Countertenor Iestyn Davies was a late draft onto the bill for 7 September’s Last Night of the Proms after BBC producers were told they would not be able to use a treble soloist because the performance was to be broadcast live after 7pm.
The BBC and conductor Marin Alsop had planned that the soloist in Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms would be a treble and had lined up three potential soloists, with the final decision to have been made by Alsop (a student of Bernstein’s) in the run-up to the concert. But while applying to relevant local authorities for child performance licences BBC staff were advised that, although a child under the age of 13 may perform as a soloist in public after 7pm, he or she may not be filmed for a broadcast after this time.
‘Because the Chichester Psalms were broadcast live,’ said a Proms spokesperson, ‘this meant that reluctantly we had to change our plans.’
Davies was therefore called in, announced to the public on the day before the event, and only rehearsed with Alsop and the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus on the day of the concert itself. In rehearsal earlier in the week both Alsop and the director of the chorus, Stephen Jackson, had expressed disappointment that the role would not be sung by a treble.
‘Everyone agrees that this legislation is now completely outdated and the BBC with other broadcasters and members of the wider entertainment industry are working hard to try to get it changed,’ said the Proms spokesperson. ‘Bernstein specified in the score that the solo part can be taken either by a boy treble or countertenor. We were pleased to engage Iestyn Davies to sing the part.’
Davies had been taking part in recording sessions at the Menuhin School in Surrey, for a disc of Handel arias expect to be released by the Vivat label in early 2014.
Alsop is now the first and only woman to have conducted the Proms’ final night. She told CM in July that she was ‘very proud and also a little embarrassed that it takes so long to be first sometimes’. Of a glass ceiling for women conductors, she said: ‘I think it’s really changing finally now but I thought naively when I was 25 that within ten years there would probably be many men and women on the major podiums, and shockingly 30 years later it wasn’t a lot different.’
Giving the traditional conductor’s speech on the night, Alsop said: ‘I feel certain that he [Proms founder Sir Henry Wood] would see this evening as a natural progression toward more inclusion in classical music.’ She then led three cheers ‘in the name of progress and Sir Henry Wood’, and said she was shocked that it was 2013 and ‘there could still be firsts for women’.
She also made an impassioned plea for the power of music both in education and wider society. ‘Music and art cannot be pushed to the margins,’ she said, ‘they have to be front and centre.’
This year’s Proms season hosted a record number of sellouts (57 of 75 concerts), and a record number of UK requests for Proms on BBC iPlayer (1.7 million).
Roger Wright, director of the BBC Proms, said at the close of the season: ‘I’m delighted that the 2013 BBC Proms has captured the imagination of our audiences and been so critically acclaimed. The atmosphere throughout the summer has been one of great excitement and engagement with the music making. The high attendance figures, not least for the new and less familiar work, is a sign of the health of the BBC Proms brand. Thanks to the ongoing commitment of the BBC the Proms continues to offer great value for money.’