This Time Eighty Years Ago

Friday 22 October 2010, 09:39

Paul Hughes Paul Hughes BBC Symphony Orchestra

Tagged with:

Violins at the Barbican, photograph taken by Lara Platman

As I sit here in Maida Vale's Studio 1 watching the load-in of what looks like the national supply of percussion instruments, I wonder what my predecessor might have been thinking 80 years ago today in the lead up to the very first concert by the newly-created BBC Symphony Orchestra. The Orchestra had been formed from the finest players in the land (and beyond) to bring a range of quality orchestral performance to the widest possible audience as part of the fledgling BBC's commitment to inform, educate and entertain. Created in a time of economic difficulty when the BBC wanted to enrich people's lives through its public service ethos, on 22 October 1930 the BBC Symphony Orchestra embarked on that mission to great acclaim and changed the landscape of British orchestral life for ever.

The opportunity to celebrate the BBC Symphony Orchestra's 80th birthday gives us a chance to reflect on that original mission and how central it still is to what the orchestra does today. If bold programming alone were enough to demonstrate our distinctiveness, then we've thrown down the gauntlet this time. On Friday we open with the very first piece the orchestra performed, the overture to Wagner's opera The Flying Dutchman. We close with Stravinsky's massive ballet score The Rite of Spring (which also changed the course of musical history and caused a riot in doing so), which many people will have first heard as part of Walt Disney's animated classic Fantasia (remember the scary bit with the dinosaurs, the earthquake and the volcanoes?)

Now - I have a terrific management team here; second to none. They can handle just about anything and, like the players, they are usually up for a 'challenge'. Indeed the concert will be as much a showcase of their work as it will of the Orchestra's. So when we co-commissioned Stephen McNeff to write a concerto for the Orchestra and percussionists Owen Gunnell and Oliver Cox (collectively known as O Duo) and then co-commissioned a brand-new concerto by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho for her compatriot, the astonishing virtuoso clarinettist Kari Kriikku, they barely blanched.

Maybe when we invited the distinguished American director Peter Sellars to stage the work, with lighting, movement for soloist and orchestra and decided to show short archive films of the orchestra in action with each of its twelve chief conductors going back to Adrian Boult, the team's collective brow furrowed for a moment. But they're all downstairs rehearsing it now; the stage management team are smiling and conductor David Robertson is in control. I think it'll be an event to remember.

That's why I love this job and this Orchestra; there isn't another one like it anywhere and there probably never was. They have the right attitude; they play magnificently and are backed by a first class team. If a drink or two is enjoyed after the concert on Friday it will be richly deserved and, when I hear a composer sigh with pleasure and remark 'only the BBC could do such a programme', I think we've got it right still.

Paul Hughes is General Manager of the BBC Symphony Orchestra


The BBC Symphony Orchestra's 80th birthday celebrations are taking place today at the Barbican in London and the concert is broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 27 October at 7pm.

Visit the BBC Symphony website for more about the celebrations

The photograph of Paul Hughes was taken by Tony Gamble and the violins at the Barbican photograph was taken by Lara Platman.

Tagged with:

Comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1.

    The BBC Symphony Orchestra's 80th birthday concert last night was utterly spectacular! Truly a night to remember, it shattered any preconceptions I had about classical music. What a performance! Thrilling, exciting and mind-expanding would be one way to describe the evening. Packed with unexpected humour and fun, it was a whirlwind of a journey. And I’ve come out the other side impassioned and excited to have discovered something amazing.
    Look forward to listening again, once up one the website. Radio 3 engineers will be badly frustrated however, they could never reproduce what happened last night! I mean, the orchestra started walking off the stage while playing. The clarinettist, Kari Kriikku was just beyond brilliant – I was left utterly gobsmacked. I think everyone was! And as for the ‘O Duo’ percussionists - the two girls sitting behind me were almost losing control of themselves with excitement.

    So, this is what classical music is about then?! I wish I had known!

    Imran

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 2.

    I couldn't agree more... I was buzzing throughout. I loved every piece, the playing was fantastic, the whole place felt celebratory. The McNeff piece was fantastic - O Duo are a joy to watch, I enjoyed the clarinet piece - not least because I was reminded of scenes from Funny Face - the contortions of Kari Kriikku were reminiscent of some left bank hep cat - thank you Peter Sellers for making me laugh.
    So far from some contemporary classical concerts which have made me want to pull off my ears and stuff them in the holes... Naming no names.

