Archives for November 2011

How to build a control room in 80 seconds ...

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Graeme Kay Graeme Kay | 16:22 UK time, Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Photo of the Radio 3 recording team

The Radio 3 team with their 'Pudsey' themed OB van

Radio 3 producer Michael Surcombe and engineers Mike Evans and Mike Frost recently pitched up to record for Radio 3's lunchtime concert strand during Music at Tresanton in St Mawes, Cornwall on the 20th of November.

 

The Tresanton story is that five years ago seven musicians gathered in the small village of St Mawes, on the tip of the Roseland peninsula, to mark Schumann's 150th anniversary by playing through all of his piano chamber music. Since then Music at Tresanton has been offering annual programmes and attracting audiences from the Roseland peninsula as well as from further afield in Cornwall and the UK. The artsitic director is pianist Noam Greenberg.

The concert included Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet Suite for Viola and Piano; Rakhmaninov's Cello Sonata and Piano Trio in G minor, and Prokofiev's Overture on Hebrew Themes. But there would have been no recording without a control room, so Michael thought it would be fun to video the set-up of Radio 3's 'carry-in' rig. He recorded the video with his iPhone [other smartphones are available...] propped up on a pillow, using a cheap time-elapse app, then edited it in iMovie.

You can hear what  came down the wires to the control desk in the Lunchtime Concert slot on February 1 next year....

Watch the video on the BBC YouTube site.

Or you can see it here:

 

This week on In Tune

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Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick | 17:00 UK time, Monday, 28 November 2011

Items scheduled for week 48 on BBC Radio 3's In Tune programme on the office whiteboard.

 

The In Tune team sent me this outline of what to expect on the programme this week. Listen in HD Sound on the Radio 3 web site where you'll also find clips and photos from Britain's liveliest drivetime show. Visit the Radio 3 Facebook page and follow @BBCInTune on Twitter for more.

Steve Bowbrick is Interactive Editor at Radio 3

Between the Ears - looking forward to 'Horse' ...

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Rosalind Porter Rosalind Porter | 17:05 UK time, Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Picture of the Uffington Horse

The Uffington Chalk Horse

Radio 3 listener blogger Rosalind Porter looks ahead to next Saturday's Between the Ears, recorded at the Free Thinking Festival ... 

It was a rare treat to have the opportunity of watching the live performance of Between the Ears' in Hall 2 at The Sage Gateshead.  Entitled Horse – the work was inspired by the famous Uffington White Horse chalk carving in Oxfordshire which is believed to have been constructed more than 3000 years ago.

Horse consists of words by Northumbrian poet Katrina Porteous and sound by renowned synthesizer pioneer and composer Peter Zinovieff, who has taken the noises of a Cornish chain ferry and remixed them to provide the musical element of the piece.  It is scored for two voices (Katrina Porteous and actor/directr Steve Robertson) and 2 computers.

About half an hour in length, this piece was a truly dramatic experience, a journey through the mists and myths of history.  Zinovieff’s sound world was frequently choral and vocal in effect, totally belying its mechanical origins.  At another point an initially innocuous clunking noise gradually developed in importance to vividly evoke the horse’s hooves clattering over the ground.  The two narrators faced a demanding routine involving evocative whispering, declamatory shouting and the highly effective fast repetition of words between them.  Particularly effective was the contrast of text and music used both lyrically and percussively for heightened emotional impact.  The sheer intensity of Horse demands total involvement from the listener.


This was an extremely virtuosic performance and will certainly make for gripping radio when it is broadcast on 26 November at 9pm on Radio 3.  Highly recommended!

 

 

 

 

Petroc Trelawny's Earth Music Bristol blog

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Petroc Trelawny Petroc Trelawny | 16:57 UK time, Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Picture of author Horatio Clare, naturalist Richard Mabey and Petroc Trelawny

Author Horatio Clare, naturalist Richard Mabey and Petroc Trelawny record from Earth Music Bristol for Radio 3 and Radio 4

Radio 3 presenter Petroc Trelawny is in Bristol for the Earth Music Festival - he explans what's on the Radio 3 and Radio 4 airwaves this week ...

