The Free Thinking Festival from the Sage Gateshead

Head of Speech Programming, Radio 3

(Ed's update: There'll be a Tweet Up with R3 presenter Anne McElvoy at 4.30pm on Saturday at the Sage. Follow @BBCRadio3 for details and updates over the weekend)

Most nights of the year, somewhere in Britain, a Radio 3 team will be hard at work in a concert venue to bring great classical music live to listeners.

It's a fantastic offering. No surprise then that this Friday, Radio 3 will be hosting a group of talented performers, leaders in their field, eagerly anticipated by audiences, in an awesome setting: The Foster-designed Sage Gateshead.

But this time, the classical musicians will be politicians, philosophers, scientists, writers, historians, poets and other thinkers. They're all gathering for Free Thinking, Radio 3's annual festival of ideas.

It's a weekend of over 35 public events in which audiences can attend lectures, debates, performance and interviews with figures such as former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, Katie Adie, Billy Elliot-creator Lee Hall, Israeli novelist Amos Oz, writer Michael Ignatieff and best-seller Philippa Gregory. And all the tickets are free.

Free Thinking is all about thought-provoking ideas, innovative thinking and the exchange of views. It showcases Radio 3's commitment to arts and ideas, debate and drama. Our theme for the festival is "Them and Us" and many of the speakers will be exploring the way that in today’s fraught world differences and divisions can arise between people.

All the events are either broadcast live or they're recorded for broadcast in subsequent weeks in our daily Night Waves slot.

Being beside the Tyne for the festival weekend is a great experience, but of course not everyone can be there. So this year, for the first time, we’re providing a live visual stream on the Radio 3 website.

Throughout the weekend you can watch a succession of speakers and conversation by going online. This is a first for Radio 3. We’ll be offering listeners a choice of experience: fantastic music on air, and live stimulating lectures, debates and interviews on our online video stream.

Other stations will be joining us to broadcast from Free Thinking. Radio 1 will be hosting their Take It On talks that they pioneered at the Hackney Academy and on Sunday night Aled will be there to present Radio 1’s The Big Conversation from the festival. Andrew Marr will be recording Monday’s Start the Week on Radio 4 with an audience at Free Thinking.

And it's not just about speakers – the festival also reflects Radio 3's drama and performance. On Sunday night, Lewis and Morse-star Kevin Whately leads a cast of actors in a new play about the Olympic Torch by poet Simon Armitage. But in true Free Thinking style, a radio drama which is broadcast live and performed in front of an audience at BALTIC, The Sage Gateshead’s contemporary art centre neighbour.

If I was forced to make a choice, my personal recommendation for the weekend would be Radio 3’s New Generation Thinkers. These are ten academics at the start of their career. They’re not yet household names – but they’re the winners of a talent scheme which the BBC organises with the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find researchers from universities with a talent for broadcasting. They’ll be offering short fifteen minute talks on an array of topics with intriguing titles such as Peanut Panic, Cat’s Eyes, Our Colonial Future and The Good Mother. They should be fresh and exciting – and they’re all recorded for broadcast in Radio 3’s Essay slot.

It’s a packed weekend – and I haven’t even mentioned events like Speed Dating with a Thinker, Philosophy for Children, or our Young Ranters. So if you’re anywhere near the North East, please join us in Newcastle- Gateshead.

If you can’t be there, go online and follow the live video streaming over the weekend and tweet us your reflections on events. And from Friday night onwards, for the next three weeks, you’ll be able to hear Free Thinking on air on Radio 3 – with downloads of the events - so you can savour, away from the crowds, what we hope will be a thought-provoking festival.


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