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Looking back, and looking ahead

Alan Davey, Controller, BBC Radio 3

Radio 3 Controller Alan Davey's Christmas message and end-of-year review.

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  • Big upswing for classical sales and downloads

    Alan Davey

    Controller, BBC Radio 3

    New figures from the BPI show increases for physical music sales and streaming of classical music of more than 10% last year, outperforming the wider recorded music market, which itself showed a healthy increase of 5.7%.

    This is great news, especially when you dig deeper and it emerges that young artists who have been supported by the BBC through BBC Young Musicians such as Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Jess Gillam have played a key part in this online growth, as well as more established names such as Andrea Bocelli, Yo-Yo Ma, and the broadening ambient appeal of Max Richter.

    The great thing about younger audiences is that their taste is not rigidly defined by genre. They discover music from all kinds of sources, and their ears are not put off by something that is unfamiliar. Quality and authenticity are important, if you ask any 20-ear-old what music they like, they’ll give you a mix of stuff which feeds their curiosity and satisfies a range of moods. On BBC Radio 3, in our recurring series Unclassifed, we offer an entire programme dedicated to reflecting the increasingly popular ambient and neo-classical music which is not definable by genre.

    Platforms such as BBC Sounds, Spotify,…

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  • From the Darkling Plain: Slow Radio

    Alan Davey

    Controller, BBC Radio 3

    Radio 3 is a network that is famous for letting things take as long as they take. Max Richter writes an 8 hour classical piece – yes we’ll do it!


    Giving things time is important – while I grew up loving perfect, frenzied three minute pop songs from Punk bands like the Buzzcocks, I also discovered things that take time, that need to be considered, thought of, absorbed – things like Mahler Symphonies, or Bach solo sonatas. I learned to slow down and let things come to me slowly.


    Mindfulness, putting all your concentration into something and leaving the wild world outside, to stop moving from one thing to another and just letting something take you, that’s what lies at the heart of Slow Radio. Like Blake, who could perceive Heaven in a Wildflower, or like Arnold, who on Dover Beach heard


    “….the grating roar
    Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
    At their return, up the high strand,
    Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
    With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
    The eternal note of sadness in.”


    Slow radio can help you better to understand that wild world by dwelling in detail on simple things – birdsong, a river, the sound of a glacier melting. It may be a retreat while it is on,…

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  • Looking back, and looking ahead

    Alan Davey

    Controller, BBC Radio 3

    So much has made this year unique and epoch defining, both here at Radio 3 and in the wider world. In 'interesting' times, arts and culture can help us make sense of the world around us and we at Radio 3 have a vital role to play in helping audiences navigate that world; as a leading commissioner, promoter, creator and broadcaster of arts and music. We serve audiences by asking questions and giving audiences the means to find their answers.

    I can’t possibly run through everything we’ve done this year that has made it so important for Radio 3: so many pioneering moments, so many bold experiments, but I can list a few that I think are part of what makes BBC Radio 3 so distinctive: 

    • We started with New Year New Music - putting contemporary classical in the heart of the schedule and broadcasting rare works from Stockhausen and La Monte Young.
    • We broadcast our first Non-classical concert from Ambika 3.
    • We launched new shows: The Listening Service, Exposure, Jazz Now, a revamped Late Junction with mix tape segments.
    • We had record audience figures and strong listening hours.
    • We appeared at festivals across the land from WOMAD to Great Escape, Hay Festival to Edinburgh Festival, The…

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  • Radio 3’s reach soars with the birds

    Alan Davey

    Controller, BBC Radio 3

    Last week the quarterly UK radio audience figures (RAJAR) were released for April – June of this year (Quarter 2), with some fantastic news for Radio 3. Last quarter our overall reach, at 2.12m, was the highest in 3 years. I'm delighted to say that our reach has now increased to 2.20m, the highest in 5 years, and a record for Quarter 2.

    Many of Radio 3’s individual shows performed excellently in…

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  • Reflecting on a strong performance from Radio 3

    Alan Davey

    Controller, BBC Radio 3

    Radio 3’s latest listening figures (RAJAR) reveal that the network has performed strongly during Controller Alan Davey’s first year in post, recording its highest audience total in three years, with the highest Breakfast figures since 2013, the highest morning figures on record (Essential Classics) and the second highest drivetime (In Tune) figures in the shows’ history.

    In my first year it’s…

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  • Radio 3 – 70 Years reborn

    Alan Davey

    Controller, BBC Radio 3

    In September of this year it will be 70 years since the beginning of the Third Programme, the early incarnation of what is now Radio 3.  We think this landmark is an occasion to address the future, drawing on some principles of the past, ditching others, and just use it as an excuse for a party for all our listeners.

    In Penelope Fitzgerald’s book about the BBC in wartime, Human Voices, a character describes BBC staff as ranging from ‘the intensely respectable to the barely sane’. It fits, too, as a description of the idea of setting up a high culture radio station, remorselessly intellectual,…

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  • Folk music a closed book? Ten tracks for you to try...

    Verity Sharp

    Presenter, BBC Radio 3

    How it all began for Verity: Annbjørg Lien and Bruce Molsky

    I’ll be honest with you. I never used to like folk music very much. If it wasn’t all rumpty-tumpty, four square tunes in a wincingly sour D major, it was notes relentlessly whizzing by at such a speed it left me feeling faintly nauseous. Where was the subtlety, the depth, the point? 

    Enlightenment came in stages. The first was witnessing Bruce Molsky and Norwegian Hardanger fiddler Annbjørg Lien t…

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  • New Year New Music ‒ Tune in and Turn on a Love for the New

    Alan Davey

    Controller, BBC Radio 3

    Birtwistle: The Minotaur (Royal Opera House/BBC)

    January begins in the most  traditional way for BBC Radio 3, with the New Year's Day concert from Vienna, Well known waltzes and a touch of Viennese glamour – a Broadcast tradition of many years.

    But then we want to begin something new – a week long season called New Year, New Music, which will celebrate and present music of the last 60 years, and hopefully will help to demystify contemporary…

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  • Northern light ‒ and darkness

    Petroc Trelawny

    BBC Radio 3 Presenter

    Petroc in Tromsø

    The nights are long in Tromsø at this time of year.  The North Norwegian city’s residents are halfway through the season of Polar Night, when they bid farewell to the sun for more than six weeks.

    Recording Music Matters there, producer Andy King and I made the most of the three hour long stretch of twilight that falls in late morning.  For a brief period,  the view across the bay that divides the…

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  • Northern Lights, Northern Words

    Alan Davey

    Controller, BBC Radio 3

    Radio 3 Controller Alan Davey looks ahead to three weeks of in-depth programming in the Northern Lights season, and explains how the Icelandic sagas have come to dominate so much of Northern thinking and culture.

    This weekend Radio 3 begins its celebrations of the culture of Northern countries, places which spend the winter months in darkness (compensated by long summer nights).  This is triggered…

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