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BASIL RAMSEY reminds everybody
of the unique music festival
that takes over in London every summer

The Royal Albert Hall, London, England

I wonder if the rest of the world of music lovers envies us in the UK for our summer feast of music, the like of which is unique, and the sum total of which outdoes any other musical festival? We are now journeying through the early stages of the 1999 season, having opened on July 16 with Michael Tippett's massive concept, The Mask of Time, and the following evening with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Concentus Musicus from Vienna playing two rarely-performed Haydn symphonies - 86 in D and 87 in A, and then accompanying Cecilia Bartoli - her first Prom appearance - in arias by Haydn and Mozart . This is merely two out of the seventy-two concerts that will bow out with a thunderous spectacle for the Last Night on 11 September.

There could be those of you by now irritated that I am presuming to remind readers of the Proms. From long years of experience, I know that this unique event remains a closed book for thousands of musicians, and for the silliest of reasons. How often do we look at the water tap and think 'without that as my permanent supply I would die?' When we have essentials they are quickly taken for granted and only pressed into service as we need them. How often have I heard during the final week of the Proms, 'Heavens, the Proms nearly over? I haven't heard a note this year (and probably the year before). Life is too short!' It is all relative to the individual and the importance put upon music as a necessity to our quality of living and artistic experience.

To inform our friends overseas, here is a hint of what is being heard this summer. All the concerts are broadcast by the BBC (who sponsor and supervise the whole vast undertaking) so many of us can hear the entire season from the depths of our favourite armchair. My limited experience of higher mathematics dissuades me from counting up the hours and hours of music. A spot of perspective, though: concert versions of four French operas, including Rameau's Les Boréades and Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites; over 20 UK premières; a Duke Ellington evening; a day that embraced a thousand years of music in two concerts (was on 18 July); and I could chop the range of music into a thousand pieces to highlight interesting facts.

I do know that talking about music like this is a disquieting way of losing patience with one's self. Music is music, a totally absorbing way of receiving sounds patterned through a composer's mind and reshaped individually to our past experiences. Enjoy it!

Copyright © Basil Ramsey, July 29th 1999

The BBC Proms 99

16 July - 11 September 1999

Some concerts can be heard on the BBC World Service.