Archives for March 2012

Behind the scenes for Schubert online

Post categories:

Graeme Kay Graeme Kay | 15:11 UK time, Friday, 30 March 2012


Photo of Richard Leeming


Richard Leeming, executive producer, syndication at BBC Audio & Music, took on the role of senior producer for Radio 3's Spirit of Schubert season. Here, Richard looks at the background to some of the features.

All this week Radio 3 has been celebrating the life and work of Franz Schubert, when working out how to reflect The Spirit of Schubert season on the Radio 3 website, we decided to go one further and actually bring the man to life.

Resurrecting Franz Schubert in the shape of the twitter account @franzisunwell  has been one of the highlights of a brilliant creative challenge, taking Radio 3’s broadcast output and using interactive technologies to allow listeners easier access to what was being played on air.

Making sense of Schubert’s enormous body of work was a key theme for the season. To put his work in context and pick out the highlights, Radio 3 asked some of the world’s leading Schubert scholars to recommend their key works. These choices would necessarily be spread throughout the broadcast schedule, so the most important task for the Radio 3 website was to collect all of these works and allow people to listen to them in one convenient place.

So if you haven’t been able to listen to all of each episode of In Tune, you can now hear all of Graham Johnson’s brilliant reinterpretations of Schubert’s Lieder in one convenient place.

Missed one of Alfred Brendel’s piano sonata choices? (and some of them were broadcast in the middle of the night!). They’re all here.

We also decided that some of the output was so engaging and editorially demanding that we should make a real feature of it by filming it. Three times a day Tom Service has donned a white coat and entered The Schubert Lab. Each one has been filmed so you can catch up with any you may have missed.

Filming parts of the broadcast output has been particularly successful for some of the intimate late night performances like the Kit Downes Trio’s interpretation of Schubert's Auf dem Wasser zu Singen. This looks beautiful on You Tube.

Meanwhile every part of the BBC has an ongoing duty to try and reach new audiences, so we decided to use the season to experiment with some social media platforms, which also enabled us to take a really entertaining - while always respectful - approach.

So while @franzisunwell has playfully congratulated Professor Newbould on completing his unfinished symphony, and commiserated with Beethoven on the anniversary of his death, there was also a serious point: we’ve used the tweets to illustrate the little that is known about Schubert and add context to the music being played on air.

We also created a lively Tumblr blog to work as a digital scrapbook where we could collate relevant and amusing photos, clips and articles, again giving our audience a different perspective on Schubert.

So we hope that you’ve found our digital output to be a useful complement to the fantastic music played on air.

  • Visit the Schubert One-Stop-Shop for comprehensive click-through links to Radio 3's online and broadcast content.


Read the rest of this entry

Schubert One-Stop Shop

Post categories:

Graeme Kay Graeme Kay | 14:54 UK time, Tuesday, 27 March 2012

I (heart) Schubert image


The Spirit of Schubert is a gigantic project not just for Radio 3 broadcast, but also for Radio 3 Online. To make it easier to find all the rich online content which is currently available, here’s an easy click-through guide. We're adding material to the site (and this guide) every day, so do revisit this Blog for the latest updates.

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



The Graham Johnson Collection – Lieder recorded live in Graham’s Schubert Salon programmes (audio).

The Imogen Cooper Collection - Imogen's introductions to key piano works, followed by performances by various artists (audio). 

The Paul Robertson Collection - Paul's introductions to classics of the chamber music repertoire (audio).

The Lieder Collection - Some of the world's finest interpreters of Schubert's songs introduce their favourites.

The Symphony Collection - Conductor Roy Goodman introduces great performances of many of Schubert's symphonies.

The Alfred Brendel Collection - Pianist Alfred Brendel introduces the last three great piano sonatas by Schubert.

The Schubert Lab - Tom Service's entertaining and informative investigations and experiments in the world of Schubert (video).

The Spirit of Schubert live concert venue and ticket guide. (PDF file)

The Spirit of Schubert Podcasts Currently including the Schubert Lab, Sean Rafferty's Schubert's Vienna, The Essay, and Sir John Tusa's Claiming Schubert. 

The Spirit of Schubert Scrapbook - A fascinating collection of Schubert memorabilia linked to the broadcasts

And now, Schubert A special Twitter feed with real time 'now playing' information on the Radio 3 schedule. The email address to communicate with production teams, presenters, and to send in requests and dedications for Play Schubert For Me.  

The Radio 3 Facebook page

FranzIsUnwell - 'Schubert' on Twitter

Radio 3 on Twitter

Franz Schubert profile and links at

The Spirit of Schubert on Audioboo

Do It Yourself An die Musik - Radio 3 presenter and professional pianist John Shea performs the accompaniment to Schubert's beautiful setting of Franz von Schober's poem, An die Musik. Download the music (PDF) and sing along to John's video recording



Paul Robertson's thoughts on Schubert

Post categories:

Graeme Kay Graeme Kay | 15:49 UK time, Monday, 26 March 2012


Photo of Prof. Paul Robertson


For nearly 40 years Professor Paul Robertson performed throughout the world as leader of the internationally renowned Medici String Quartet, of which he was a founder member. He is Radio 3's guide to the chamber music in The Spirit of Schubert. Here, he offers his personal analysis of Schubert's greatness.


There are many ways of measuring musical greatness and, like everyone else, when it comes to composers I have  my own criteria. Naturally we would take as given that all 'great' composer possess superb technical mastery. But as we all know, there are many fine composers who, even despite their technique (and sometimes even perhaps because of it) somehow never, or only occasionally rise to 'greatness'.

Apart from an occasional tendency to explore 'divine length' I have never thought to question Schubert's place alongside the other immortals of the Western classical tradition. So to seek to define compositional greatness we clearly need to consider many other much more elusive qualities. Can these be measured or even articulated? and if so how many could we consider objective or impartial? I shall be very interested to read what you consider to be the unique qualities that marks out the genius of Schubert.

