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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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  • What's the link between a refugee composer, the BBC, and George VI's coronation?

    Graeme Kay

    Producer, Speech and Classical Digital Hub, BBC Audio

    In December 2020, Ryan Hugh Ross, a PhD student at Southampton University, published a fascinating, fully-illustrated BBC blog, Julius Burger’s Themes of London: An Émigré’s legacy at the BBC. Burger was a Viennese composer who started visiting the BBC in London during the 1930s, to provide orchestrations. These visits never led to naturalisation – Burger did his work at home in Vienna, but with the Nazi Anschluss of Austria in 1938, Burger sensed it was no longer safe to remain in Europe and managed to obtain visas for himself and his wife, Rosa, to enter the United States, where he eventually found work with CBS, as a conductor on Broadway, and as a repetiteur and assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. 

    Julius Burger in the 1930s

    During his time with the BBC, Burger pioneered a new genre which he called "Radio Potpourri" – a collage of multiple musical melodies grouped together around a central theme. Ross explained that "Burger did not by any means invent the…

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  • Beethoven Unleashed

    Alan Davey

    Controller, BBC Radio 3

    Welcome to the roaring "Twenties"…

    This is traditionally the darkest and bleakest time of the year. New Year can feel frantic, with pressure from new resolutions, back to work or school, the shock of the morning commute and the return to the routine.  But it also is a time of hope and trying new things.  A good moment to look back and forward, and a great time for the light that great music and culture together can bring into our lives. 

    Last year on BBC Radio 3 we established our "after dark zone" that fits the mood at that time of night with the experimental, the avant-garde, the slow and the unexpected.  From the sculpted sounds of Night Tracks, the ambient exploration of Unclassified, the journey out there in Late Junction, the New Music Show and the reflection of the best of the new British improvisatory and jazz scene in Freeness, as well as our Slow Radio programmes, the essays and discussion of arts and ideas in Free Thinking, we have something to engage your mind at night and allow you to think of the world afresh. And you can listen to things like Night Tracks or our Arctic Walk with Horatio Clare, with sounds of sculpted wind and poetry anytime on BBC Sounds, bringing…

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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…

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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…

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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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