Disability-led ensemble to play BBC Proms

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Media captionJames Rose uses a baton attached to his head as he cannot control his arms

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s Resound ensemble will become the first disability-led group to play the BBC Proms this summer.

The group is led by James Rose, who has cerebral palsy and conducts using a baton strapped to his head.

His fellow musicians have conditions such as blindness, autism and partial deafness.

They’ll make their Proms debut less than a year after being formed, at a “relaxed Prom” on 27 August.

The low-key concert is aimed at children and adults with autism, sensory impairments and learning disabilities; and will be signed for those with hearing difficulties.

James Rose told the BBC he was “delighted” to be conducting at the Proms, adding: “There are barriers facing disabled musicians, and our performance at the Proms will show that inclusivity is possible within classical music.

“I hope that our BSO performance will inspire people, with or without a disability, to engage with music and open up more opportunities for diversity and accessibility in the arts sector.”

Image copyright Kevin Clifford / Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Image caption The ensemble was only established last November

Resound is one of several ensembles challenging the perception that musicians with disabilities cannot play professionally.

Their Proms debut follows the success of The British Paraorchestra, who played alongside Coldplay at the 2012 Paralympics.

Running from 13 July to 8 September, the 124th Proms season will mark several centenaries: Leonard Bernstein’s birth, Claude Debussy’s death and the parliamentary recognition of women’s right to vote.

Bernstein’s works will feature in nine concerts – more than any other composer – including two concert performances of West Side Story, led by John Wilson.

There will also be a UK premiere of the American composer’s ballet score Conch Town, which contained a first draft of the song that would become West Side Story’s America.

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Media captionThe 2017 Proms in just 4 minutes

Other Proms highlights include:

  • The first ever Young Musician Prom, featuring 22 former winners and finalists, including Nicola Benedetti and Sheku Kanneh-Mason.
  • Senegalese star Youssou N’Dour making his Proms debut.
  • All six of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos played across two concerts in a single day.
  • World premieres of two rediscovered Benjamin Britten works, Somnus and A Sweet Lullaby.
  • A Prom starring YouTube sensation Jacob Collier – whose one-man, multi-tracked arrangements of songs like Stevie Wonder’s Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing earned him a record deal from Quincy Jones.
  • Sir Andrew Davis will mark his 130th appearance at the Proms by conducting the Last Night for the 12th time.
  • World premiere of Creme Brulee On A Tree by Bushra El-Turk, written in response to Bernstein’s La Bonne Cuisine.
  • A late night tribute to the pioneering work of BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
  • Jules Buckley will present a New York prom, with guests including Sharon Van Etten and dance collective Hercules and Love Affair.

Twenty-four female composers will be championed by the Proms, more than ever before, with new commissions from the likes of Roxanna Panufnik, Anna Meredith, Bushra El-Turk and pop singer Laura Mvula.

However, there will only be four female conductors at the podium in the Royal Albert Hall – down from seven last year.

“There are fewer women this year,” said David Pickard, director of the BBC Proms, “but actually, part of that is beyond our control”.

“Two other women would have been conducting Proms this year, but they’re having babies this summer – which is good news for them.”

Pickard acknowledged that finding more female conductors was a priority.

“Of course that’s got to be an ambition,” he said. “It’s the single biggest hill to climb for classical music in gender equality.

“There’s lots of wonderful female composers out there, but we’re still waiting for conductors to come through.

“This all starts at music colleges. And I think music colleges, to be fair to them, are thinking about this as well.”

One of the conductors missing this year’s Proms for maternity leave is Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, who was appointed musical director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2016 – when she was just 29 years old.

But Pickard said the Lithuanian-born musician’s success had alerted the classical establishment to a “new generation” of female players and conductors.

“And they will come into the Proms when they are ready to do so,” he said.

“You have to be quite careful that we don’t push somebody into that very, very highly-exposed role too soon.”

All of this year’s Proms concerts will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, and 24 of the shows will be screened on BBC Four, BBC Two or BBC One.

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Marissa SafontDisability-led ensemble to play BBC Proms