'I’m stupidly, feverishly excited': Proms performers on how they feel to be back on the Royal Albert Hall stage

Four musicians who’ll be part of the 2020 concerts series tell us what the festival – and live performance – means to them

Isata Kanneh-Mason

Pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason, making her proms debut in this year’s special season
Pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason Photograph: Robin Clewley

I’ve grown up watching and admiring the Proms, I have been part of the audience for so many concerts in previous years and the level of excitement and high energy is always extremely compelling and always memorable. I’m so thrilled to be making my Proms debut this year, but am of course sad that it isn’t under “normal” circumstances. I will miss the energy and excitement of a live audience, but in these difficult times musicians have to be adaptable, and I feel continually inspired by the willingness to find ways to make concerts happen despite the current restrictions. We will always need live music and an audience for it – I really hope that live concerts are able to happen again sooner rather than later. They bring a spontaneity and an excitement that cannot be replicated, and both audiences and musicians need this.
Isata Kanneh-Mason is a pianist

Nicholas Collon

Nicholas Collon conducts the (masked) Aurora Orchestra in 2019’s Proms season
Nicholas Collon conducts the (masked) Aurora Orchestra in 2019’s Proms season Photograph: Mark Allan

Every orchestra I conduct across the world talks about the Proms in reverential tones: the audience of thousands splayed across the vast Royal Albert Hall, all engaging in the communal act of listening; the pin-drop silences; the extraordinary breadth of repertoire; and the unrivalled wealth of performing ensembles and soloists from across the globe. It’s a great honour to have been invited to be part of this year’s live season – I have performed there every year with Aurora since 2010, but had imagined that being there this year would be impossible. It’s a wonderful opportunity to show that live music-making can continue amid the uncertainty, even with the various constraints put upon us.

We are in unprecedented, chaotic times. Digital opportunities are interesting but I believe wholeheartedly that live performance is the reason we all fell in love with music, and is ultimately irreplaceable. The musical world is incredibly resourceful and resilient, and we will find a way through this crisis, I’m sure. The power of this extraordinary thing called music, which has ensnared performers and audience members alike for centuries with its brilliance and beauty, will shine as strongly as ever. However, we must pray that the government listens to the voices shouting from within the industry that we need immediate financial help, to shore up the gap for performers, venues, arts organisations. The ecosystem of the British classical world is a fragile one, and it is nearly on its knees.
Nicholas Collon is principal conductor of the Aurora Orchestra

Anoushka Shankar

Anoushka Shankar performs in 2017’s Proms season
Anoushka Shankar performs in 2017’s Proms season Photograph: Mark Allan

I grew up with my mum telling me stories of moving to London in the 1970s and being able to buy cheap standing tickets to the Proms. It’s a festival that’s prestigious and accessible at the same time. I played my first Prom when I was in my early 20s and have done several since, but it’s always really special getting up on that stage. I’m stupidly, feverishly excited at the thought of playing in this special season – it will be my first time back on stage since February after a long series of cancelled and postponed shows. It certainly feels surreal to imagine doing a Prom without an audience, but it’s brilliant that we can at least play to people in their homes.

So many of my musician friends are struggling right now and terrified of the future. I hope people will continue to support the arts and artists in whatever ways they can. As for live music, Zoom can do many things and it’s great to be able to watch music online, but nothing replaces being in the presence of live music. To hear the vibration of a string or feel your body pulse to a drumbeat … I’m aching to be back out there in an audience again as much as I miss being on stage.
Anoushka Shankar is a sitarist, composer, producer

Nicola Benedetti

The pandemic has affected every corner of all of our lives. But how hard the music industry has been hit is phenomenal. An entire, complex ecosystem of composers, behind-the-scenes creators, managers, technicians, festivals, venues, orchestras, choirs, soloists, education and outreach leaders, publishers, marketers and more are not only unable to work but – unlike many other industries – have absolutely no timeline to work towards.

Music is the art of all the things we can’t see or touch. It is feelings and thoughts, offerings of generosity, vulnerability and openness. It addresses us, communicates and passes invisible things from those creating sound to those receiving it. It can lift us high into optimism, and accompany us during feelings of hurt and pain. The making of music can be healing, invigorating, exhausting and all-consuming. It brings millions together through the basic act of listening, and thousands together through the act of making melody, rhythm and harmony in the practice and service of collective expression.

Musicians cannot do their job without large numbers of people gathering and, from an emotional and psychological perspective we rely on playing music with people! To be able to get back to the Royal Albert Hall and to play live music feels like such a milestone. I think it will be really quite emotional. I cannot wait.
Nicola Benedetti is a violinist

• The Proms live concerts at the Royal Albert Hall begin on 28 August, live on BBC Radio 3 and online at bbc.co.uk/proms

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