Royal Albert Hall interior

BBC to stage First World War-inspired Proms performance in VR

Image credit: Dreamstime

A virtual reality (VR) film inspired by postcards exchanged between First World War soldiers and their loved ones, and accompanied by a new score, will be featured in this year’s BBC Proms.

The Proms is an eight-week summer celebration of classical music that has taken place in London since 1895. The concerts and related events have been mainly organised by the BBC since 1927.

In spite of the Proms’ reputation for being heavily focused on tradition, its organisers have taken steps in recent years to modernise the events and make them more inclusive, including introducing yearly Proms for children, and ‘Late Night’ Proms featuring non-classical music performed in intimate venues.

Now, the BBC is planning to mark another first by broadcasting the first ever Prom performance in VR.

The seven-minute performance, Nothing To Be Written, is inspired by field postcards from soldiers on the frontline during the First World War. It aims to transport the viewer to the trenches in the midst of the war, and to soldiers’ homes as their families wait for news. The film is accompanied by music performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Proms Youth Ensemble and the National Youth Choir of Great Britain.

“I’m totally delighted with 59 Productions’ beautiful storytelling in Nothing To Be Written,” said composer Anna Meredith. “To me it mirrors the music I wrote by allowing you to experience the texture both at a distance or by really zooming into the detail of the Field Postcards and the stories they tell beyond the prescribed text.”

Nothing To Be Written will not be broadcast in the same manner as the concerts themselves; instead, visitors to the Proms will be able to try on an Oculus Go VR headset and experience the film. The VR experience will be free to visit, and will take place in Metric, the Imperial College Union nightclub (which neighbours the main concert venue, the Royal Albert Hall), on 21 August.

Later in the year, the film will be released for VR enthusiasts to experience at home.

“This extraordinary piece is a brilliant example of the BBC’s cutting-edge work in virtual reality,” said Zillah Watson, commission editor at the BBC’s VR Hub. “It’s the most exciting new technology in media today, and we’re using it to give viewers a new perspective on music and art with the BBC Proms.

“The experience helps the viewer understand the terrible gap between families at home and soldiers on the front line by putting them right at the heart of it. Anna’s beautiful, haunting music accompanies the viewers as they gain a greater understanding of the stark realities of life on the front line a century ago, and the painful pragmatism of the field postcard forcing interactions with loved ones into an expedient but heart-breaking tick-box exercise.”

Elsewhere, a 25-minute film will be previewed at the Proms, with prom-goers in the Royal Albert Hall watching the geometry of the colossal building morph as the score from Nothing To Be Written is played.

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