Commissioned by the BBC Proms: An Historical Playlist

By James Inverne on Jul 27, 2013 01:13 PM EDT

Around this time of year, the entire music world looks enviously towards London, where the globe's largest music festival brings scores of concerts to the Royal Albert Hall.

It's the BBC Proms.

Britain's music-goers rightly get very excited about all the fantastic orchestras who play that magnificently theatrical venue--as well as all the BBC orchestras (the BBC Symphony Orchestra, no less, is the Proms' house band) and the various other Brit ensembles (London's Symphony and Philharmonic, Bournemouth and City of Birmingham Symphonies, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Hallé, Royal Philharmonic, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and so on) there are also usually some noted orchestras from overseas.

This year, they include the new National Youth Orchestra of the United States, both the Oslo and Vienna Philharmonics, Staatskapelle Berlin, Bamberger Symphoniker, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi.

But it's also worth taking a moment--or an afternoon--to reflect on the "other" side of the Proms, as an important commissioner of new music.

It hasn't, as a rule, dwelled on that too much, itself--in the sense that the Proms doesn't often revive works it has brought into the world (John Tavener's The Protecting Veil is one of the honourable exceptions to that rule).

Fair enough, the festival has always preferred to move ever onwards to the next, letting others decide whether the new works are going to have a continuing life. But it has turned up some gems over the years.

Interesting fact, trumpeted by the Proms' website: Between 1889 and 1944, founding conductor Henry Wood conducted 716 world or British premières by 356 composers. And that tradition has continued (in fact, it was legendary Proms controller William Glock in the 1950s who became the real new music powerhouse).

It remains to be seen how Thomas Adès' Totentanz, the new work that opened this season of the Proms, is viewed in half a century's time.

But here's Classicalite's playlist of five of the many great works premièred at the BBC Proms. Since distance gives perspective, the new works listed below are all pre-World War II. Not new now, but they were new once. And that's where the new were first made known. Take some time, and enjoy...

Rachmaninov, Piano Concerto No. 1

 October, 1900

Elgar, Pomp and Circumstance March, No. 4

 August 24, 1907

Schoenberg, Five Pieces for Orchestra

 September 3, 1912

Vaughan Williams, Flos Campi

 October 10, 1925

Britten, Piano Concerto

August 18, 1938

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TagsJames Inverne, Classicalite's Five Best, BBC Proms, Rachmaninov, Elgar, Schoenberg, Vaughan Williams, Britten, Thomas Adès, Totentanz, John Tavener, The Protecting Veil, Henry Wood, William Glock

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