Like last year the Proms is opening with some impressive concerts, with a very different feel from previous years. For the full details, see our Full listings of the 2011 BBC Proms.

It’s worth going into some details of the first few events. The very first prom is a real mixture containing a new commission from Judith Weir, some Brahms, some Liszt and Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass. A concert performance of Rossini’s William Tell is on Saturday and should be well worth seeing, with a strong cast and ROH’s Antonio Pappano conducting his Italian Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Sunday’s main concert is Havergal Brian’s astonishing Gothic Symphony, so enormous with around 1000 performers and the combined strengths of 9 choirs that finding anywhere in the UK to practice has been a major challenge. It also has the dubious privilege of being in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest symphony clocking in at 110 minutes.

The BBC have settled on several themes for the seaon including a wealth of choral music in their "Choral Sundays". Our selections are the Verdi Requiem (Prom 13) which will be sung by an all-star cast of Marina Poplavskaya, Sonia Ganassi, Joseph Calleja and Ferruccio Furlanetto and the following Sunday (Prom 22) which contains some fabulous Rachmaninov choral works, some familiar to UK audiences and some not, with Mariinsky Theatre Chorus and soloists Svetla Vassileva and Misha Didyk lending authentic Russian voices to the performance. Our final highlighted choral prom is (Prom 28) which concentrates on the sixteenth century composer Thomás Luis de Victoria, whose 400th anniversary in this year, to be sung by The Tallis Scholars, conducted by Peter Phillips.

Other gems are a now-rare chance to see Bernard Haitink conduct two proms (Prom 47 and 49): these comprise Brahms Symphonies 3 and 4 together with his two Piano Concertos which will be played by our busiest pianist of 2010, Emanuel Ax. The late night Prom 48 features Angela Hewitt with the BBC Symphony Orchestra playing Brahms and Schumann and should also be good. There’s a very enticing programme of Prokofiev and Dutilleux with London Symphony, Gergiev and Leonidas Kavakos (Prom 52), an Audience Choice concert (Prom 63) where several audience members get to choose a work to be played at the concert out of a selection of up to 300 options. This brave feat will be carried out by the wonderful Budapest Festival Orchestra under the baton of Iván Fischer.

Several artists get to perform more than one prom to showcase different facets of their style. Look out in particular for Marc-André Hamelin, the French Capuçon brothers, Christian Tetzlaff and Yo-Yo Ma.

Martha Argerich is also making a rare appearance in Prom 5, appearing with the Capuçons in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, which should be really special. Prom 57 involves another wonderful pianist, Maria João Pires, who will play Mozart’s Piano Concerto 27 with the Tonhalle Orchestra and David Zinman, alongside Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony no. 3. Near the end of the Albert Hall concerts (Prom 73) we will get a rare chance to hear Weber’s Der Freischutz in Berlioz's French version, conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner with the Orchestre Révolutionaire et Romantique.

The 12 Cadogan Hall concerts highlights are flautists Emmanuel Pahud’s PCM6 and Yo-Yo Ma’s PCM7 which include the London première of Fitkin’s piece “L” and the Rachmaninov Cello Concerto.

The last night of the Proms will be conducted by the young Ed Gardner (of the ENO orchestra) who will be the youngest conductor to be given this honour since Henry Wood himself in the early 1900s. Lang Lang will play Liszt’s Piano Concerto no. 1 during the concert which will begin with a new work by Maxwell Davies written to honour the promenaders themselves and their money raising success, which brings about £80,000 annually into musical charity coffers. The work has been commissioned by one of these beneficiaries, the Musicians Benevolent Fund and will be given its world première, appropriately at this performance.

Alison Karlin 15th April 2011