All You Need to Know About the Proms in London

It's the world's most famous, and longest-running, classical music festival. Here are our tips for experiencing it.

About the BBC Proms

They go on for eight weeks every summer, they’re on the TV and radio and feature musicians from all around the world. Yet the Proms, or BBC Promenade Concerts, began with a straightforward aim: "to train the public by easy stages." So said the impresario Robert Newman when he founded the festival in 1895, hoping to replicate the relaxed atmosphere of the promenade concerts in London’s 18th-century pleasure gardens. Henry Wood, who was appointed as the festival’s sole conductor, took his words to heart, programming popular works and allowing the audiences to eat, drink and smoke in the Queen’s Hall, Langham Place, where the concerts initially took place.

Royal Albert Hall, London, UK

More than 120 years later, the Proms has kept its reputation for cosy informality, despite being at the 5,000-seat Royal Albert Hall since 1941. But it has also grown into one of the world's biggest classical music festivals. Almost every major international orchestra, conductor and soloist has performed there, and the increasingly diverse programme offers someone for everyone, combining main evening and late-night concerts, chamber music Proms at Cadogan Hall, a series of ‘Proms Plus’ events, and, more recently, a selection of concerts in unusual locations.

Buying Tickets

Bookings can be made in person at the Royal Albert Hall box office, online, over the phone or by post, where you can create and submit your own Proms Plan. Those hoping to catch several Proms might consider a Season Pass, which guarantees a standing place for each concert. Advance tickets sell quickly, but if you miss out, don’t panic: there are returns and up to 1,350 standing tickets are available to buy on the day of each concert for just £6. Some are released between 9 am and noon and the rest are sold in person when the doors open, one hour before each performance. Demand for these "promming tickets" is high, so be prepared to queue especially for popular concerts.

For the Family

The Proms are the perfect way to introduce your children to the world of classical music. Sir Simon Rattle conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Ravel’s fairy-tale ballet "Mother Goose," followed by "L’enfant et les Sortilèges," his magical opera about a child who is reprimanded by the objects in his room that he has been destroying (18 Aug, 2018). Teenagers can get to know members of the National Youth Orchestra at the NYO Teen Hangout at Imperial College (4 Aug), and budding young artists can do some music-making of their own at one of the daytime "Proms Sing" events scattered throughout the festival.

National Youth Orchestra, London, UK

Late Night Proms

Taking place after the main evening concert, these atmospheric events serve up some of the festival’s most left-field fare, and this year there’s a strong focus on world music. Havana Meets Kingston (31 Jul, 2018), fuses the sound-worlds of contemporary Cuba and Jamaica. "New York: Sound of a City," showcases artists from the Big Apple, and the sounds on New York’s streets, from DIY indie to feminist rap (8 Aug,  2018).

Havana Meets Kingston, London, UK

Unusual Locations

Over the last few years, the festival has started to embrace new and unconventional venues, some of them located outside the capital. This season it returns to Camden’s Roundhouse to celebrate the London Sinfonietta’s 50th birthday (21 Jul, 2018), before travelling beyond London–to Lincoln’s Drill Hall—for a performance of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale (4 Aug, 2018). Plus, there’s a chance to see Alexandra Palace’s long-abandoned Victorian Theatre, as its restoration approaches completion, in a performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Trial by Jury, which was written the year that the theatre was first built, in 1875 (1 Sep, 2018).

Proms in the Park

Coinciding with the Last Night of the Proms inside the Royal Albert Hall, these huge open-air concerts are an informal and high-spirited way to celebrate the festival finale, and are spread across the UK. In London, the place to be is Hyde Park, where several musical stars join presenter Michael Ball, conductor Richard Balcombe and the BBC Concert Orchestra for an evening of entertainment. This year the Last Night anthems will be performed live on the Hyde Park stage, before the traditional firework finale.

Lincoln's Drill Hall, London, UK

Hannah Nepil
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