 

 When you think about it,  so much music is inspired by the world around us, it’s extraordinary there aren’t more festivals like this. It’s such a simple idea. As the composer Edward Cowie, the energetic and ebullient artistic director of Earth Music Bristol puts it, musicians have listened and responded to the ‘songs of birds, insects, reptiles and mammals, as well as the roaring throats of volcanoes, the howl and wail of winds, the rhythmic beat of rain and hail, the baleful rumble of thunder, the crackle and hiss of fire and the roll and thud of waves on beaches.’

I’m sure it wouldn’t take you long to come up with a personal top ten of nature-inspired music;  and much of it features this week: Delius’s cuckoo,  Messiaen’s birds, Warlock’s Frostbound Wood, Vaughan Williams's Wenlock Edge, Stanford’s Bluebird, Britten’s Sea Interludes. You might like to check the concerts online and then suggest any missing pieces below. But what makes this festival so interesting is the context in which the music is placed.

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A touch of Paganini at the London Jazz Festival

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Alyn Shipton Alyn Shipton | 10:44 UK time, Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Picture of Alyn Shipton with Regina Carter

Alyn Shipton recording Jazz Library at the LJF with Regina Carter

Monday night saw the brilliant jazz violinist Regina Carter in town for her concert at the Purcell Room. Beforehand, we recorded an edition of Jazz Library about her life and work, which will be broadcast on Radio 3 on Saturday 26 November at midnight.

I think the most unexpected part of our discussion was when I asked her about the album After A Dream which she had recorded in Italy on the Guarnieri del Jesu violin that had once belonged to the great virtuoso Paganini. 'The keepers of the instrument were worried,' she said, 'that by letting a jazz musician play on it, it might in some way reduce its value!' Fortunately good sense prevailed and both on record and in concert she produced some fine playing on this instrument, with its particularly rich and vibrant tone.

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Keith Loxam's tribute to Michael Garrick

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Graeme Kay Graeme Kay | 17:05 UK time, Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Picture of Michael Garrick by Sisi Burn

Michael Garrick. Photo by Sisi Burn

Radio 3 jazz producer Keith Loxam pays tribute to Michael Garrick, who died on 11 November

I first met Michael in 1970 when I was a young producer. It was a jazz night at Hull University and he was performing with Norma Winstone. That unique piano style caught my ear and his effortless accompaniment with Norma really excited me.

A few years later I met him again,  this time with my own band at the Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-round in Scarborough. Frankly, my Hammond organ and keyboard techniques were trounced by his solo piano set and it made me sit up and take more notice of style and interpretation.

Moving many years on, when I become producer of Jazz Line-Up in 2000, he was one of my first calls when setting up sessions. I recall taking the programme to the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester, I wanted him to direct the BBC Big Band and perform some items from his 'Jazz Praises' pad.  One weekday afternoon, before the festival, we attended the Cathedral to begin mustering up a chorus and for Michael to try out the organ.  After a few sweet licks on the pipe organ, visitors to the impressive building gathered in some numbers, to ask first who was playing and secondly when they could hear more. A couple of months later the concert filled the nave of the Cathedral and it was difficult to get Michael off the set. He would have kept the band playing all night if he could, such was his enthusiasm.

I also recall re creating his 60s sextet to celebrate his 75th Birthday.  Such was Michael’s emotion, he choked on his words when introducing Don Rendell to perform 'Dusk Fire' with him - a moment I will remember for ever.

Only in 2010 did we return to Maida Vale to celebrate his 50th year in broadcasting - this time with his Big Band.  Again that seemingly endless pad brought us more astonishing Big Band arrangements totally unique to him, even his conducting style was individual to him and he took us through ‘Cuban Missile’, ‘First Born’, ‘Bitter Sweet Jazz’ and ‘Aurian Wood’, to name but a few.

On the 19th December this year, he was to have once again directed his own Big Band for his tone poem 'Peter Pan' - to be broadcast on the Christmas Day.  The recording will go ahead with his son Gabriel directing the band, but as to who will play the piano ...??   It will be the most difficult decision I have ever had to make and I would think the most demanding gig for any genius to perform.

I will truly miss Michael.

