Woman's Hour Special with the BBC Philharmonic

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Live from MediaCityUK in Salford, Jenni Murray is joined by the BBC Philharmonic and conductor Jessica Cottis for a celebration of women and music. Featured composers include Elena Kats-Chernin, Anna Meredith and Alice Mary Smith. Jenni will also be having a go at conducting the orchestra in a performance of Bizet's Les Toreadors. Guests: Linda Merrick, The principal of the Royal Northern College, and Ian Graham-Jones who has written the biography of Alice Mary Smith. Guest Leader: Lesley Hatfield [Leader of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales]. Conductor: Jessica Cottis.

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45 minutes

Last on

Fri 21 Jun 2013 10:00

Woman's Hour and the BBC Philharmonic

Woman's Hour and the BBC Philharmonic

Live from the BBC’s studios at MediaCityUK in Salford, Woman’s Hour is joined by the BBC Philharmonic – one of the UK’s leading orchestras. Their conductor for this special celebration of women and music is Jessica Cottis.  


The overture to Faure’s Masque et Bergamasque opens the programme. It was a Woman’s Hour sig tune in the 1950s and was suggested by former Woman’s Hour presenter Sue MacGregor.


The second piece of music is Eliza’s Aria by Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin from her ballet Wild Swans. It was originally scored for solo soprano and orchestra. For today’s performance, guest leader Lesley Hatfield will be playing the soprano part on the violin.

Jessica Cottis

Jessica Cottis

According to the music press, conductor Jessica Cottis is ‘the one to watch’ and – at the age of just 33 – she already has an impressive CV. From 2009 to 2011 she was the first Fellow in Conducting at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Assistant Conductor at the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra to Chief Conductor Donald Runnicles. She made her Proms debut in 2010 and last year, she became the Associate Conductor with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra working closely with Vladimir Ashkenazy, conducting concerts at the Sydney Opera House and taking the orchestra on their annual Australian tour. Once she has conducted the BBC Philharmonic on Woman’s Hour, she will be working with Scottish Opera on a production of Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins. In 2012, Jessica appeared on the BBC2 series Maestro at the Opera as conducting mentor to DJ Trevor Nelson. She now takes on another demanding teaching role as she guides Jenni Murray through her attempt to conduct the BBC Philharmonic in a performance of Bizet’s Les Toreadors.

Jenni's conducting lesson

Jenni's conducting lesson

Just before the drama, Jenni Murray will be attempting to conduct the BBC Philharmonic in a performance of Les Toreadors from Bizet’s opera Carmen. Yesterday, Jenni had a conducting lesson with conductor Jessica Cottis and the orchestra itself.

Women in the orchestra

Women in the orchestra
It used to be that the ranks of most top orchestras were full of men, but the number of women musicians has grown and women play in all sections from strings to percussion. But the reality of life as a musician with long days rehearsing, evening performances and oversees tours isn’t always conducive to family life.  Jenni is joined by Lesley Hatfield, leader of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Karen Mainwaring, violinist with the BBC Philharmonic and by cellist Rebecca Aldersea to discuss what the reality of life in an orchestra is like for women with families?  

Alice Mary Smith

Alice Mary Smith

The music of Alice Mary Smith has not been performed in a concert hall for over 120 years but Woman’s Hour has decided to put that right! Alice Mary Smith [1839 – 1884] was one of the most prolific and frequently performed female composers of the nineteenth century. She was one of the first women to write large-scale compositions such as symphonies which was very pioneering at a time when women composers were confined to writing little parlour pieces [such as songs or solo piano pieces]. Her achievements are all the more remarkable because women were not allowed to learn an orchestral instrument until the 1870s, or play in an orchestra until the 1890s. Her music is ‘Romantic’ and has echoes of Beethoven and Mendelssohn. The piece that the BBC Philharmonic will be playing is the 2nd Intermezzo from Alice Mary Smith’s The Masque of Pandora. It was last performed in 1881 and receives only its third ever performance on Woman’s Hour.

Linda Merrick

Linda Merrick

Professor Linda Merrick is the Principal of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester - one of the World’s leading conservatoires. Linda has established an international profile as a clarinet soloist and recording artist and she talks to Jenni Murray about educating and preparing young people for the world of professional music making.

"Wound Up" by Anna Meredith

Anna Meredith wrote Wound Up for the National Youth Orchestra in 2005. She says of the piece: “Whilst writing this short piece I had in mind a series of small wind-up toys which start with great energy and then peter out. I have tried to think of the whole orchestra as a huge mechanical instrument with different elements moving and turning at different speeds. I have always wanted to write a piece with three hi-hats so this was a great opportunity and in the back of my mind I had an image of those wind up animals which play cymbals.”


Anna Meredith's recent appearance on Woman's Hour.

Jenni conducts the orchestra

Jenni Murray conducts the BBC Philharmonic in a performance of Bizet’s Les Toreadors.

Closing sig

Vanity Fair by Anthony Collins. Another  Sue MacGregor suggestion as it was the Woman’s Hour sig tune from 1958 to 59.


Role Contributor
PresenterJenni Murray
ConductorJessica Cottis
ComposerElena Kats-Chernin
ComposerAnna Meredith
ComposerAlice Mary Smith

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