Archives for May 2011

The Prince (of Wales) and the Composer (Parry) ...

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Graeme Kay Graeme Kay | 15:11 UK time, Friday, 27 May 2011

Photo of HRH The Prince of Wales at Westminster Abbey

HRH The Prince of Wales at Westminster Abbey

Radio 3 listeners might like to know that, this evening at 730 on BBC 4 TV (repeated on BBC HD at 1.25am on Saturday, 28 May), HRH The Prince of Wales will present The Prince and the Composer, a film directed by John Bridcut (Britten's Children (2004) and The Passions of Vaughan Williams (2008)) about Sir Hubert Parry, whose music featured so prominently at the recent Royal Wedding.   

Parry is simultaneously one of Britain's best-known and least-known composers. Jerusalem is almost a national song, regularly performed at rugby grounds, schools, Women's Institute meetings and the Last Night of the Proms, while Dear Lord and Father of Mankind is one of Britain's best-loved hymns. Everyone knows the tunes, yet hardly anyone knows much about the man who wrote them.

In this feature-length documentary film, HRH The Prince of Wales, a longstanding enthusiast of Parry's work, sets out to discover more about the complex character behind it, with the help of members of Parry's family, scholars and performers.

Graeme Kay is Interactive Producer for Radio 3 and BBC Classical Music TV.


All over the airwaves with the BBC Philharmonic

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Richard Wigley Richard Wigley | 16:06 UK time, Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Graphic of BBC Philharmonic Presents


Who’d have thought that a bit of an idea that popped into my head on a run to work would grow into this thrilling series of events to open the new BBC Philharmonic Studio in Salford Quays?  I’d been talking to my friend Rhian Roberts at Radio 5 Live about collaborating on a live film music show with Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode when it occurred to me that appearing live on all the national radio networks would be the perfect way to open at MediaCity in Salford.  From that day it’s been a helter-skelter of ideas (good and bad) and rushes of enthusiasm from everywhere in BBC Audio and Music Division and in Project North.  Ultimately it led to director-general Mark Thompson’s announcement of the BBC Philharmonic Presents…. Festival during his recent visit to Salford.

I’m reminded of the energy that surrounded the Beethoven week on Radio 3; when a strong idea attracts everyone within range to contribute their best thinking and to release resources to make it bigger and better and more beautiful.  Involving many colleagues from across the networks, this has been an amazing journey; and we haven’t played a note yet!  I feel that I’ve set an impossible challenge for the Philharmonic management team and orchestra, but in the confidence that this is a spur for them to go beyond all reasonable expectations …what a lucky boy I am that the staff are without limits.

So, what are we doing?  Full details are on the website - just follow this link. Every show is a highlight and it all begins with the orchestra’s principal conductor prior to Gianandrea Noseda, Yan Pascal Tortelier, conducting a live In Tune for Radio 3 on June 1st.  Pascal will be able to relate his experiences of Studio 7 in Oxford Road and the new acoustics in Salford.  Then Radio 2 are with us for Friday Night is Music Night featuring the leading men of the West End (Friday 3rd June).  Sunday Worship will test the orchestra’s alarm clocks on Sunday morning (5th June) and then Nero’s Dubstep Symphony is live on the Zane Lowe Show for Radio 1 (Monday 6th June). 

We open our doors for 750 children on Tuesday 7th June and then a centrepiece for the whole festival, the Mayo and Kermode Film Review show live on Radio 5 Live (Friday 10th June).  Mark and Simon will ‘DJ’ the orchestra in some favourite bits from films and in the evening you can hear Mark present longer versions on Radio 3’s Live in Concert.  Both of these events will be available on the Red Button.

We’ll record Steve Mackey’s Dreamhouse on Saturday 11th June for broadcast on 6 Music’s Freakzone the following evening.  Steve is Professor of Composition at Princeton University, but has a not so secret life as a prog rock guitarist. 

Radio 3 then take over for two events with the Academy of Ancient Music (Sunday 12th June and Monday 13th June) and the RNCM join the Phil on Wednesday 15th June to celebrate the music of Christopher Rouse.

The gritty stories of firemen, ordinary people and bin men provide the narrative for the sung drama Salford Tales that is live on Radio Manchester on Thursday 16th June.  The final showstopper is a Live in Concert on Radio 3 on Friday 17th June; Juanjo Mena, the Phil’s new Chief Conductor, leads a programme of ‘local’ composers (Maxwell Davies and William Walton) and the music influenced by his Spanish homeland (de Falla and Ravel) in the ‘ribbon cutter’ concert.  As if this wasn’t enough for one orchestra….they go straight into the studio the next day to record the first commercial disc that features the music of de Falla for Chandos Records.

