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From the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra to Cynthia Erivos the BBC Best Proms 2022

The classical music festival is back—and this year’s line-up feels like a celebration. Our critic Alexandra Coglan picks out her highlights

Prom 1: First Night of Proms (July 15)

How do you convey the weight of emotion in the years of pandemic restrictions and loss? Verdi’s “Requiem”—described by one Wag as “his latest opera in church costume”—is the vessel for all this and more. From the gigantic lightning that opens the earth-shaking “Judgment Day” sequence to the gentle expulsion of “Lacrimosa,” it’s a work that moves listeners from darkness to light and hope. The BBC Symphony Orchestra features some seriously stringed young soloists, including tenor David Junghoon Kim and Cardiff Singer from world champion Masaben Cecilia Rangwanasha.

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Prom 4: Cynthia Erivo (July 17)

Cynthia Erivo is an unstoppable force, having already garnered Emmy, Grammy and Tony Awards for her career as a singer, songwriter, actress and producer. Now the London-born actress presents a special concert tribute to the great female artists who have inspired and shaped her – like Nina Simone, Shirley Bassey, Billie Holiday and Gladys Knight. The program includes classics such as Gershwin’s “Summertime” and Jacques Brel’s “Ne me quite pas”, as well as Erivo’s own songs.

Proms at … Belfast (July 18)

Proms takes the road this season, with concerts in Glasgow, Truro, Bristol, Gateshead, Birmingham and Belfast. Belfast’s intriguing program sees the Hebrides Ensemble, a Scottish chamber music collective, collide with three different 20th-century musicians. Ravel’s cool elegance set against Messian’s color-saturated world and Xenakis’s sound math. Highlights include Ravel’s classic “Pavane an infante defunte” and the music of Messian’s Quartet for the End of Time – written while its composer was in a German prisoner-of-war camp and premiered by fellow prisoners.

Prom 13: The Wreckers (July 24)

Cornwall’s stormy coastline is the evocative setting for Ethel Smith’s 1906 opera The Wreckers. Jealousy, murder and forbidden love are in this astonishingly modern exploration of feminine power, desire and agency, set to a score with passion and elemental intensity. Glyndebourne’s five-star production – the first in living memory – now travels to the Proms to stage a concert. Robin Ticciati conducts this forgotten British classic by a leading female musician.

Prom 19a: Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra (July 31)

You don’t often hear a newly formed ensemble at proms, but the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra—founded this year and made up of both Ukrainian refugees and Ukrainian musicians based in Europe—is a pejorative exception. Canadian-Ukrainian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson will direct a musical program exploring ideas of freedom, peace and consolation. The “Seventh Symphony” by Ukraine’s greatest living composer, Valentin Silvestrov, is combined with the music of Chopin’s poetic “Second Piano Concerto” and Beethoven’s operatic manifesto for democracy: Fidelio.

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