 

Find out more about Michael Garrick and listen to Alyn Shipton's Jazz Library broadcast on MIchael

Beethoven's marathon concert ... recreated on Radio 3

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David Gallagher David Gallagher | 13:32 UK time, Tuesday, 15 November 2011

 

Picture of Beethoven conducting

 

Radio 3 senior producer David Gallagher introduces today's recreation of Beethoven's marathon 1808 concert, which featured the premieres of two symphonies, plus a piano concerto and a new choral work ... 

It’s never been easy being a composer, unless you have a private income.  Plenty have died in near-poverty – including, reputedly, Mozart, in Vienna in 1791.  A decade later Beethoven was scraping a living in the same city.  He could make a bit of money selling his music to publishers, and fortunately he found some rich aristocratic patrons, but life was never comfortable.  Being the ‘latest thing’ – as both composer and performer – he was much in demand at charity fundraising concerts.  But he was expected to give his services free.  What he really wanted was a charity fundraiser in aid of himself.

It took him literally years to get one fixed up.  Eventually everything was to come to fruition in the local Theater an der Wien on 22 December 1808.  Presumably fearing he might never get another chance, Beethoven decided to pack into a single evening the world premieres of his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies and a specially written Choral Fantasy… as well as his Fourth Piano Concerto… and a few other things besides. 

I remembered that crazy concert when we decided to include all nine of Beethoven's Symphonies in Afternoon on 3's celebration of the Symphony.  Afternoon on 3 is at the heart of Radio 3’s commitment to broadcast every note of every Symphony featured in the BBC4 television series presented by Simon Russell Beale; the television programmes skated over a couple of Beethoven Symphonies, but we reckoned we really ought to broadcast them all.  Do you think Beethoven was the greatest Symphony composer ever? I do. And every one of his Symphonies does something new.

If we were going to broadcast all of them, could we recreate that concert of 22 December 1808 as part of the series?  Problem: it was a four-hour marathon.  Afternoon on 3 only lasts two-and-a half-hours at most.  But when I added up the actual music, it came to less than three hours.  And there was rather a neat change of direction at the two-and-a-half hour mark, as – for the first time in the programme – Beethoven sat down at the piano and improvised a solo.  Could we could make a virtue of that and hand over to In Tune for the final straight?  And who better to impersonate the composer improvising on themes from the Fifth Symphony than the former Radio 3 New Generation Artist, jazz pianist Gwilym Simcock.  Even if his hair is a lot neater than Beethoven’s ...

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Alyn Shipton hails a feast of classic jazz

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Alyn Shipton Alyn Shipton | 13:00 UK time, Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Photo of Alyn Shipton (l) with Buck Clayton

Alyn Shipton (l) with Buck Clayton

The first weekend of this year's London Jazz Festival in association with Radio 3 involved a Saturday at the Purcell Room with two back-to- back concerts celebrating the centenaries of two very different giants of the swing era, trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Buck Clayton.

For good measure, it was also 30th anniversary of the death of Charlie Shavers, another pugilistic trumpeter who would have been a mere 91 this year.

For me it was a mixture of celebration that the music of these fine players is still being heard live in a concert setting, and of nostalgia. Back in the 1980s, I got to know Buck Clayton when I published his life story, and on his death he arranged for me to receive a box of his music in his memory. In 2004, with the German saxophonist Matthias Seuffert, I put together a band to play this music, most of which had never been recorded. After talking to John Cumming of the London Jazz Festival at that time, we decided to see if it would be possible to home in on Buck's actual anniversary to celebrate his centenary.

So November 12 was not just the London concert hall premiere of Buck's original compositions, but his actual 100th birthday. I got a lump in my throat watching a short film of Buck beforehand, seeing the man I'd got to know almost 30 years ago, and hearing his voice. We had become friends and met regularly in New York and London, so after that it was a special privilege to bring his music to life again.

The Roy Eldridge story is even more poignant for me. Roy had been a fearsomely combative trumpeter until blood pressure problems led him to abandon the trumpet for singing, playing the drums, and the piano.

