Archives for February 2011

Spring Storm - A Radio Premiere

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Jeremy Mortimer | 17:01 UK time, Monday, 28 February 2011

Picture of cast members, Spring Storm


Laurie Sansom (c) with (l to r) Michael Malarkey, Liz White, Jacqueline King and Joanna Bacon

The cast and director from the Royal & Derngate Theatre Northampton bring Tennessee Williams’ early play, Spring Storm,  to radio for the first time.Radio Drama executive producer Jeremy Mortimer writes about working with them on the radio production.


I saw Laurie Sansom’s production of Spring Storm when it transferred from Northampton to the Cottesloe stage at the National Theatre in 2010 and I was struck not only by the quality of the production and the performances, but by the rich and vivid writing ,and the direct approach to issues of sexuality, class, and mental distress. Over a decade before A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie, here is Tennessee Williams rehearsing some of the themes that were to feature so strongly in his later work.


When we were discussing how to reflect the Tennessee Williams centenary in Drama on 3, it seemed a perfect opportunity to record the play for its radio premiere. So, five months after the last theatre performance we brought director Laurie Sansom and the original cast together for a four-day recording session in the drama studio in Broadcasting House in London. Laurie was new to radio, but rose to the challenge and was soon up to speed with some of the trickery we use in radio drama. You want Hertha to sound as if she’s climbing the high windy bluff overlooking the Mississippi? Well you ask Arthur to back away from the microphone while he talks and ask Hertha to make some effortful breathing, and it will sound as if she’s moving away from him. Simple really. The cast also had to rethink the way that they were pitching their performances – instead of porjecting to reach the audience at the back of the theatre, they needed to relish the intimacy of radio. Amazingly, it appeared that even after a long break from the play they all still had the full text stored in their memories, and didn’t have to work from scripts.


Eesti meets West

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Fiona Talkington Fiona Talkington | 14:43 UK time, Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Picture of Tallinn


Running  through the snow on a cold night in Tallinn, I fell in love with the music!

During the winter of 2001/2 I found myself in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, a few times in preparation for Radio 3's live night from the city in February 2002 which I co-presented with John Simpson.  While John handled guests for political discussion I had the job of introducing lots of music. I remember starting off a chamber music concert in one venue and then running down the cobbled streets of the old city to start off a live jazz gig!  Snow falling, and the obligatory jazz stilettos, I arrived at a jazz bar called Krahl to a warm Estonian welcome and great cheers once we went live on Radio 3.

My Tallinn days had brought me into contact with folk musicians, jazz, beautiful choral singing,  chamber music and lovely people.  This feeling has never gone away and this week will be the second Estonian project I've worked at since then.

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Live and kicking!

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Edward Blakeman Edward Blakeman | 11:29 UK time, Thursday, 17 February 2011


Photo of Radio 3 presenter's table at Cadogan Hall


BBC Radio 3 has just announced that its rich schedule of concerts, operas and recitals will be further enhanced from May 3, 2011 when listeners will be able to hear LIVE broadcasts direct from venues across the UK every weekday evening in Performance on 3. Here, Radio 3 Editor Edward Blakeman offers a look behind the scenes. 

I just love the prospect of live evening concerts on Radio 3!  My colleagues and I have thought about it and planned it for months - since the end of last season's Proms in fact, and that was what gave us the idea.  There is such a buzz during the Proms - 8 weeks of concerts all broadcast live on Radio 3 - so wouldn't it be great if you could carry that sense of really 'being there' on into the rest of the year? if you could offer Radio 3 listeners a live concert each weekday night - something that had never been done before.

This would be massive of course. Just think of the challenges involved in terms of people (producers and presenters) and technical resources (outside broadcast vans and equipment) to deliver live to air, night after night, a huge range of music making at venues large and small across the UK. But surely it would be worth it - to link up the UK's vibrant live music community of orchestras, choirs, chamber groups, and soloists, and connect audiences in the halls with those on air. We already know that radio audiences are increasing for our specially recorded evening concerts, so wouldn't listening live be even more invigorating?

So that was the challenge we set ourselves: to be live on Monday to Friday for Performance on 3, at concerts around the UK, most weeks of the year. But would that be possible?  Would there be enough concerts?  What about date clashes, when several events are happening at the same time, or the opposite of date clashes those nights when nothing is happening? The only thing to do was to find out.

After the Proms were over, I sat down with our evening concert plans for January to March and - rather like remaking a big jigsaw - moved all the pieces around to see what would happen if they were all broadcast live. Well the picture certainly came out differently - there were some clashes and there were some gaps, but there were also a lot of other good concerts on offer to fill those gaps.

When I did the jigsaw for a second time, looking at May to July, the picture was similar. So it seemed as though we might just be able to make it happen - and at that point we decided to go for it. After all, only Radio 3 could ever hope to make this work. We are fortunate to be able to invest so richly in supporting music making around the UK and so we are seizing the moment to really fly the flag for Live Music. From 3 May onwards, for at least 46 weeks of the year there will be a live evening concert each weekday evening on Radio 3. A big broadcasting adventure is poised to begin - and it's unique!

Edward Blakeman is an Editor at  BBC Radio 3

Cheerio Charlie

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Phil Hall Phil Hall | 11:25 UK time, Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Photo of Charles Martin by Nikos Zarb

Charles Martin says farewell to the BBC SO - Photo © Nikos Zarb


I went on a busman's holiday last week - I actually bought a ticket and went to the Barbican to watch (ok, and listen to) the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Apart from feeling a bit strange not to be sitting on stage, one of the things that struck me looking at the band was the seniority of some of their players

When I joined the BBC Symphony Orchestra 20 years ago, the viola section was almost a sea of grey hair, now the average age is about 40. In those days the BBC retirement age was 60; it is now 65. In America, however, there is no retirement age in their orchestras. So as long as your playing is up to snuff you can stay in your chair, well into your dotage if you so choose. The legendary Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal trumpet Adolph 'Bud' Herseth retired at the extraordinary age of 80, while a timpanist at the Metropolitan Opera, Richard Horowitz, is still thumping away at 86. Somehow, I don't think I'll be playing Götterdämmerung at that age, but then, as I'm always quick to point out, the violas have the most pages in that opera!

