THE NEW BOSS OF THE PROMS

Q&A WITH ROGER WRIGHT | July 18th 2008

Proms

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Jasper Rees chats with Roger Wright, the new director of the Proms, about the upcoming season, the future of classical music, and the pitfalls of programming ...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, Summer 2008

You can set your watch by the debate which annually reignites over the Last Night of the Proms. Is all that flag-waving in the Royal Albert Hall to the sound of "Land of Hope and Glory" an outmoded expression of jingoistic fervour, or mere innocent wallowing in national sentiment? This year has brought a new twist: the culture minister Margaret Hodge dismissed the world's oldest and grandest festival of classical music as elitist, just as Roger Wright, the Proms' incoming director, prepared to reveal a programme brimming with challenging new work. Not to mention the theme tune from "Doctor Who". As the Proms become available on the BBC iPlayer for the first time, Wright talks to Intelligent Life.

Are the Proms elitist then?
I didn't quite understand the minister's remarks. It's quite odd to point the finger at the Proms. If there's one organisation that does quality and access... What was particularly heart-warming was the response of what seemed like the whole of the UK just going, "We all love the Proms. What's the problem?"

So no truth in the persistent whisper that classical music is for the scrapheap?
You're either of an optimistic or pessimistic persuasion. But anybody who pitched up pretty regularly throughout the Proms season would be hard pushed to say there is a crisis.

It's not a year for lovers of a little light Mozart, though, is it?
I have taken over in a year in which Vaughan Williams, Messiaen, Stockhausen and Carter happen to be celebrating anniversaries. The difference between Vaughan Williams and Stockhausen is enormous but I happen to love both. I refuse to believe that there isn't some new music written by living composers which all members of the audience won't be intrigued by.

If you could take only one composer to a desert island...
You know I can't possibly answer that!

Is programming the Proms a cakewalk? Surely everyone just says yes.
It's much more complex than deciding against a certain set of dates who does what and they come and do it. As sure as eggs is eggs, you will find that the one big idea you might have to kick off something for 2010 or 2011 will only work on the one day that you actually can't operate.

You already run Radio 3 and the BBC orchestras. Could this be a job too far?
The only question is an entirely selfish one. A lot of cricket is played during the Proms, so whether I'll be able to see and play as much remains to be seen.

Presumably you can read music even better than you read a googly.
I'm the only person with a music degree to have held this post, but that means absolutely nothing. I play the piano reasonably well and the cello really badly. I still try to play the piano every day because it's humbling. I get huge pleasure from doing it. Nobody gets much pleasure from listening to it. ~ JASPER REES

BBC Proms July 18th to September 13th.

(Jasper Rees writes arts interviews for the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times. "I Found My Horn", his book about relearning an old musical instrument, was published in January.)