Richard Wigley is General Manager of the BBC Philharmonic

Full details of the events can be found be clicking this link.


Tum-ti-tum-ti-tum-ti-tum - the DIY version ...

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Graeme Kay Graeme Kay | 13:02 UK time, Monday, 16 May 2011

Photo of conductor Gavin Sutherland with cameraman Chris Price

Conductor Gavin Sutherland with cameraman Chris Price

Three weeks ago the BBC Concert Orchestra assembled at Henry Wood Hall in South London for an unusual assignment - recording Arthur Wood's Barwick Green (aka the theme tune to Radio 4's The Archers) in front of cameras from Radio 3 Interactive, under my direction.

I explained to the orchestra that they were about to provide the template for an unusual project as part of Radio 3's forthcoming Light Fantastic Festival - theirs would be the 'demonstration recording' of the music for a special web page which would allow amateur musicians to download the orchestral parts, record them on computer, then send the sound files to us. We would mix the resulting recordings into a great 'online orchestra' performance for broadcast on Radio 3 as part of Light Fantastic.

The idea of online performances isn't new - we've had  the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, recruited from video audiitions, and composer Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir, formed from singers recording the parts of Whitacre pieces and uploading them. Our idea is even more ambitious because Barwick Green has 23 parts! 

Back at Henry Wood Hall, some 14 takes later, the orchestra were showing no signs of flagging; but we had our video shots in the bag, and an all-important sound recording which would be crucial for the next stage in the process: our conductor Gavin Sutherland had to record a video of himself conducting the piece to playback, staring straight into the camera. This was the all-important 'guide' video which will set the tempo for the online performers' own recordings.

Gavin performed the task with distinction, investing this essentially artificial exercise with charm and animation. He brought similar qualities to his piece-to-camera in which he explains how to join the online orchestra and take part.

Using one of the most widely known and recognised pieces of light music in the world, I see this project as offering a fun way to connect people with the gloriously rich genre of light music and involve them the Light Fantastic festival. So if you or any of your friends and relations play a string, woodwind, or brass instrument, harp, timpani or percussion, do have a look at the web page and have a go ... we can't wait to hear the results! 

Graeme Kay is an interactive producer for BBC Radio 3 and BBC Classical Music TV.




A good news week for Radio 3

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Roger Wright Roger Wright | 10:16 UK time, Thursday, 12 May 2011

This is a particularly busy week for the classical music world and especially for us at Radio 3 and the BBC Proms.

Proms booking opened on Saturday, the Sony Awards were on Monday night, the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards took place the following evening and today the latest set of listening figures have been announced.

First day of booking is always a nerve-wracking part of the Proms calendar. I was confident that the online system which proved so successful last year would hold up well again but, given the uncertain times in which we live, there is always a doubt about the desire of audiences to commit early to summer events. History seems to suggest that, even in difficult periods, there is a real appetite to go to events and be taken out of ourselves. It is also clear that those activities which are regarded to be value for money will still attract large audiences.  I need not have worried about the strength of our sales on the first day as we had a record number of bookings.  Our audiences are still able to do postal booking, by phone and in person but the strength of the online booking allows us to service far more people more quickly with a fairer system. By the middle of the evening on Saturday we had sold over 85,000 tickets, more than last year and in a shorter period of time.  But even when there are no seats left for particular Proms, they are not 'sold out' - that doesn't happen until more than a thousand promming places are sold on the day.  So there are still thousands of tickets for sale!  Returns also keep on coming back to the Royal Albert Hall box office. So if you were unlucky first time round, you can always have another go.

Photo of Jez Nelson

Jez Nelson - Sony Gold for Jazz on 3

The Sony Awards and RPS Music Awards are contrasting evenings but, unlike the Proms, both involve putting on 'black tie'. At the Sonys, Radio 3 won Silver in the Best Feature Award for a marvellously atmospheric feature, The Haunted Moustache in our Between the Ears strand; and I am delighted that Jazz on 3 won the Gold Award in the Best Specialist Music Programme category. The presenter Jez Nelson and his colleagues have been nominated before but this was a first Gold for the programme and it is hugely well deserved.

And it's congratulations to our colleagues at BBC Classical Music TV who won the Creative Communications category at the RPS Music Awards for Opera Italia with Antonio Pappano. Listen out on Sunday afternoon on Radio 3 and you'll hear a fascinating round-up of the classical music year as well as some thought-provoking words from writer Mark Ravenhill as the guest speaker.