After our recent performance of Mahler 6 with Jiri Belohlavek, we said farewell to a much-loved and long-serving member of the orchestra, cellist Charles Martin who retired after 34 years with the orchestra. It's always sad to say goodbye to people who have willingly given so much of themselves and cheerfully survived so many concerts, tours and general orchestral mishaps. Doing what we do inevitably brings us closer together than a lot of work colleagues - not only physically and musically, but friendship-wise too. Orchestras are often referred to as being like large families, with all the good (and not-so-good) aspects that go with that analogy. New appointments are made almost along the lines of a marriage with potential candidates sometimes being courted and 'invited in' to the orchestra, just as you might a possible future partner. Careful assessments are made not only of the person's musical attributes, but also of their personalities, so that they will 'fit in' to the 'family'.

So, at special occasions (births, deaths, retirements) there are secret collections, presents given and speeches made to and by the people concerned. In his leaving speech Charlie went out in style, rattling off a series of idiosyncratic impressions of conductors he'd worked with over the decades, from Boult to Belohlavek, which was brave, as the latter was standing right next to him at the time - see photo above! Colleagues paid tribute to Charlie's inexhaustible energy (running half marathons before rehearsals), his long commute from Ramsgate to Maida Vale (over 80 miles) and his impromptu encore with Nigel Kennedy on tour (yes, he also plays jazz cello). But, as always, there is much more to orchestral players than just their instruments, and Charlie did lots for his colleagues behind the scenes, organising cello section rotation, studio fire warden, writing arrangements for cello ensembles, inveterate cyclist, postcard collector, photographer, astronomer, chess-player - and teacher of Cribbage to all and sundry. He taught me it once on a long flight to Korea, only I consumed so much red wine during the game that I now can't remember the rules ... I'm sure we haven't seen the last of Charlie but we wish him well with all the irons he has in his fire; hopefully he might even find time to come back and teach me Cribbage again!

Phil Hall is sub-principal viola of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and a regular correspondent for this Blog

Chart Podcast is here ...

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Gabriel Gilson Gabriel Gilson | 12:14 UK time, Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Pictiure of a cyclist in a misty landscape

Gabriel Gilson on polyphonic cycling and our Specialist Classical Chart podcast.

Not surprisingly in this time of change, I've found myself looking at all the things I value about my job and how closely they fit with the things I really like doing in life. Luckily for me, MUSIC runs slap bang through the middle of both of them.

And it's not just the notes. I'm also mildly obsessed with how the music is delivered and how technology affects the way we listen now. Since we introduced the Live HD stream, I've listened to more Radio 3 than ever before. I'm distraught that many music download services don't offer 'lossless' files. Which brings me to the weekly dose of the specialist classical chart.

This podcast (free download if you prefer) has entered my life at the number one spot in the list of 'things to listen to while I cycle to work'. It's not so loud that I can't hear the buses, but it takes my mind off the hills and stops me writing PowerPoints in my head (don't ask). Trying to remember the pieces I really like is interesting too. It's very hard to write a list on a bike. I'm also enjoying finding out about musicians I was in danger of taking for granted, such as John Eliot Gardiner and his Bach obsession. Sadly it turns out Bach is terrible to cycle to. You just can't hear the counterpoint. Whereas a combination of Tallis's soaring polyphony and the ride through Highgate Woods as the early morning sunshine burns off the mist is about as good a way to start the day as I can think of...

And the podcast is here, available every Tuesday at round about midday. You can also get it from all your favourite podcast subscription services.

Gabriel Gilson is Interactive Editor for BBC Radio 3, Performing Groups and the Proms


Sounds from Svalbard

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Fiona Talkington Fiona Talkington | 15:57 UK time, Monday, 7 February 2011

Photo of Fiona Talkington in Svalbard

I’m around 600 miles from the North Pole, a place where there are more polar bears than people, where winters bring total darkness and summers bring the midnight sun.. I’m in the town of Longyearbyen in Svalbard, the most northerly part of Norway, though a very long way from the Norwegian mainland. And all in the name of jazz - the Polar Jazz Festival.

Picture of a signpost on Svalbard

We left Tromso on the northern coast of Norway and flew for an hour and  half into the Polar night. As we got further north the skies became darker while down below long jagged fingers of ice stretched out into the sea.  White peaks loomed out of the freezing waters, a first glimpse of a landscape which seems to belong to another planet.  We were heading towards the top of the world. 

Svalbard is many things. Beautiful, powerful, dangerous . You’re forbidden to leave the main area of the town without being accompanied by a rifle carrier in case of polar bears. You daren’t go outside without several layers of protective clothing against the bitter cold. There’s also a strong sense of its importance for the rest of the world.  I stood beneath a giant satellite dish which tracks the activity of the sun and experienced the eerie sound made by the movements of this huge metal structure. Close by was the station which monitors the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. Satellite stations track the ever increasing amount of debris hurtling around space. 

Climate change and environmental concerns brings experts from all over the world. Svalbard is also the world’s northernmost university centre where students from Norway and around the world study  and conduct research about the Arctic in the Arctic.


Picture of the church in Longyearbyen

The church in Longyearbyen

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