Buck told me Roy had also started writing his life story, and I ought to try to publish it. Roy's friend, the UK trumpeter and author John Chilton also urged me to get in touch, so finally I wrote to Roy at his home in Hollis near New York. Sadly the letter was returned unopened. Roy had died while it was in the mail from the UK to America. John eventually went on to write an excellent biography of Eldridge, which I did manage to publish. But it was a real thrill to hear the excellent trumpeter Rico Tomasso playing Roy's music, at the Purcell Room, and bringing him back to life even more forcibly than words on a page.

 

 

 

Notes from a composer, Part 8 - In the wilderness

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Michael Zev Gordon Michael Zev Gordon | 16:27 UK time, Tuesday, 8 November 2011

  • Picture of a wastepaper basket

     

    It had to happen, I suppose. I’ve got blocked. Things have been going too well, too smoothly. Ideas thought through; orchestration handled without too many issues
    ; plans executed more-or-less according to the schedule I set up. And now, in piece 5 out of 7 - the lightest of all the movements, the scherzo of the set, as I had it in mind - the notes do not come. Or the ones that do come seem wrong.
     
    What are wrong notes? Why do some seem better than others? Why will some just not do? Why did things flow before, and now everything I write appears to me inadequate? Actually, I have started the piece – I’ve got about 25 seconds to be precise. But the difficulty – and this is so often the case – is how to continue. Many still romantically think it is all about waiting for the muse, for inspiration to strike. But composing is a craft, as much as - perhaps more than - an art. And the issue is all about how to keep the initial image, the inspiration if you wish, in focus as it is extended in time. And now the notes of continuation weaken and dilute.
     
    Many pieces of course do not have just one image – they are narrative in one way or another, pushing and pulling across a landscape, creating a drama. The music has goals, small and large. These are places to work towards – and the notes come in relation to a larger viewpoint. Britten often used to plan out his pieces with rhythms only at first. Birtwistle likes to talk of the importance of the clarity of the big picture – and the danger of not seeing the wood for the trees.
     
    Part of my problem perhaps stems from the fact that I’ve moved away as a composer from big designs. Once I did plan out before, and then ‘fill in’. But this often led to a feeling of lack of control over moment-to-moment decisions as to how the music should move. Things felt like they lacked spontaneity. As a result I think my music is much better now in terms of the element of surprise, in its flexibility of form and expressive nuance. But the flip-side is that I have to be pleased with what I’m doing many, many more times while writing – and right now I’m not!
     
    Do I need to create some goals, some more purpose? I’ve tried – but then the music feels too relentless, too driven – the scherzo lightness is lost. Should I try all the harder to stick with the initial sounds I’ve created? These comprise a single darting line criss-crossing across the orchestra. I could, but when I’ve tried this it feels something of a cop-out. The music needs to keep that freshness but also elaborate, and move off in new directions, rhythmically and pitch-wise – otherwise something too static will set in. Perhaps I am simply not aware enough of the potential of the sounds and musical figures already written contain? Should I analyse them more? Certainly all my continuations appear to shoot off too wildly at the point I’m at. Yet I do know the sounds rather well, even if by intuition as much as labeling – and all that rather goes against my way of doing things at present.
     
    Another possibility is just to set the movement aside and move on to No.6? I’ve tried this too – but though I’ve started it, I am troubled by not finishing No.5. Somehow, I think the sixth will be better for having finished the fifth!
     

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Ian McMillan's up with the larks at Free Thinking ...

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Ian McMillan Ian McMillan | 10:20 UK time, Sunday, 6 November 2011

Photo of The Sage Gateshead and Millennium Bridge

Morning view of The Sage Gateshead and Millennium Bridge

It's a bright blue morning in Gateshead and there was a chill in the air when I went for my morning stroll. When I told my grandson I was coming to a festival of ideas he said 'bring me a few ideas back, grandad' and I will, I'm sure. I'll just have to unwrap them first and have a closer look before I pass them on.

Last night on The Verb we had the world premiere of a new poem jointly written by Sean O'Brien, Jackie Kay and W N Herbert; it was an amazing allusive, elusive and apocalyptic piece that seemed to mirror the times we're in but when I suggested to Sean that poets might make a better job of the crisis than politicians he said that the last couple of weeks had increased his admiration for politicians; after all, they're just human beings doing an impossible job. The Verb is on on Friday night... have a listen and unwrap some ideas.

