The story of SLEEP

From midnight until 0800 on Sunday 27 September 2015, composer Max Richter performed an eight-hour, world premiere of his monumental new work SLEEP. The entire thing was broadcast on Radio 3, in what was the longest, single continuous broadcast the BBC has ever made. This is how it happened.

Image: Mike Terry

The composition

I... feel that there is an intuitive connection between sleeping and music... and this connection is summed up by the tradition of the lullaby

Ahead of the event, Max described the ideas that informed and inspired his work:

I’ve always been interested in sleeping. In common with a lot of people who do creative work, I have an instinct that this state is where a lot of important things happen, both to do with my work, and also more generally. This is one reason why sleeping is one of my very favourite things to do. I also feel that there is an intuitive connection between sleeping and music beyond this - and this connection is summed up by the tradition of the lullaby, which seems to be a universal in human culture. Sleeping and music seem to be related altered states in some way.

The preparation

On Friday night, Max and his fellow performers set up in what would become their concert hall - the Reading Room at Wellcome Collection in London to rehearse into the early hours of Saturday morning.

Rehearsals underway the night before in the Wellcome Collection Reading Room. Image: Mike Terry

The SLEEPing arrangements

The performance

At midnight, Max struck up the first chords of his epic work. He was joined by five instrumentalists and a soprano, to perform SLEEP live for the very first time. Speaking to Radio 3's Tom Service immediately before the performance, Max explained: "...every premiere is a voyage of discovery."

Image: Mike Terry

The reaction

Almost straight away listeners, wherever they were, began to share their emotions, their thoughts and their experiences of the work.

...and carried on, right through the night.

The morning

Beginning to stir

Eight months later, Sleep's a winner

Max Richter's eight-hour live lullaby scooped up Most Distinctive Moment of the Year at the BBC Radio Awards 2016

SLEEP was part of Why Music? - a weekend of public events and one-off broadcasts from Radio 3 live from Wellcome Collection, London.

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