Like the interest shown in the Proms, the Radio 3 listening figures for the first three months of this year give a very positive message about the healthy state
of audiences for music and the arts in the UK. The station's recent strong performances in the last six months have been continued as our highest listening figures for seven years have just been announced. Perhaps this is an indication of the positive impact provided by Mozart and our special January programming devoted exclusively to him.

I hope that with the excitement created by our new live music evening schedule this figure will continue to grow.

Roger Wright is Controller, BBC Radio 3 and Director, BBC Proms

Petroc: Launching Radio 3 Live in Concert

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Petroc Trelawny Petroc Trelawny | 18:22 UK time, Saturday, 7 May 2011

Photo of Petroc Trelawny at Sherborne Abbey

Hot-desking is in vogue at the BBC these days.  Since Radio 3 returned to the 1930s splendour of Broadcasting House a few years back,  offices have been banished.  Us presenters arrive for the day,  and stake a claim to any desk that’s going free.  The scheme seems to have been extended this week to include the nation’s railway carriages.  I’m writing this speeding through Cheshire on a beautiful spring morning,   returning home after the first week of ‘Radio Three Live in Concert’.  

The 1220 from Waterloo provided my first mobile office,  as I wrote my script and gathered my thoughts en route to The Sixteen concert at Sherborne Abbey Festival (that's me on the roof of the Abbey above). 

On the train back the next morning,  I sketched an introduction to Christine Brewer’s performance of  Strauss's Four Last Songs,  while it was a Virgin Pendolino that provided the space to pen a few thoughts on what to ask conductor Mark Elder about Elgar's Enigma Variations.   Have laptop,  will travel.  There’s something rather liberating about working on the move.  Now all I need is a good pair of noise-reducing headphones so I can hear the music over the endless announcements and the clatter of the coffee cart.

 The first week of Live in Concert started with The Sixteen singing renaissance motets in praise of the Virgin Mary,  and ended with the BBC Philharmonic performing Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony.   In between, we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Royal Festival Hall,  listened to 23-year-old Korean pianist Sunwook Kim deliver a thrilling performance of Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto,  and witnessed Alison Balsom, in a stunning crimson dress, with an account of the Haydn Trumpet Concerto that was both lyrical and suitably militaristic.

The welcomes have been warm,  from Sherborne Abbey onwards.   After the rehearsal,  the Verger promised us a special and rare treat -  a trip up the tower.  'You’ll need to sign a form absolving us of any responsibility,’ he added, quietly.  We climbed up a shaky metal spiral staircase,  crawled across beams studded with rusting bolts,  and edged along the lead-lined roof,  to be rewarded with a magnificent view of the pretty Dorset town below,  surrounded by a ring of lush,  green countryside.  Great vista,  and great acoustics in the building below,  the vaulted ceiling and granite pillars beautifully reflecting the voices of The Sixteen.

It’s much easier commentating on a live concert - you just explain what’s happening.  If a piano move takes a bit longer than expected, let the listener know,  and pass on a few extra facts about the artist.  One brain-glitch saw me gaily introducing Christine Brewer as ‘the acclaimed German soprano’, before sending greetings to her family listening in Illinois.  And a minor Michael Fish moment: ‘A balmy, sunny evening here in Manchester’ I said. Well, it was last night at 7.25.  Thing is, by the time I made my proclamation,  at 7.55,  there was a terrific thunderstorm and the rain was coming down in buckets.   Lesson one – don’t ever discuss the weather west of the Pennines.  

The really exciting thing about being live is that everyone gets to revel in the music at the same time,  whether in a £30 seat at the Royal Festival Hall,   in a car in Crewe,  or a potting shed in Portadown.  I was chatting to Michael Kennedy,  the distinguished Manchester critic and biographer, after the Halle concert,  and he gave me an impromptu review of the LPO from the previous night,  heard on Radio 3.   ‘Great "Enigma" last night,' said a couple of BBC Phil players, who’d tuned in to the Halle.   And in the Digby Tap,  a fine free-house in Sherborne,  there was a group who’d been at The Sixteen.  A couple of their friends walked in and were told they’d missed a great concert.  ‘No we didn’t,'  one of them said:  ‘We were listening at home on the radio.’

Martin Handley introduces the lion's share of next week’s broadcasts,  but I can’t wait for a return to my railway carriage office,  and my seat in the concert hall.  As that now forgotten Austrian band ‘Opus’ used to sing,  ‘Live is Life’.  

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