I always come away from these weekends determined to think harder, determined to talk to more people, to listen more, to engage with the world more. I'll tell my grandson that: he'll be impressed. Then I'll give him a bar of hotel soap and a hotel pen and he'll be even more impressed!

Off to the Young Ranters soon, then 'Speed Dating with a Thinker'. The blurb says it's 'A Free Thinking annual blockbuster that proves the brain is still the sexiest organ.' I'm going to have to buy a new bag for all those ideas...

 

Ian McMillan presents BBC Radio 3's The Verb and is omnipresent at Free Thinking ... 

 

Ian McMillan's Saturday Morning Free Thoughts

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Ian McMillan Ian McMillan | 11:14 UK time, Saturday, 5 November 2011

 

Picture of Ian McMillan

 

I wake up early, like I always do, my eyelids opening with a clang that probably disturbs the people in the room next door. According to my phone, it's 05.16. The hotel bedside clock says 05.21. The clock on the hotel TV says 05.11. My trusty bedside clock says 05.26. That's it with time. It changes, it's never constant. It fits in beautifully with the theme of this year's Free Thinking: CHANGE.

 

My head is still buzzing from last night's words and music, a perfect juxtaposition of spoken and musical languages. Two pieces stand out for me: Shakespeare's seven ages of man, and a beautifully poised solo flute piece by Debussy. They both reminded me that I'm changing, I'm getting older. Hairs are sprouting from my nose. Change.

A few 55-year-old's exercises in my room then a shower then down for breakfast just after they start serving. I'm not the first. Margaret Drabble is there, gazing out at the river - she's on first today, in the Books at Breakfast slot.

After breakfast, a stroll on the waterfront. Change: old industries, old certainties, gone. The Sage Gateshead, glowing with confidence. And if you'd have told them years ago that there would have been a Gateshead Hilton, they'd have laughed in your face. Blokes are fishing and a man on a bike pauses to use his inhaler. I know how he feels sometimes.

Then something beautiful: at first I think it's a perfect circle of mushrooms on the grass by the path but then I see that it's a crop of mushrooms that someone has manipulated into the shape of a heart. Change: the human capacity for creativity, for art.

And it's only a small step from a heart made of mushrooms to a flute solo by Debussy, isn't it?

Back in my room. I'll start preparing for tonight's recording of The Verb ... you can hear what we said and did next Friday, 11 November at 10pm on BBC Radio 3!

Ian McMillan presents BBC Radio 3's The Verb and is omnipresent at Free Thinking, where amongst other things he comperes Speed Dating with a Thinker and introduces the Young Ranters ...

 

Free thoughts on Jimmy Wales at the opening of Free Thinking

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Rosalind Porter Rosalind Porter | 10:33 UK time, Saturday, 5 November 2011

Picture of Jimmy Wales Copyright BBC

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales

Radio 3 listener blogger Rosalind Porter reports on Freethinking's opening night at The Sage Gateshead 

Another weekend for stimulating the little grey cells is upon us and last night's opening events certainly lived up to expectation as well as thoroughly whetting the appetite for the next couple of days of Free Thinking.

This year's Festival theme is CHANGE.  So where better to start than Night Waves, featuring the Free Thinking Lecture by Jimmy Wales - founder of Wikipedia - debating the continually evolving impact of his website and providing some thought provoking opinions on the future of the internet. Moderated by Philip Dodd with his usual poise, firmness and good humour, a wide range of discussion and debate ensued.  It was particularly interesting to hear Mr Wales voice his thoughts on Wikipedia’s philosophy of neutrality, the likelihood of a 'Chinese Spring' revolution and expand on issues of responding to state censorship.

Anyone with strong feelings about other internet behemoths such as Facebook and Google will want to make a point of listening to Mr Wales' comments which will definitely strike a chord with many.  This was a unique chance to encounter one of the movers and shakers of the internet and I personally would have preferred Mr Wales to spend less time explaining the structure of Wikipedia and more on the philosophy and inspiration behind his creation and its future.  A tantalising glimpse into the personal influence of an independently minded mother and enlightened education was one area perhaps deserving deeper probing from Philip Dodd.   
 
