors and tutors in the world. On our summer tour we enjoy showing the people of Wales the very best talent that we have, but we also want to explore taking the very best of Wales beyond the border and what better way to do it than at the BBC Proms."

BBC NATIONAL ORCHESTRA AND CHORUS OF WALES AT THE BBC PROMS 2 & 3 (Doctor Who Proms) When? Tomorrow, 7.30pm and Sunday, 10.30am What? Murray Gold's iconic music from the Doctor Who series is performed alongside other work including the Habanera from Bizet's Carmen, Suite No 2, Debussy's La fille aux cheveux de lin and Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. The orchestra is joined by the London Philharmonic Choir and conductor Ben Foster.

Tomorrow's concert is broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and recorded for future broadcast on BBC One.

PROM 9 When? July 18, 7pm What? Stenhammer Excelsior!, Szymanowski Symphony No 3 (The Song of the Night) and R Strauss' An Alpine Symphony are performed by both the orchestra and chorus along with the BBC Symphony Chorus under the baton of Thomas Søndergård. They are also joined by tenor Michael Weinius. It will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

PROM 18 When? July 24, 7.30pm What? Elgar's Falstaff, Bantock's Sapphic Poem, Walton's Henry V (Touch her soft lips and part; Death of Falstaff) and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 4 in F minor are performed by the orchestra with cellist Raphael Wallfisch and conducted by Jac van Steen. Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

PROM 21 When? July 29, 7pm What? The UK premiere of Colin Matthews' Turning Point alongside Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No 2 and Shostakovich's Symphony No 11. Thomas Søndergård conducts the orchestra and violinist Daniel Hope. Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

PROM 39 When? August 12, 7pm What? The final programme features Holst's Indra, the world premiere of Nishat Khan's The Gate of the Moon (Sitar Concerto No 1) and Vaughan Williams' A London Symphony (Symphony No 2). Featuring the orchestra with Nishat Khan on sitar and conductor David Atherton. Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Asian Network.

GRAPHIC: Doctor Who at the BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London Picture: Chris Christodoulou

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