Stars line up for the UK Proms in the Park tour, starting in Shrewsbury this year on June 17th. Pictured: mezzo-soprano Samantha Oxborough, soprano Holly Teague, baritone Rodney Earl Clarke and conductor Joe Davies. Katy Rink talks to event founder Holly Teague.
The UK Proms in the Park tour started in Shrewsbury last year - and it’s back again with a night of classical music and film hits at West Mid Showground on June 17th. This year, it's supersized, with three more dates across the UK in Warwick, Bath and Windsor.
I caught up with event organiser and singer Holly Teague as she was genning up on roles for the Garsington summer opera festival ‘in full rehearsal mode’. She’s ‘covering’ for this one, which means if someone drops out, she’s prepped to step in: “I sit and watch to learn the show, just in case they need me to go on,” she explains. “It’s a really nice gig. It’s a beautiful stately home with a huge theatre built around the back. The music is wonderful, and there’s an endless supply of homemade cake!”
Shropshire soprano Holly Teague, founder of the UK Proms in the Park series. Pic Credit: Andy Bell Photography
Having performed alongside Holly with the Shrewsbury Symphony Orchestra (in Strauss’ Four Last Songs), I’m aware of how fabulous she is. A Shropshire lass, with musical training from the Royal College of Music, CNSMD in Paris and the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, she’s getting serious roles these days. She’s recently taken part in an ‘Opera Highlights’ tour with Scottish Opera and has recorded an album of Rameau for voice and organ with Edward Higginbottom, former organist at New College, Oxford. You might also recognise Holly from her free Christmas charity concerts at St Mary’s Church in Shrewsbury each year.
Alongside developing her professional career, Holly has also found time to launch an outdoor classical concert series, the UK Proms in the Park, beginning last summer with a first concert at West Mid Showground, in a joint venture with the UKAC group, who you may know from their many running events in Shropshire (look out for the Bayston and Lyth Hill 10K on July 16th and the Shrewsbury Point 2 Point 10K on April 28, 2024!).
This year, the team have set their sights much higher, launching three more UK Proms in the Park events across the UK, beginning in Shrewsbury on June 17th, then at Warwick Castle (September 2nd), Bath Race Course (September 9th) and Windsor Race Course (September 16th). They are already planning to add a fifth location for 2024: “Our aim is to make something really stellar, really world-class and take it across the UK,” Holly says.
Holly Teague performing Strauss' 'Four Last Songs' with Shrewsbury Symphony Orchestra in March 2023
The collaboration came about in unexpected circumstances - at Bodytech Health Club on Mardol, in Shrewsbury: “I’ll have to come up with a better story!” Holly laughs. “But I was at the gym and got talking to the two guys from the UKAC group. They’d started doing organised 10km runs and had all the knowhow, in terms of putting on an event - and I felt I knew how to put on a show.
“In my normal working life, it is all on me, so it’s been great to collaborate and accept that other people bring a lot of skill and know-how. The whole thing is enjoyable. I can do it from wherever I am in the world, whatever contract I’m on.
“Shrewsbury was a bit of a pilot to see if people liked it or not. They obviously did as tickets are selling well again (they’re anticipating an audience of 1,500 this year). It became quite clear to me that once I have everything set for one concert, it’s fairly easy to recreate it elsewhere.
“We proved ourselves last year and so are doing some larger venues. I’m so excited for Warwick Castle, I can’t wait to sit inside the castle walls - there will be a bagpiper somewhere up on a tower!
“Obviously, we had a few things to iron out, such as queuing for drinks. There are multiple bar options at the showground this time and the audience will be encouraged to visit the bar throughout the concert. I would really like to press home that it’s supposed to be relaxed, fun for all the family. You don’t have to sit through the first half before going to the bar, or to the loo!”
The first ever UK Proms in the Park at Shrewsbury's West Mid Showground
Holly is proud to bring quality classical music to the regions: “With classical music, London seems to be the hub, it’s always city based,” Holly says. “The idea was to find locations where we can do a beautiful concert and maybe people can travel in from more rural communities. It’s also nice to be able to offer local musicians this kind of work, because it doesn’t necessarily exist in that form in areas we’re looking at.”
She is interested in the wider discussion about how to help ‘save’ classical music in the face of cuts by Arts Council England and the BBC - and believes that doing things differently is the way forward: “I think we all went to sleep during Covid, during that time, decided what we wanted out of music when we came out the other side. For me, it’s all about sharing something - that’s what we lost during the pandemic.
“Programming is particularly important right now - we’re not used to sitting for two hours and just listening. We’re a very visual audience. You need a programme that caters for everyone.”
The UK Proms in the Park tour this year takes a theme of film music, with tunes we’ll all know, including music from Harry Potter, Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean as well as classics such as Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra (featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey) and In the Hall of the Mountain King by Grieg. But alongside old favourites, there are things you may not be so familiar with - such as music by Clara Schumann and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
Shrewsbury UK Proms in the Park will feature Lancashire born mezzo-soprano Samantha Oxborough, who sang at the opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham - and Rodney Earl Clarke, who will sing and compère. Rodney is one of the UK’s most versatile baritone singers, who has presented and sung at the BBC Proms before as well as at England matches at Twickenham. The conductor is Joe Davies, founder of the Cumbria Opera Group, and current Musical Director of the Worcester Philharmonic Orchestra and Midland Concert Orchestra, among others.
“They will be a nice duo together to do the vocal part of the programme,” Holly said. “It’s important to give a real variety concert. Hopefully, people will hear music they know but also things that might pique their interest, so they’ll want to go listen to something else by this composer, or go to a song recital, or even learn an instrument themselves!”
Covid gave Holly an opportunity to reflect on her role in music: “I have always sung and then thanks to the pandemic, I lost the stage, and had to really think about what it was I was missing and what I wanted to bring back. I realised that my job is predominantly as a communicator, whether that is in a song recital, outdoor concert, fully staged opera, or in a classroom with 30 children - my job is to be the spokesperson and sell what I believe music is about.
“It’s a really important time to be doing that in the arts. There’s definitely a shift in the way the country sees music. My responsibility is to work out what the landscape should look like.
“Fingers crossed for some sunshine for the UK Proms in the Park - but we have some merch including Prom Broll just in case!”
UK Proms in the Park - Shrewsbury - takes place at the West Mid Showground on Saturday, June 17th from 5.30pm. Tickets £15 - £85 (VIP enclosure) from www.ticketailor.com
Picture Credits: Maddy Pennock (Joe Davies), Andy Bell Photography (Holly Teague)