The Doctor Who Proms / Symphonic Spectacular

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On the First Night of the Proms, Christopher Morley talks Who and the music of the universe...

Think of great uniquely British institutions and somewhere on the list must be the pairing of the Proms & Doctor Who. So it follows that the meeting of the two must make perfect sense, right? And indeed it does, the BBC National Orchestra & Chorus of Wales getting its collective teeth into Murray Gold's music for the revived series in spectacular fashion.........

Of course it hardly hurt that the new way of doing things musically since 2005 provided an ideal gateway to learning more about classical music - the mission being to both entertain & educate. To that end the mini-episode Music Of The Spheres saw the Tenth Doctor turning conductor as well as explaining the ancient philosophical concept of musica universalis, or "the music of the universe" as part of a bid to make the Proms themselves that bit more accessible to mainstream audiences following the 2008 meeting of Roger Wright, the now former director of the Proms, then-Doctor Who producer Julie Gardner and BBC Wales' Head of Music David Jackson.

And then-showrunner Russell T Davies was keen to stress just how much of an interactive event it would be, saying:
"You can watch it later on the website, or on YouTube, or whatever, but frankly, you'll never know what it was really like unless you are in the Albert Hall on that day. It can never be captured again. And that's a reward for people who buy tickets and queue and travel."
Anyone who was there would also have heard classical pieces by various composers as part of the performance, mostly on Doctor Who related themes. To that end the likes of Holst's Jupiter & Mark-Anthony Turnage's The Torino Scale, named for the standard measuring system for the probability of asteroids hitting the Earth, featured alongside the likes of This Is Gallifrey.

Following the success of that first incursion into classical territory, the experiment was repeated two years later after a change of Doctor. Alongside Gold's regenerated theme tune and several newly-composed pieces tailored to the Eleventh incarnation including The Mad Man With A Box and the Pandorica Suite listeners would have heard pieces including John Adams' Short Ride In A Fast Machine.

The passage of another three years did little to dampen enthusiasm for the Doctor Who Prom, which featured a rather special treat for those of a certain age as the Radiophonic Workshop made a contribution with a medley of pieces from the classic series!

Introducing that segment was Peter Davison, with fragments of the scores to The Daleks, Tomb Of The Cybermen, The Sea Devils, Logopolis, The Ultimate Foe and The Curse Of Fenric among the mish-mash.

This year's First Night of the Proms is taking place today, July 17 - though as yet there's been no mention of whether Doctor Who will be represented now that Peter Capaldi has the TARDIS key. What we do have, though, is the Symphonic Spectacular concerts which concluded a UK tour with two concerts in Glasgow on May 29 following similar stops in London, Cardiff, Birmingham, Leeds & Newcastle.

As the official website for the Spectacular puts it:
"Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular is a musical celebration of the iconic BBC series, featuring Murray Gold’s captivating music accompanied by specially edited video sequences of the Doctors in action, on the big screen.

Premièring in Melbourne in 2012, the Symphonic Spectacular has evolved ever since, keeping pace with the TV series. It also features a look back at the previous Doctors, with music from the last five decades, plus performances of some audience favourites."
The BBC National Orchestra & Chorus of Wales once again did the honours, though the organisers were keen to point out that the Doctor Who Prom & Symphonic Spectacular were not one and the same event.
"The Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular was inspired by the 2010 Doctor Who Prom, but it is not the same show as performed at any of the Proms.

The version of the show performed on the 2015 UK Tour will include some of the music performed at previous Doctor Who Proms and the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular shows performed in Australia and in New Zealand in 2012 and 2014.

It will also include a very considerable amount of material not performed at any of the previous shows, both from the first adventures of the Twelfth Doctor and from previous incarnations."
Plenty to wrap your ears around, then! And as a review for the Telegraph stated:
"It is, in essence, a showcase for the music of Murray Gold whose ability to combine excitement with pathos has been crucial to the series since it was rebooted a decade ago. The problem is that Gold’s music is only ever an accessory to the high drama. However, an effort has been made to create variety. And so you have the beautiful, touching Abigail’s Song next to the thunderous Pandorica Suite, a perfect contrast which sums up the versatility of Doctor Who.

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Ben Foster, skilfully adapt to the various changes of pace, and, in particular, with The Impossible Girl (Clara’s theme) achieves the requisite poignancy needed to tell the story of a young woman whose life is one of sad transience."

Roger Wright subsequently proved rather enigmatic on the subject of exactly when the TARDIS would next materialise within the Royal Albert Hall.
"I can't give you a clue about where and when the TARDIS might land in the Royal Albert Hall. Who can?"
But just like we who tune in for the Doctor every Saturday teatime,
"The Proms audience is special. There’s a particular quality of listening, a willingness to be taken further."
And the Doctor Who Prom fit in nicely with that, much to Wright's pleasure. While it may be "at core a Western classical music festival", the new and comparatively more modern approach which has seen it widen its scope to include what he called
"things at the margins of our planning, whether it be the first Gospel Prom, a third Doctor Who Prom or the first Urban Classic Prom, which are also a key strategic part of what the Proms has been about since 1895, which is finding new audiences for classical music."
And remember that
"Music isn't just orchestras and pop stars and a bunch of people with albums and downloads and concerts... It's you. 'Cause the music of the spheres is all around you. When you're on your own, just close your eyes and you'll hear it. Music. Inside your head. Cause everyone's a musician. Everyone's got a song inside them. Every single one of you."

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