The Proms is back with a bigger stage for socially-distanced musicians

The Proms is back this year and bigger than ever–literally in the case of the Royal Albert Hall stage which has been extended to make room for more socially-distanced musicians.

More than 2,000 musicians will feature in the 52 concerts held over 44 days from July to September with the vast majority of concerts at the Hall.

Proms Director David Pickard said it had been “an interesting challenge” planning the concerts in the middle of lockdown and a global pandemic that has restricted the choice of music and the musicians who will play it.

He said their plans had to take into account “a whole set of regulations” from distancing to a strict cleaning rota, adding: “For example we couldn’t have any large symphonies by Mahler because there are none we could currently do under these guidelines.

“What we have done is we have built a bigger stage at the Albert Hall.

“Just simply so we can fit musicians on, so if you think about a violin section that would normally be sitting very close together they now have to be two metres apart so if you want to have a decent string size you need a big stage to fit them on even at the Albert Hall.”

Among the musicians performing this year are violinist Nicola Benedetti and cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and his six musical siblings  who will perform alongside Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo while Sir Simon Rattle will lead the London Symphony Orchestra in an all-Stravinsky programme.

Mr Pickard said other changes forced on them by the pandemic included restricting the number of foreign musicians they use and stopping the recent drive to take the Proms to new venues which in recent years has seen concerts in a Peckham car park and at Shakespeare’s Globe.

He said: “We normally have 10 or 12 visiting orchestras in and this year we just have one coming and we thought not only is that a  practical issue we’ve overcome but actually isn’t it the right thing to do when British musicians have had these huge challenges because of the pandemic for us to be able to celebrate what we’ve got in our own country?”

He said moving the concerts, which are all in the Royal Albert Hall apart from six at Cadogan Hall, would have added “another layer of challenges”  to organising the series.

Booking opens on June 26 for the first set of concerts running up to August 20 and organisers hope more tickets will be released if social distancing becomes less strict with a decision on whether prommers will be able to stand to be taken later.