Radio 3 unveils Portraits Day: capturing personality through music

Portraits Day reflects Radio 3’s distinctive range and depth of classical, jazz, arts and ideas programming."Roger Wright, Controller, Radio 3
Date: 20.04.2012     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.16
Category: Radio 3
Greta Garbo, Nelson Mandela, Marie Antoinette and Louis Armstrong will all have BBC Radio 3 in common on Tuesday 8 May. They’re among 100 people - many famous, many unknown - who have been immortalised in musical portraits.

In a special day of performance and debate, Radio 3 will celebrate centuries of music that have painted pictures of personalities.

Alongside musical repertoire, Radio 3 presenters will be joined by guests for discussion on why portraiture is such a driving force in so many art forms; including painting, photography, poetry, sculpture and music.

Guests will range from artist Maggie Hambling, portrait painter Jonathan Yeo, actor Fiona Shaw, composer Robin Holloway, novelist Ian Rankin, impressionist Alistair McGowan and writers Aminatta Forna and Louise Welsh.

Highlights of the day’s programming include:

  • Live performance and debate broadcast from the National Portrait Gallery, Birmingham Town Hall and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery
  • Jonathan Dove to be ‘composer in residence’ asking the public to suggest a public figure to be the subject of a new BBC Orchestral commission
  • A week of Essays will be launched on May 7, featuring Maggie Hambling, Akram Khan, Germaine Greer, Martin Gayford and Lord Robert Winston each talking about their own experiences, as subject of a portrait, and as part of wider discussions about the nature of portraiture.

Roger Wright, Controller of Radio 3, comments: “Portraits Day reflects Radio 3’s distinctive range and depth of classical, jazz, arts and ideas programming. The on-air celebration centres on the composer’s unique ability to convey people through music. It will be a real Bank Holiday treat for our audience of over 2 million listeners and new listeners alike; offering a chance to hear favourite works with fresh ears alongside lesser known repertoire, live performance and debate.”

As part of BBC Radio 3’s commitment to commissioning new music, the station will invite Jonathan Dove to act as ‘composer in residence’ for the duration of the day. Jonathan will be inspired by audience suggestions of public figures and will be coming back to Radio 3 to announce who he will immortalise in music through composing a new musical portrait. The piece will be written by Dove himself and performed later this year.

Other highlights include a live In Tune outside broadcast from the National Portrait Gallery presented by Sean Rafferty with live music and guests, including Ensemble 360 and the pianist David Owen Norris.

Night Waves will also take to the road, broadcasting from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery for a debate on the art of Capturing a Likeness. Guests include the best-selling novelist Ian Rankin, John Leighton, Director General of the National Galleries of Scotland, the artist Alison Watt, and Robert Crawford, Poet and Professor of English at St. Andrews University.

As always, live music will feature in Radio 3’s celebration of Musical Portraits. Impressionist Alistair McGowan introduces a live broadcast from Birmingham Town Hall by the BBC Concert Orchestra featuring one of the most famous Musical Portraits, Elgar’s Enigma Variations. In London, Leon McCawley performs Schumann’s Carnaval, live from Wigmore Hall.

Shabaka Hutchings, Radio 3's New Generation Jazz artist, will create a musical portrait of renegade 1980’s artist Jean-Michel Basquiat on Jazz On 3 with Jez Nelson.

In a week of Essays launched by Portraits Day, Maggie Hambling, Akram Khan, Germaine Greer, Martin Gayford and Lord Robert Winston each talk about their own experiences, as subject of a portrait, and as part of wider discussions about the nature of portraiture.

Radio 3 will have its very own Portrait Gallery on its website, showing pictures of many of the subjects featured throughout the day.

Musical highlights include:

  • Elgar: Enigma Variations
  • Janacek: String Quartet no.2 Intimate Letters
  • Coates: Three Elizabeths Suite
  • Jerome Kern: Portrait for Orchestra Mark Twain
  • Shostakovich: Symphony no.10
  • Debussy: Prelude General Lavine
  • Adams: Chairman Dances

Plus excerpts from:

  • Strauss: Ein Heldenlenben and Sinfonia Domestica
  • Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique
  • Elgar: Violin Concerto

Portraits Schedule

06.30-09.00

Breakfast

Petroc Trelawny introduces Portraits Day

09.00-12.00

Essential Classics Rob Cowan’s guest is the portrait painter Jonathan Yeo whose sitters have included Nicole Kidman, Dennis Hopper, Prince Philip, Erin O'Connor, Tony Blair, and David Cameron.

12.00-13.00

Composer of the Week Donald Macleod explores how Richard Strauss repeatedly turned to self-portraiture as a source of inspiration for his music. What can the resulting works tells us of the man? With the musicologist Julian Johnson.

13:00-14:00

Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert Catherine Bott presents a lunchtime recital live from Wigmore Hall by the pianist Leon McCawley, which includes Robert Schumann’s Carnaval.

14.00-16.30

Afternoon on 3 Louise Fryer looks at some of the great musical portrayals of fictional characters, with special guest Fiona Shaw, and features a performance of Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony.

16.30-18.30

In Tune Live From The National Portrait Gallery Sean Rafferty joins an audience amongst the paintings at the National Portrait Gallery for a portrait-themed programme with live music and guests, including Ensemble 360 and the pianist David Owen Norris.

18.30-19.30

Tom Service’s Audio Guide Tom Service dabbles with the techniques and methods that composers have used to represent and portray people in music, with the help of the harpsichordist Sophie Yates and the composer Robin Holloway, who is no stranger to the art of musical portraiture himself.

19.30-22.00

Radio 3 Live in Concert The BBC Concert Orchestra are live at Birmingham Town Hall for a concert of great portrait music: Enigma Variations, Copland’s Lincoln Portrait and Coates’ Three Elizabeths Suite. Hosted by impressionist Alistair McGowan, and conducted by Barry Wordsworth.

22:00-22:45

Night Waves: Capturing A Likeness Philip Dodd joins writers, artists and an audience at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery for a debate on the art of “Capturing a Likeness”. Guests include the best-selling novelist Ian Rankin, John Leighton, Director General of the National Galleries of Scotland, the artist Alison Watt, and Robert Crawford, poet and Professor of English at St Andrews University.

22:45-23:00

The Essay: Here’s Looking At Me Maggie Hambling, Germaine Greer, Akram Khan, Martin Gayford and Lord Robert Winston each talk about being the subject of a portrait across the week, beginning on Monday with Maggie Hambling.

23.00-00.30

Jazz on 3: Portraits In Jazz Jez Nelson explores Jazz’s special contribution to the art of music portraiture – and especially the role of Duke Ellington. With special studio sessions from Tom Challenger painting a portrait in music of one of his major influences: the pioneering American saxophonist Ornette Coleman; and BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist Shabaka Hutchings who brings together a group that includes veteran avant-garde double bassist John Edwards and soulful vocalist Eska Mtungwazi, to portray the American graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

AH