Of all the classical music festivals in the world, the Proms is the grandfather of them all. Founded in 1895 by Sir Henry Wood, this year’s festival spans an incredible eight weeks with music ranging from intimate Bach’s Cello Suites to Messiaen’s grandiose Turangalîla, from the venerable (Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo) to the modern – with 18 world premières. Most concerts take place in the gargantuan Royal Albert Hall, affectionately known as “the Nation’s Village Hall”, but Cadogan Hall in Sloane Square hosts a series of Chamber Proms and Saturday matinees.

Royal Albert Hall interior © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Royal Albert Hall interior
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Book ahead or turn up on the night to 'promenade': standing in the Arena or the Gallery costs just £5! You can easily pick your way through the 89 listed events via our handy 2-page listings, but here are a few things which caught our eyes for the coming season.

It’s predictable that anniversaries form a central part of concert season and festival programming the world over. This can leave little room for individuality unless used as an opportunity to explore rarer repertoire. Sibelius and Nielsen are this year’s big-hitting anniversary composers and both are well represented at the Proms. In addition to a complete cycle of his seven symphonies, conducted by Thomas Dausgaard, Ilan Volkov and Osmo Vänskä, the must-see Sibelius concert has to be his mighty choral symphony Kullervo. Based on the character in the Finnish Kalevala, the five movements present dramatic episodes from Kullervo’s life. Helsinki-born conductor Sakari Oramo is at the helm of the BBC Symphony Orchestra for what promises to be a Proms highlight.

Osmo Vänskä © Kaapo Kamu
Osmo Vänskä
© Kaapo Kamu

There’s no cycle of Nielsen symphonies (the BBC Philharmonic gave one earlier this year), but we do get his three concertos, featuring Mark Simpson (clarinet), Emily Beynon (flute) and Henning Kraggerud (violin). The Overture to Maskarade kickstarts the whole Proms season on Friday, while Nielsen’s Wind Quintet features in the second Chamber Prom at Cadogan Hall.

Beethoven’s symphonies usually feature every season (the Ninth used to be a regular fixture on the penultimate night of the season). While there’s no complete cycle this year, we do have the treat of Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra performing all five piano concertos, plus the Choral Fantasy, over three evenings.

Royal Albert Hall © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Royal Albert Hall
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Valery Gergiev laughs in the face of five piano concertos over three evenings… why not do them in one? This is exactly what he’s doing with his London Symphony Orchestra, tackling all five Prokofiev concertos in a single concert. Madness? Circus? Only time will tell. At least solo duties are split between three pianists: it will be intriguing to see which different qualities Daniil Trifonov, Sergei Babayan and Alexei Volodin bring to the keyboard.

Spectacle aplenty should come from the Aurora Orchestra, performing Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony from memory, as well as Brett Dean’s homage to nature under the same title. Francesco Piemontesi joins the orchestra for Mozart’s ‘Coronation’ Concerto, plus there is the première of a new commission from British composer Anna Meredith. Of the other world premières this summer, James MacMillan’s Fourth Symphony is eagerly anticipated.

Alina Ibragimova © Eva Vermandel
Alina Ibragimova
© Eva Vermandel
‘Quirky’ would be a polite term for some of the late night Proms, but among the classical nocturnal offerings are solo recitals of Bach. Alina Ibragimova plays the solo sontatas and partitas over two evenings, Sir András Schiff soothes us with the Goldberg Variations, and Yo-Yo Ma performs all six Cello Suites in a late night Prom which has to start at 9pm to fit them all in!

It’s a thin festival for opera buffs. In addition to The Monteverdi Choir presenting L’Orfeo, Glyndebourne brings a semi-staging of David McVicar’s wonderful production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail. It’s regrettable that Grange Park Opera, given the chance to bring one of its productions to the Royal Albert Hall, brings a musical instead, albeit one starring Bryn Terfel.

It wouldn’t be the Proms without some starry visitors and this season is no exception. Pride of place goes to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra which performs symphonies by Brahms and Schmidt under Semyon Bychkov, before Sir Simon Rattle leads them through Elgar’s epic oratorio The Dream of Gerontius. Visits from the Boston Symphony, with Andris Nelsons now in situ as Music Director, and the San Francisco Symphony provide two favourite Mahler symphonies. Andrew Litton brings the Bergen Philharmonic. If their recent recording of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring is anything to go by, the Albert Hall’s foundations should be given a decent workout!

Apollo's Fire © Roger Mastroianni
Apollo's Fire
© Roger Mastroianni

Among the period instrument bands on their travels, the Belgian ensemble B’Rock is definitely worth looking out for, as are the extraordinary Cleveland band Apollo’s Fire.

The traditional Last Night celebrations are overseen for a second time by Marin Alsop as mistress of ceremonies. Although disappointed to learn that we are to be deprived of Jonas Kaufmann singing “Edelweiss” in The Sound of Music medley, there is the prospect of hearing him get his tenorial tonsils around Rule Britannia and a selection of Puccini arias, while Danielle de Niese and Benjamin Grosvenor should prove ebullient party guests.