Building an orchestra, creating an audience

'Building an Orchestra, Creating an Audience: Robert Newman and the Queen's Hall Promenade Concerts, 1895–1926', in The Proms: A New History, ed. Jenny Doctor, David Wright and Nicholas Kenyon (London: Thames & Hudson, 2007), 32-73

The Proms: A New History integrates patterns of economic, social and musical change to explain the ups and downs of a familiar but often misunderstood cultural institution. As a published artefact, too, the book crosses boundaries, its eight authors blending academic research, vox-pop survey, lavish illustration and socio-political comment. The result is more than a critique of old myths: each chapter presents a new way to view its swathe of the story, from 1895 when the Proms began at Queen's Hall, to 2007, the 80th anniversary of the BBC's ownership of the series.

For the earliest stage, 1895-1920, my chapter sets out the continuities and discontinuities of the Queen's Hall Promenades with earlier promenading conventions in London pleasure gardens and theatres. I also place the series in its functioning context at the glamorous new venue in Upper Regent Street, Queen's Hall, as determined by Robert Newman, the hall's impresario. Over the first 25 years, Newman, then Edgar Speyer, then William Boosey (of Chappell & Co.) ran the concerts, with Henry J. Wood as conductor. Their differing approaches to programming, marshalling the orchestra, encouraging audiences and enriching the repertory form the bulk of my narrative, with Wood's influence increasing.

Music hall, seaside, oratorio and ballad concert all had a role to play in establishing the concerts, but so did 'French pitch', transferable tickets, Wagner, team sport, London urban identity and direct linkage to symphony concerts outside the Promenade season. Ultimately the early Proms levered the musical culture of Victorian Britain into modernity, bringing public concerts and paying audiences into something like equilibrium by the early 20th century. I argue that it was the Proms' undisputed artistic and educational success which conferred much-needed prestige on the infant BBC by 1927 - not the other way round.

'I can really say that this is one of the most significant pieces of reinterpretation of musical history I have read - and I don't just mean about the Proms. ... It's just dazzling!'

Nicholas Kenyon, Controller BBC Proms, Live Events and

TV Classical Music

This book is widely available to purchase at a reasonable price, and also available in academic and public libraries.

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