One of the great aspects of Free Thinking is the wide demographic range of the Sage Gateshead audience which for me made his comment regarding more than 80% of Wikipedia editors being male seem especially ironic. 
 
The programme is available online and you can listen to it here.

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433 words about John Cage's 4'33" - and the first ever radio realisation

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Robert Worby Robert Worby | 18:33 UK time, Thursday, 3 November 2011

Realising John Cage's 4'33

The work by John Cage usually known as 4' 33" may well be the most notorious and widely misunderstood piece of music of all time. It was first performed by the pianist David Tudor at a concert in Woodstock, New York on 29 August 1952. However, as the note to the score clearly states, the work "maybe performed by any instrumentalist or combination of instrumentalists and last any length of time."

Realising John Cage's 4'33

The main issue for my producer, Felix Carey, and me was how to make a realisation of this piece for radio. I contacted the John Cage Trust to find out if there had been any previous realisations for radio. There had not, although there have been performances that have been broadcast and there are recordings on CD and LP. The first thing we did was look at the score.

the calculations that were made to realise John Cage's 4'33

the calculations that were made to realise the performance. Click for a larger version.

The score comprises six lines of typed instructions indicating 3 movements, or parts as Cage refers to them, and each movement carries the simple musical direction 'TACET' written in uppercase. It is clear, bold and precise. The word 'tacet' is the conventional music term meaning 'silence' or more particularly 'make no sound'. This instruction does not mean 'do nothing' and here lies one of the common misconceptions of the piece. It is often reported, sometimes by eminent music critics, that a performance of this work requires the performer to do nothing. But this is not the case. The performer is at least required to indicate the beginnings and endings of the movements and as our realisation is for radio we decided to use the familiar pips of the Greenwich Time Signal as our indicators - the short one for the beginning of a movement, the long one for the end.

Realising John Cage's 4'33

To determine the length of each movement I used the score of another piece by John Cage, Fontana Mix. This is a kind of graphical chance operations machine. The durations produced were: 1' 08", 0' 49" and 0' 55". The note to the score of 4' 33" states "The title of this work is the total length in minutes and seconds of its performance" so the title of our realisation is 2' 52".

By spending time in an anechoic chamber in 1951, Cage discovered that absolute silence did not exist. "Wherever we are, whatever we're doing, there are always sounds to hear", he said. One of the fascinating aspects of this realisation is that listeners' radios will be located in thousands of different places so that, unlike the first performance, the sounds heard by the audience will be made by many, many different sources.

Robert Worby presents Hear and Now

  • John Cage's 4'33" is this week's instalment from Hear and Now's 50 Modern Classics. Listen at 2230 tomorrow and for seven days after transmission.
  • To download all 50 episodes of the Hear and Now 50 to keep, subscribe to the unique free podcast on the Radio 3 podcast.
  • The pictures show the process of graphical details of how our realisation of Cage's piece was made. Click the images for larger versions.

A 'pop-up symphony' - Beethoven at St Pancras

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Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick | 16:53 UK time, Wednesday, 2 November 2011

I was at St Pancras Station this afternoon for a remarkable symphonic event. The BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and over a hundred amateur singers joined together for a one-off performance, on the Station's bustling concourse, of the final movement from Beethoven's 9th Symphony, the Ode to Joy. Simon Russell Beale, presenter of the BBC Four series Symphony, introduced the performance, Eurostar arrivals provided an ironic counterpoint to the glories of the 'European anthem' and an appreciative audience, many of whom were surprised to find such forces in their path on a Wednesday lunchtime in London, cheered and cheered and cheered.

And here, for your listening pleasure, is the whole performance:

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Steve Bowbrick is Interactive Editor at BBC Radio 3

  • The BBC's celebration of the Symphony begins with Genesis and Genius tomorrow night at 2100 on BBC Four. You'll also hear every note of every symphony mentioned in the series of four programmes on Radio 3 during the season - that's over sixty performances. All the details will be on the Symphony page at the Radio 3 web site.

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