Pick of the Proms 2010

What not to miss at this year’s concerts.

This year's BBC Proms, which run until 11 September, will pack the Royal Albert Hall in London with big names and even bigger orchestras. We've picked out some highlights, from blockbusters to quirkier chamber music and late night offerings.

Big stars, big sounds

Proms 6, 16, 27, 69: Complete Beethoven Piano Concertos
The young British pianist Paul Lewis is this year taking on the challenge of a Beethoven cycle -- performing all five of Beethoven's piano concertos in Prom concerts with different orchestras and conductors.

Prom 19: Sondheim at 80
With contributions from Bryn Terfel and Simon Russell Beale, this celebration of the Broadway innovator Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday promises to be quite a party. Expect Sondheim hits from Sweeney Todd, Company and A Little Night Music.

Prom 52: Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Ashkenazy
A chance to hear Ashkenazy's influence at work on his latest orchestra, the Sydney Symphony. With the ever-intelligent Hélène Grimaud as soloist, the programme includes Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major and music by Scriabin and Strauss.

Prom 56: Minnesota Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä
The opportunity to see Vänskä at the podium is lure enough. With his own Minnesota Orchestra and a charged programme of Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No 1 and Bruckner's "Romantic" Symphony, this is a beg, borrow or steal kind of concert.

Proms 65 and 66: Berlin Philharmonic, Sir Simon Rattle
In these two Proms, Rattle and the Berlin Phil show off their many colours. Music by Mahler and Beethoven leads on to the Second Viennese School of Berg and Webern. Most intoxicating of all, however, is the prospect of Karita Mattila as swooning soloist in Strauss's Four Last Songs.

Prom 75: Monteverdi Vespers 1610
Celebrating its 400th anniversary this year, Monteverdi's masterwork has already had performances across the country. Directed by John Eliot Gardiner, this rendition by the Monteverdi Choir promises to be up there with the very best.

Prom 76: Last Night of the Proms
You know the drill: flag-waving, audience singing and strange outfits frame a musical celebration of national pride. See Renée Flemming make her debut as the Last Night soloist and hear the world premiere of a new work by Jonathan Dove.

Something a little different

Chamber Music Prom 6: Stile Antico
The young British vocal ensemble Stile Antico presents a gorgeous programme of Renaissance music inspired by the sensuous imagery of the Song of Songs.

Prom 7: Chopin Nocturnes
Celebrate the 200th anniversary of Chopin's birth with this intimate late-night Prom. The Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires performs a selection of the composer's Nocturnes.

Prom 42: Premiere, Huw Watkins, Violin Concerto
Huw Watkins's concerto is premiered by his regular collaborator Alina Ibragimova in a programme that also features music by Britten, Pärt and Shostakovich.

Prom 43: Arvo Pärt, St John Passion
Pärt's meditative take on the St John Passion makes a fascinating contrast to Bach's treatment. Performed by the BBC Singers under David Hill.

Prom 67: Last Night of the Proms 1910
For the first time in Proms history, we have not one, but two Last Nights. The first, a homage to the Proms founder, Henry Wood, is a re-creation of the 1910 event, complete with, well, none of the "traditional" music. It turns out that "Land of Hope and Glory" and "Jerusalem" were added in the 1950s. Hear music by Wagner, Beethoven and Edward German instead.

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Beware of tea: the cuppa has started wars and ruined lives

. . . and it once led F Scott Fitzgerald to humiliate himself.

A drink sustains me – one that steams companionably as I write. It is hot, amber and fragranced differently from any wine; nor does it have wine’s capacity to soften and blur. I’ve never understood how the great drunks of literature, Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and their like, ever put anything on the page more worthwhile than a self-involved howl, though even Hemingway apparently finished the day’s writing before beginning the day’s drinking.

Tea is more kindly, or so I’d always thought. Those aromatic leaves, black or green, rolled and dried and oxidised, have some of wine’s artistry but none of its danger. Even their exoticism has waned, from a Chinese rarity (“froth of the liquid jade”), for which 17th-century English traders were made to pay in solid silver, to a product that can be found dirt cheap on supermarket shelves.

There are even home-grown teas now. The Tregothnan estate in Cornwall has supplemented its ornamental rhododendrons and camellias with their relative camellia sinensis, the tea plant, while Dalreoch in the Scottish Highlands grows a white (that is, lightly oxidised) tea, which is smoked using wood from the surrounding birch plantations. Tellingly, this local version is priced as steeply as the imported rarity once was.

I enjoy a simple, solitary mug, but I also appreciate communal tea-drinking – the delicate tea warmed with water at 85°C (a little higher for sturdier black blends), the teapot and china, the pourer volunteering to be “mother”, as if this were a liquid that could nurture. But in reality, tea is not so gentle.

Those long-ago English traders disliked haemorrhaging silver, so they started exporting opium to China from India and paying with that. This was a fabulous success, unless you happened to be Chinese. In 1839, a commissioner attempted to clamp down on the illegal and harmful trade, and the result was the Opium Wars, which the Chinese lost. “Gunboat diplomacy” – a phrase that surely constitutes froth of a different kind – won England a great deal of silver, a 150-year lease on Hong Kong and an open tea market. China received a potful of humiliation that may eventually have helped spark the Communist Revolution. As many of us have recently realised, there is nothing like economic mortification to galvanise a nation to kick its leaders.

Later, the tea bush was planted in India, Ceylon and elsewhere, and the fragrant but bitter brew for the upper classes became a ubiquitous fuel. But not an entirely sweet one: just as the opium trade ensured our tea’s arrival in the pot, the slave trade sweetened it in the cup. Even today, conditions for tea workers in places such as Assam in north-east India are often appalling.

Scott Fitzgerald also had tea trouble. When invited round by Edith Wharton, he frothed the liquid jade so assiduously with booze beforehand and risqué conversation during (a story about an American tourist couple staying unawares in a Paris bordello) that he was nearly as badly humiliated as those 19th-century Chinese. Wharton, unshocked, merely wondered aloud what the couple had done in the bordello and afterwards pronounced the entire occasion “awful”.

Some would blame his alcoholic preliminaries, but I’m not so sure. Tea has started wars and ruined lives; we should be wary of its consolations. On that sober note, I reach for the corkscrew and allow the subject to drive me softly, beguilingly, to drink.

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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