Article: ‘The Proms is bigger than something like Glastonbury’

Roger Wright is controller of BBC Radio 3 and the mastermind behind the Proms. The fifty-three year old talks to the Metro about Jamie Cullum, BBC Radio and the magic of the Proms.

What makes this the largest musical festival in the world?

There’s a concert every day for two months, some days there are two or three concerts and there are dozens of hours of TV broadcasts, not to mention the radio coverage. There are thousands of performers involved. It’s bigger than something like Glastonbury.

Were you surprised by the scale of things when you started in the job?

The loyalty of the audience isn’t surprising but it’s always very nice to see. The Proms has been around for 116 years and there’s a lot of new work that goes into the programmes. People are prepared to discover new things, which is a positive aspect of the Proms. The Ukulele Orchestra last year was slightly left field but we packed the Albert Hall and it had a sense of fun.

This whole thing seems a bit rarefied – do you need specialist knowledge to understand the performances?

Of all classical music events the Proms is the one that is the most accessible, partly because there are more than 1,000 tickets available on the day and partly because there’s a standing audience, which gives it a more relaxed atmosphere. It’s the least stuffy of all the classical events. I understand there’s a job to do communicating to some people that they don’t need specialist knowledge of classical music to enjoy a performance.

What’s a jazz artist like Jamie Cullum doing on the bill?

He’s doing a show on Thursday with the Jazz Heritage Orchestra. Lots of classical music fans also like jazz. Classical music dominates the season but there’s something for everybody. We’ve also got a big Iraqi music project going on.

Does the Last Night put people off?

It seems like a bunch of posh people whipping themselves into a nationalistic frenzy… I don’t see it in those terms. When you look at what’s on offer, there’s a whole range of things available. People might know it for people singing Land Of Hope And Glory but that’s just the Last Night musical frolics. We’ve got Proms events around the rest of the UK, which helps broaden the audience and gives it a sense of it being a party rather than a jingoistic event.

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Radio 3 is still perceived as quite niche. Are you concerned it will be shut down?

I wouldn’t accept it’s a niche station when we have 2million listeners. It’s a smaller audience than Radio 1 or 2 but it’s still a huge number of listeners. BBC Radio is a whole portfolio of services and it’s the range of services that’s important – people will listen to different stations at different times. The discussions at the moment are about the best ways of establishing digital radio.

Is Radio 3 under pressure to become more populist?

I’d question the notion that Radio 3 isn’t popular. We do speech programming, jazz and world music, drama; we offer things that are over and above being a classical music station.

Why is classical music still relevant in 2010?

Because it includes some of the finest creations of the last 1,000 years. Composers such as Bach and Beethoven – they’ve moved, touched and stimulated people for hundreds of years. One particular pop song – this isn’t to denigrate pop music – may be popular now but this music has been around for hundreds of years and touched millions of people.

What music would you want played at your funeral?

Spanish guitar music because I wouldn’t be there to hear it. If you ask my colleagues they’d say Spanish guitar music is one of my blind spots.

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