Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 July 2019

BBC Proms aims to please with access all arias at Dubai Opera

If you are not that acquainted with classical music, these concerts are the perfect start according to Dubai Opera head Jasper Hope

The BBC Proms sell-out show at Royal Albert Hall in 2018. Photo by Chris Christodoulou
The BBC Proms sell-out show at Royal Albert Hall in 2018. Photo by Chris Christodoulou

The BBC Proms and the Dubai Opera go back. Way back.

In fact, the idea for the historic 124-year-old British music institution making its debut Middle Eastern performance in the Emirate was discussed before the venue opened in 2016.

Yes, Dubai Opera chief executive Jasper Hope wanted to plan well ahead. But he also knew the music festival – with its mix of accessible repertoire and top notch musicianship – would be an ideal way to attract those not accustomed to classical music or concert halls. And it worked; the first BBC Proms series of shows at Dubai Opera in 2017 was close to a sell-out.

Families and seasoned concertgoers rubbed shoulders as they savoured a dynamic programme, ranging from the world debut of a piece by Emirati composer Mohammed Fairouz to a cappella concerts by the BBC Singers.

The programme

The latest BBC proms series begins at Dubai Opera today with the premiere of Tmesis – a short and punchy piece by British Lebanese composer Bushra El-Turk, in addition to select pieces from 20th century ballets, including Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

The popular BBC Singers will return on March 20 to go through a repertoire of popular choral music from the last 100 years, ranging from Gershwin and Francis Poulenc to the modern pop sounds of Abba and Laura Mvula.

March 21 will feature more vocal excellence with a performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony (No 9) by the BBC Singers, as well as the in-house Dubai Opera Festival Chorus and select British soloists. With four shows starting at 8pm, it is only the March 21 concert that begins later in the evening at 11pm. Aptly titled Late Night Prom – it will be a chilled affair with a duet concert by pianist Timo Alakotila and Johanna Juhola on accordion.

You can expect a party atmosphere on March 22 for the Last Night in the Proms. The stage will be packed with players including the BBC Orchestra, BBC Singers, Dubai Opera Festival Chorus, an accordionist and singer Roderick Williams as they go through everything from Bizet’s Carmen’s Spiel to Stanford’s Songs of the Sea.

Something for everyone

“I wanted some local participation, so for the first time we have a local choir involved,” Hope says of this year’s programme.

With tickets beginning from Dh50 to Dh150, Hope says prices were deliberately lowered to achieve both the Dubai Opera and BBC Proms’s aim of reaching a new generation of classical music lovers.

“This is definitely the show that you want to go to if you’ve never been to a classical music performance before,” Hope says. “The atmosphere is different to anything that you have experienced and the music being performed is world-class. I defy anyone to come and not be hooked.”

Hope saw this happen during his earlier stint of running London’s renowned Royal Albert Hall, which is the home of the BBC Proms. He says the vision of the organisation, which is as much education as entertainment, made them an ideal choice for the UAE, where a classical music scene is developing impressively.

This is definitely the show that you want to go if you've never been to a classical music performance before. The atmosphere is different to anything that you have experienced and the music being performed is world class. I defy anyone to come and not be hooked.

Jasper Hope, Dubai Opera chief executive

“The ethos of the Proms is all about accessibility,” he says. “They want as many people as possible to enjoy the greatest pieces of classical music, and a festival to celebrate is what the Proms was back then, and it is now.”

One of Hope’s favourite moments during BBC Proms performances is the applause of the crowd, which often arrives unexpectedly. “There is this thing in classical music where people wonder ‘when should I clap?’

“If you don’t know the piece of music or how many movements it has then you can be quite uncertain on when to applaud. Now, some people could be snobby and look down at those who clap at the wrong part,” he says.

“But you know what? If you speak to the artists, they don’t mind that at all and they love it. Because that means the people in the room have not grown up with that kind of music all their lives. They know that this was the spontaneous reaction from a crowd to a piece of music they have just enjoyed. And what more great and honest a response can you get as an artist?”

BBC Proms Dubai is held at Dubai Opera from today to March 22. All shows start at 8pm except for March 21 which starts at 11pm. Tickets for various shows cost Dh50 to Dh150 from www.dubaiopera.com

Updated: March 19, 2019 04:47 PM

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