On the trail of the New Generation Artists ...
Khatia Buniatishvili (piano) with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra'The New Generation Artists.' The first time I heard this I have to confess I thought of Star Trek, and I’m no science fiction buff. But like a lot of Radio 3’s gems it doesn’t have a very high recognition rate, even among Radio 3 fans. I can’t count how many times I’ve had this conversation...
Someone At Party: So, what do you do?
Me: I work in production at Radio 3.
SAP: Oh that’s so cool – what programme do you work on?
Me: I work on the New Generation Artists scheme.
SAP: [vacant look with polite smile]
... which is extraordinary, since when you look at the alumni of this project you find world-class names popping out: Paul Lewis, Belcea String Quartet, Alina Ibragimova, Janine Jansen, Natalie Clein, Alice Coote... the list goes on and on.
For nearly two years, I’ve been working on the NGA scheme with senior producer Lindsay Kemp and founding editor Adam Gatehouse. Recently, my schedule took me to Glasgow for the first time, to attend a concerto recording with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, back to London for a chamber studio session and, two days later, an NGA studio concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. This account will give you a flavour of the NGA scheme in action.
After a brief tour of Glasgow City Hall and meeting the Scottish Symphony Orchestra team, broadcast assistant Lorna Liebow led me into the shadowy yet inviting recording room (illuminated buttons on mixing desks look nice in the dark) to greet Andrew Trinick, who recently moved from the BBC Symphony Orchestra to take up the post of producer in Glasgow. On the far wall of the recording room the plasma screen monitoring the inside of the concert hall showed that the action was very much underway.
I moved into the beautiful auditorium, bathing in the wonderful acoustics as Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili breezed her way through Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto under the baton of Garry Walker. Khatia’s passion at the keyboard is mesmerising – I had worked with her in the recording studio a couple of times before, but my head was always too buried in the score to notice her movements at the piano. From where I’m sitting, the most astonishing thing is that her arms appear to bear no relation to the torrent of notes gushing forth from the piano. In my opinion, seemingly stationary limbs should not be able to produce this incredible virtuosity - my eyes and ears disagree.
I talk to Khatia in her dressing room later, and after a bit of NGA admin and diary checking she confesses that she still feels new to the concerto world and felt nervous to be playing one she’s never performed with an orchestra she’s never partnered; but she found maestro Walker and the orchestra to be extremely accommodating. Khatia describes Georgians as ‘a musical people’, and as she’s the only Georgian I know, I cannot disagree. But there’s no time for a big catch-up as she has to catch a flight to Vienna – one of the biggest challenges of administering the NGA scheme is how to get already busy people to record repertoire they’ve never played with orchestras they don't know, as well as getting them into a studio to record chamber works that they mustn’t have played anywhere else in the BBC, or recorded commercially. I struggle on.
Studio manager Michael Bacon sets the microphones
As I write this, I’ve just come back from a studio concert entirely dedicated to New Generation Artists with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Maida Vale Studio 1. Francesco Piemontesi, a Swiss-Italian pianist now in his second year, performs Strauss’s Burleske with brand-new NGAs Ben Johnson (an English tenor) performing three Mozart arias, and Veronika Eberle (a German violinist) playing Dvorak’s Concerto in A minor. I sit on the balcony upstairs (you get the best sound from there apparently), but the head of the man in front perfectly covers the piano, and from where I’m looking it appears that Francesco is reaching into his ear to produce the colossal opening flourishes of the Burleske. But it’s an incredible concert, and ears are all I need to experience it – Francesco is excellent, Ben Johnson (clearly no stranger to the stage) acts his way confidently through the three Mozart arias, in each case getting himself immediately into character; then, Veronika Eberle comes on, just 21 years old, and is a pleasure to watch, her precision and skill matched only by her clear passion for Dvorak’s music. I sit, half-amazed and half-proud – ‘look at them... my New Generation Artists!’ (you get a bit paternal in this job …)
So this scheme really is very very good, and I’m not just saying that because it keeps me off the streets – the record of eleven years of consistently brilliant artists is a real tribute to this project. So if it sounds a bit sci-fi, look it up on the website, see what goes on and then if I ever see you at a party, hopefully we’ll have a slightly longer chat …
To see videos, interviews and profiles, as well as an intro video for the scheme, click this link.