Marin Alsop, Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony, Becomes First Woman to Lead 'Last Night of the Proms'

By Logan K. Young on Apr 26, 2013 03:15 PM EDT

(Reuters)--American conductor Marin Alsop is to become the first woman in 118 years to lead "Last Night of the Proms"--the grand finale of Britain's leading classical music festival, which includes a punk band and gospel choirs in its line-up.

Details of the 2013 BBC Proms were unveiled on Thursday, with the festival involving 92 concerts over two months to appeal to a wide audience with chamber music, TV theme tunes, gospel choirs and punk veterans The Stranglers set to perform.

The festival will open on July 12, with Sakari Oramo conducting the "First Night of the Proms" as he starts his tenure as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

It closes on September 7, with American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and British violinist Nigel Kennedy conducted by Alsop, 56, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and principal conductor of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra .

Roger Wright, director of the Proms, said Alsop was ideal.

"We don't plan any demographic. We chose her because she's a really good conductor and she'll make a great conductor on the last night," Wright told a news conference.

"Last Night of the Proms," broadcast globally, will feature pieces by Richard Wagner and Gioachino Rossini and, in line with tradition, end with the rousing trio of "Rule, Britannia," "Pomp and Circumstance" and "Jerusalem" as the audience wave flags.

In past years, hundreds of fans have queued for hours--overnight even--outside London's cavernous Royal Albert Hall to get hold of the coveted "promming tickets" that grant a standing place in front of the stage for as little as 5 pounds ($7.62).

Highlights of the 2013 Proms include Israeli Daniel Barenboim conducting Wagner's complete, four-opera Ring Cycle and Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, played by genre-crossing violinist Kennedy.


Giuseppe Verdi's 200th birthday will be marked with performances by Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja, soprano Kristine Opolais and Italian orchestras from Rome and Milan.

Two evenings dedicated to music from the BBC's popular sci-fi TV drama Dr. Who, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and a "Hollywood Rhapsody" evening of golden age film music are set to attract non-classical fans.

Rap and soul will clash with orchestral showpieces as conductor Jules Buckley brings together urban artists with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in an evening featuring popular British singer Laura Mvula.

The Stranglers, known for songs "Golden Brown" and "No More Heroes," will perform with the London Sinfonietta.

The Proms will also give a platform for artists from Azerbaijan and Mali, as well as Grammy-winning Touraeg guitar group Tinariwen that started out in Algeria.

Wright said broadening the appeal of the Proms was important even though the focus remained on the Western classical canon.

"If you can develop and get people into what can, for some, be a forbidding hall, or can look like a forbidding hall, then that's part of what the Proms' job has been since 1895," he said.

Apart from performances by various BBC orchestras, there will be appearances from top international orchestras including the Vienna Philharmonic, Olso Philharmonic and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Freshly inaugurated this year, the U.S.'s National Youth Orchestra will mark its first time in Europe with a performance at the Proms, including star violinist Joshua Bell.

At the first free main evening Prom, the National Youth Orchestra of Britain will celebrate young artists at the festival with Beethoven's Symphony No. 9.

"It is in a way madness to put Beethoven 9 on at the Proms and make it free. It's all part of our desire to broaden the audience," Wright said.

Tickets for the Proms go on sale May 11.

(Reporting by Shadia Nasralla, editing by Belinda Goldsmith and Logan K. Young)

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TagsMarin Alsop, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, BBC Proms, Reuters

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