    The rest of the audience seemed to agree with us - and were mainly below the age of 50 - one as young as 8.

    It sounded even better on the radio.

    Thanks Imran for sharing my enjoyment.

 

This entry is now closed for comments

Share this page

More Posts

Previous
Exchanges at the Frontier - a BBC World Service series

Thursday 21 October 2010, 13:10

Next
Celebrating BBC Partnerships in Bristol

Friday 22 October 2010, 12:45

About this Blog

This blog explains what the BBC does and how it works. We link to some other blogs and online spaces inside and outside the corporation. The blog is edited by Jon Jacob.

Follow About the BBC on Twitter

Blog Updates

Stay updated with the latest posts from the blog.

Subscribe using:

What are feeds?

External links about the BBC

BBC Three online proposals set out as relaunch scheduled for autumn 2015 (Digital Spy)
"This is not moving a TV channel and putting it online. This is new. We are the first broadcaster in the world to propose something like this."

BBC Three to cut Don't Tell the Bride and other reality TV shows when channel moves online (Independent)

BBC theme park featuring Doctor Who and Top Gear set to open in 2020 (Telegraph)

JK Rowling's Cormoran Strike crime novel The Cuckoo's Calling will be turned into BBC series (Daily Mail)
"With the rich character of Cormoran Strike at their heart, these dramas will be event television across the world."

Yentob leads the BBC fightback: we're being smeared for exposing Fake Sheikh (Independent)

BBC Makes Unprecedented Counter-Attack To Sun Editorial Accusing It Of Left-Wing Bias (Huffington Post)

Serial podcast set to air on Radio 4 Extra (Radio Times)
"We know we already have tons of Serial listeners in the UK but we love that the BBC will help us reach many, many more than we ever could with podcast alone"

BBC iPlayer launches on Xbox One (Broadband TV News)

BBC ‘a great British company, not a government department’: Danny Cohen (Guardian)
"I ask you to stand by the BBC in the year ahead. Support it, make the case for it, speak up for it, celebrate its achievements and help us make sure we can keep offering such an extraordinary range of programmes for all audiences."

See Doctor Who, Miranda, more in BBC Christmas trailer (Digital Spy)

The BBC is right to point out failure on debt. Osborne is wrong to complain about it (The Spectator)

Chris Morris returns to airwaves with new sketch on BBC 6 Music on Sunday (Guardian)
"Blue Jam and On the Hour satirist’s first radio sketch in 15 years will be broadcast on Mary Anne Hobbs’ morning show"

BBC releases game maker kit for kids (Ariel)

BBC Music Sound of 2015 longlist revealed (Guardian)
"Solo artists such as James Bay, George The Poet and Raury make up most of this year’s list of musicians tipped for big things in 2015"

Why Gillian Anderson is the new Helen Mirren (Telegraph)

War and Peace to take over Radio 4: Ten-hour production of Tolstoy's novel to be broadcast on station on New Year's Day (Daily Mail)

Sherlock returns: BBC confirms special with picture of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman back filming (Mirror)

The Reith Lectures explain why doctors fail (Telegraph)
"Dr Atul Gawande delivered an excellent first lecture on the fallibility of medicine, says Gillian Reynolds"

Nine-year-old Katie Morag star on winning BAFTA award and juggling TV series with school lessons (Scottish Daily Record)

Strictly Come Dancing 2014: Same-sex couple dance received positively (Metro)

Doctor Who, Andrew Scott and Sir Ian McKellen up for BBC Audio Drama Awards 2015 (Radio Times)
"Maxine Peake, Marcus Brigstocke and Toby Jones also scoop nominations for their work in audio drama"

Last updated Thursday 11 December 2014

Blogs from across the BBC

Selected by the About the BBC Blog team.

Making radio [BBC Outreach & Corporate Responsibilty]
Award-winning research [Media Action]
BBC Online Briefing Winter 2014: keynote [Internet]
Booking agents: how they can develop your act [BBC Introducing]
Introducing Emma Smith one of our new 2015 Fellows [BBC Performing Art Fund]


MatOf ThDay At 50: onic theme even has a banjo [TV]