Podcast of the Week: The Proms Podcast

Confused by classical? Musician and comedian Vikki Stone is here to help

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Perhaps the first thing to be said about the BBC’s Proms Podcast is it SO isn’t Radio 3.

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Now Radio 3 has changed a lot in recent years; anyone who associates it with stuffiness just hasn’t been listening. But the network’s new-found accessibility can’t — and wouldn’t want — to hold a candle to the Proms Podcast, which is aimed at a completely different type of listener and doesn’t resist a laugh.

If you’re in any way a purist, or pride yourself on your classical music knowledge, you should probably stay away. I think it might annoy the hell out of you. As presenter Vikki Stone says, tonally speaking there’s nothing else like it in the world of classical music. The podcast is a product of the BBC Music department rather any particular network, and it’s being given a slot on the Mary Anne Hobbs show on 6 Music on Sunday mornings, which is when each new edition will be released.

The podcast’s “Prom Date” feature gives you an idea where it’s coming from. Each week Stone invites along a date to the Proms — someone for whom the Proms are pretty much a closed book. In the first podcast in the 2017 series, her guest was the comedian Nick Helm. He was baffled that a piece of music might last as short as six minutes. Stone’s future Prom dates include Richard Osman of Pointless fame, and the singers Imogen Heap and Sophie Ellis-Bexter.

Stone was the natural presenter for the podcast when it launched at the start of the 2016 Proms season. A classically trained musician and composer, she is also a comedy performer, and while there’s frivolity in almost her every utterance you can also tell that she knows her stuff and really cares. Perhaps crucially, she doesn’t alienate the professionals she speaks to.

“I remember last year waiting behind another interviewer to interview the conductor Thomas Søndergård and he’d had to be all serous,” she recalls, “and then you could see him starting to smile the moment I started talking to him.” She is particularly proud of the “Idiot’s Guide to Pierre Boulez” that she got Simon Rattle to come up with last year.

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The idea of the podcast, says producer Alex Mansfield, is to reach the Proms agnostic — “people who love music and know the Proms exist but probably feel it isn’t for them”. Social media feedback suggests they are succeeding, and I for one find it funny and interesting and that it opens up the Proms in a new and refreshing way. If I want more “serious” coverage, I’ve got Radio 3.

Stone attended 45 of of the 70-plus Proms that took place in 2016 and it’ll be the same this year. She reckons she has the nicest job of anyone at the Proms: “I am left to my own devices. There is no agenda. It’s just me and Alex and my laptop and we get to hang around talking to brilliant people, and putting the podcast together in a way that we want to.” The joy of that really comes through.

If you want to see Stone in person, she’ll be performing her “Concerto for Comedian and Orchestra” at the Edinburgh Festival, accompanied by the Scottish National Youth Orchestra.

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Subscribe and download The Proms Podcast via the BBC website