Press Office

Wednesday 29 Oct 2014

Press Release

BBC Four lifts the lid on Symphony

BBC Four with BBC Radio 3 are to celebrate and reappraise the giant of the orchestral repertoire – the Symphony, through a series of programmes to be broadcast this Autumn.

In the most in-depth appraisal of this artistic form to be broadcast on television, Simon Russell Beale explores how Symphony evolved over the last three centuries as one of the most complex and brilliant musical forms of expression. Looking at the lives and the times of the composers who created these masterpieces, Simon explores how Symphony was shaped by the world around it, and in turn, how it shaped the world.

Broadcast in four movements – Genesis And Genius; Beethoven And Beyond; New Nations And New Worlds; and Revolution And Rebirth – Symphony charts the symphony's emergence from the world of aristocratic privilege, how it accompanied the rise of nations and the fall of empires, and how it became a symbol of freedom, and a tool of totalitarianism. Throughout the series the lives of some of the greatest composers – Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Berlioz, Schubert, Brahms, Bruckner, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Sibelius, Copland, Stravinsky and Shostakovich – are brought to life with readings from their letters and diaries, and through key moments and places linking to their symphonic journeys.

Sir Mark Elder conducts specially filmed music performed by The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, The Halle Orchestra and The BBC Symphony Orchestra.  And in conversation with Simon, Sir Mark provides insight and analysis of key moments from the symphonic repertoire as the series explores how the symphony has played a role in defining the present, and how it is inextricably intertwined with the development of modern society. 

Richard Klein, Controller BBC Four, says: "Symphony is one of the greatest musical achievements of all time. It captures the whole universe of emotion and is unique in its complexity and brilliance. Following a really successful Proms season, we will continue our commitment to classical music through presenting a very distinctive BBC Four perspective of Symphony."

Jan Younghusband, Commissioning Editor Classical Music Television, says: "We always look for new ways to bring our audiences closer to music and an understanding of the creative processes of great musicians and performers. Together with Radio 3, BBC Four delivers a compelling experience of these great masterpieces, across TV and Radio."

Roger Wright, Controller BBC Radio 3, says: "As the BBC's home of classical music, I'm delighted that on Radio 3 we can offer listeners the chance to hear complete performances of over 60 symphonies featuring the BBC Orchestras around the UK. We'll also be offering contextual programmes to explore further from introductions in Radio 3's Symphony Guide, CD Review's Building a Library comparative survey to Symphony Question Time with Sue Perkins and Tom Service."

To complement the Symphony series, Simon Russell Beale introduces four great archive symphonic performances by four leading British conductors – Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Colin Davis, Sir John Elliot Gardiner and Sir Roger Norrington.

These specially selected archive programmes, each including a complete performance of a work featured in an episode of Symphony, are Nick Dear's award-winning BBC film Eroica with a soundtrack conducted by Sir John Elliot Gardiner; Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra's classic Proms performance of Beethoven's monumental Ninth Symphony; a rare performance of Sibelius's first symphonic masterpiece Kullervo conducted by Colin Davis; and Roger Norrington's radical take on Mahler's epic Ninth Symphony from this year's Proms season.

Also broadcast on BBC Four is Scrapheap Orchestra, a new 90-minute documentary presented by conductor Charles Hazlewood which follows the quest to build an orchestra of instruments out of scrap, and delves into the history of instrument making and through building instruments from scratch, we discover how musical sounds are made. The climax of the film sees the BBC Concert Orchestra perform these instruments at the BBC Proms.

BBC Radio 3 features a range of complementary programming in Essential Symphony, and between 4 November and 2 December will broadcast over 60 symphonies including complete performances of each symphony featured in the BBC Four series from Haydn to Shostakovich.

Afternoon On 3's symphony cycle includes performances from all the BBC orchestras around the UK. On Tuesday 15 November, Radio 3 recreates the notorious concert of 22 December 1808 when Beethoven premiered his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, and Fourth Piano Concerto, together. Afternoon On 3 includes live contributions from the BBC Philharmonic playing the Sixth Symphony and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales playing the Fifth.

The baton is then handed over to Radio 3's Drivetime programme In Tune for the grand finale – a piano improvisation on Beethoven 5 by jazz pianist, Gwilym Simcock, followed by the Choral Fantasy. Simon Russell Beale explores further the music connected with the cities he visits in the BBC Four series in Saturday Classics. And in a 6-part interval series, Sue Perkins and Tom Service answer key questions about symphonies in Symphony Question Time.  

The BBC Orchestras across the UK will also be offering audiences the chance to play side by side with their musicians as part of Symphony. Special events will take place across November focusing on Symphonies by Beethoven, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak.

BBC Four's Symphony is produced by BBC Classical Music TV with the Open University.

Notes to Editors

BBC Four Programming

Symphony: Genesis And Genius

The award-winning BBC film drama Eroica tells the story behind Beethoven's revolutionary Third Symphony, the "Eroica". Ian Hart stars as Ludwig van Beethoven in Nick Dear's drama which focuses on the day in June 1804 when Beethoven's Third Symphony, Eroica, was first played in a private rehearsal at the palace of the composer's patron in Vienna. The distinguished cast also includes Frank Finlay, Tim Piggott-Smith, Jack Davenport, Claire Skinner and Anton Lesser. Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Orchestra Revolutionaire et Romantique in the sound track which features the first performance in modern times of the symphony with the number of players that Beethoven had available to him on that day in 1804 – just 26.

Scrapheap Orchestra
BBC Four presents Scrapheap Orchestra, a new 90-minute documentary which follows the quest to build an orchestra of instruments out of scrap. In the construction of these instruments, the film delves into the history of instrument making and the science of music. Inspirational conductor Charles Hazlewood leads the challenge and charges a group of the UK's top instrument makers with the mission of transforming junk, broken furniture and the contents of road-side skips into an orchestra of instruments.  Conducted by Charles, and playing only scrap instruments, The BBC Concert Orchestra's performance at this year's Proms forms the film's climax.

Symphony: Beethoven and Beyond

Beethoven's Ninth – Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic
Simon Russell Beale introduces this classic Proms performance from 2004 in which Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in Beethoven's monumental Ninth Symphony.

Symphony: New Nations And New Worlds 

Sibelius's Kullervo Symphony – Sir Colin Davis conducts the London Symphony Orchestra
Simon Russell Beale introduces this rare performance of Sibelius's first symphonic masterpiece Kullervo, based on the Finnish epic tale of the warrior hero Kullervo. Sir Colin Davis, then principal conductor of the LSO and universally acknowledged as the world's greatest Sibelian, was tackling this mighty work for the first time.

Symphony: Revolution And Rebirth

Mahler's Ninth Symphony – conducted by Sir Roger Norrington
Sir Roger Norrington's radical take on Mahler's epic masterpiece, the epitome of late-Romantic symphonies from this year's Proms. This was an emotional and memorable night as it was Norrington's final concert as Principal Conductor of his beloved Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra.


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