2013's Proms season opens by introducing one of its major themes, Polish composers, and closes “with the sound of a glass ceiling being broken.” Marin Alsop is to be the first female conductor to take the podium at the famous Last Night. Pleasing though this is as a well-deserved accolade, perhaps more interesting musically is her performance of Brahms' German Requiem, with the OAE, which appropriately follows his Tragic Overture (Prom 46, Sat 17th August). The concert logically places Schumann alongside Brahms, informing the understanding of both these German composers' works.
The Polish music strand – a prominent element also in last year's Edinburgh Festival – features several works by Lutoslawski, whose 'Variations on a Theme by Paganini' are accompanied by the perhaps better known ones by Rachmaninov as part of the opening night (Prom 1, Fri 12th July). Preceding and following the Paganini-inspired works are two different portraits of the sea: centenarian Benjamin Britten's Four Sea Songs with Roderick Williams as the soloist, and the vast Sea Symphony of Vaughan Williams, a fellow English composer of the twentieth century.
Homage is also paid to Lutoslawski in the world premiere of a new work by Thomas Ades, 'Totentanz', where the composer will conduct his own work with the BBC Symphony Orchestra on Wed 17th July (Prom 8). The same concert also features Lutoslawski's own work, the cello concerto written for Rostropovich is here played by the enjoyable Paul Watkins, and more Britten – Sinfonia da Requiem - an evening indeed of tribute. This Prom will be shown live on television, as well as of course being broadcast on BBC Radio Three. Another highlight of the Polish strand is the opportunity to hear a live performance of Gorecki's (third) Symphony of Sorrowful Songs – Prom 71, Wed 4th Sept with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Osmo Vanska and BBC New Generation Artist Ruby Hughes in the soprano solo role popularised by Dawn Upshaw.
The season opens with one of classical music's best-known sets of variations, but an easily overlooked highlight is the premiere of his own piano concerto by a composer-pianist best known for one of the twentieth century's great sets of variations – The People United Will Never be Defeated - Frederic Rzewski, who performs with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on Monday 19th August (Prom 50). This late-night slot also includes Morton Feldman's meditative Coptic Light, heard last year in Edinburgh but still performed live only occasionally. Another piano highlight is the return of Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who performs Ravel's upbeat jazz-inspired Concerto in G with the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, who will also go on to play Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, Sat 24th Aug, Prom 56.
Concerti for the violin are also amongst the attractions of the season: Daniel Hope pays a visit (Mon July 29th, Prom 21) to the BBC Proms from his increasingly international schedule to perform Prokovief's Second Concerto, programmed alongside Shostakovich's Symphony No 11, The Year 1905, described as 'two twentieth century masterpieces'. There is also a Colin Matthews premiere to start the evening. BBC National Orchestra of Wales are conducted by their new principal conductor Thomas Sondergad, who makes his Proms debut this year. James Macmillan's haunting 2010 concerto is being performed by its dedicatee, the Russian Vadim Repin under popular Scottish maestro Donald Runnicles and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (Sat 3rd August, Prom 28).
In recent years the Proms have included a chamber music strand, usually on Monday lunchtimes at the Cadogan Hall in Chelsea. It's good to see the music of Elizabeth Maconchy – which has been written about here before – included in this programme. Her Third String Quartet is alongside the Brahms Piano Quintet on Mon 26th August, at lunchtime with BBC Radio Three New generation Artists, the Signum Quartet (Proms Chamber Music 7).
Further details of all these and other events at www.bbc.co.uk/proms.