To start here are a few suggestions of my own:

  • Nobility of aspiration (equal to, but never imitative of his hero Beethoven whose triumphs always seem to reward immense prior striving)
  • Joyful music that is not trivial (as fine as Mozart but somehow more subjective)
    Sad music that is without sentimentality (the best illustration of this is to listen to any of Liszt's many piano realizations of Schubert).
  • Simplicity and complexity as best suited to the meaning and purpose of the music.
  • Brilliance and invention that never supersede the emotional content of the music.
  • An ability to take one further than could be achieved alone.
  • A precision of affect - indeed I believe this to be one of the key roles for music.
  • An original language (but not merely novel for its own sake)
  • Sincerity (whatever that means!)
  • A truthfulness of expression which renders the music somehow 'moral' 
  • All of this, and probably much else as well, is vital to musical greatness and we would all probably have a pretty clear notion as to who we believe should grace this list. However, with dear Schubert who more than fulfilled all the beautiful qualities above there is another much more rare set of personal qualities who, I believe set him apart even from many of the other 'greats':

  • Modesty
  • Warmth and affection
  • Simplicity of person (while we would all love to spend time with Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms et al, wouldn't we also feel pretty daunted with most of them? I know I would.)
  • But I feel sure that Schubert would have welcomed me into his home and fortunate circle without the least reservation or awkwardness.

    I also believe that one can sense this beautiful quality within his music and that makes it very precious indeed to me.

      His music is great but he is not ever 'grand' - how rare is that? And how truly modern this makes him. This was a truly contemporary man with modern preoccupations and a generous and open spirit which is a rare treat in any age.
    • Listen to Paul Robertson's Schubert Chamber Music introductions.
    • Visit the Radio 3 Home Page for full details of The Spirit of Schubert.
    • Consult the Schubert Lab for entertaining and enlightening explorations of Schubert's genius
    • Visit Schubert's old haunts in Vienna with Sean Rafferty

Schubert - free tickets available

Post categories:

Graeme Kay Graeme Kay | 14:30 UK time, Sunday, 25 March 2012

Picture of a Schubertiade

A Schubertiade


Tickets – many of them free to listeners – are available for a host of concerts in the Spirit of Schubert season, which begins next week. ‘Some of the events are fully subscribed,’ says interactive producer Graeme Kay. ‘But there are still plenty of tickets available. Here’s a preview of what’s on, and you can follow a link to a pdf document giving full details of the events and how to book.'


From the end of next week – 4.30pm on Friday 23rd March, The Spirit of Schubert arrives on Radio 3. With 200 hours of broadcasting and over a thousand performances we celebrate the man and the music. With concerts every day across the country, live music is a big part of the celebrations, and you can be at those performances with some of the world's leading performers in our Lunchtime Schubertiads.


There's the Signum Quartet at Holkham Hall in Norfolk, Imogen Cooper, Henk Neven and the Atos Trio at Champs Hill in West Sussex, the Gould Piano Trio are at Wyastone Leys in South Wales, Elisabeth Leonskaja and the Escher Quartet at Bath Assembly Rooms, Melvyn Tan at Finchcocks in Kent, Ben Johnson in Edinburgh and Francesco Piemontesi in Greenwich.


As well as the Lunchtime Schubertiads, Sean Rafferty and Suzy Klein take In Tune on the road, and you can be at some of those broadcasts too – Graham Johnson will be curating his selection of live Schubert song performance throughout the week with his hand picked selection of singers. There'll also be guests including the Doric Quartet and Imogen Cooper and friends performing the ‘Trout’. You can catch the In Tune Schubert Salons at Kings Place in London, Champs Hill in Sussex, and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.


And if that wasn't enough, there are live concerts in the evenings. For the details of where all the concerts are happening, and how to book tickets, follow this link. [Please note that Champs Hill concerts are sold out and are not listed].

Immersed in violas ...

Post categories:

Phil Hall Phil Hall | 11:43 UK time, Monday, 19 March 2012

Picture of the BBC Symphony Orchestra viola section

The BBC Symphony Orchestra's 12 solo violas

BBC Symphony Orchestra sub-principal viola Phil Hall and his colleagues faced a stiff challenge in an unusual work written for just a dozen violas ...

No sooner had the dust settled on the Music Nation weekend when along came the juggernaut that is Mahler 7. All grist to the mill but while this was going on a dozen of us were beavering away in private for something entirely different...

When I joined the BBC SO in December 1991 the librarian gave the entire viola section a Christmas present: it was our parts for Benedict Mason's 'Concerto for the viola section': a six-movement workout for the violas with a vast orchestra which had everything in it but the proverbial kitchen sink. It even had a cadenza for the second violins!

Two weeks ago we announced the arrival of fresh blood in the form of Peter Mallinson and Matthias Wiesner to the violas, making the section complete for the first time in a while. It seemed timely then that the BBCSO's Total Immersion concert of music by Australian composer Brett Dean on Saturday should feature his piece 'Testament' for just 12 solo violas. Brett was himself a violist in the Berlin Philharmonic and composed the piece for them back in 2003. He wanted to play it with us and chose the tenth part.

Often when learning a single line in something new it is difficult to grasp the whole picture. Indeed it wasn't until we first played it through together with Brett (and David Robertson conducting) that it all made sense to me. The piece is inspired by Beethoven's 'Heiligenstadt testament' - the letter which he wrote to his brothers reflecting his grief at the onset of deafness. Brett cleverly weaves fragments of a Beethoven string quartet around the 12 different parts in a despairingly spectral fashion. His music, typically, is complex and technically quite challenging but very rewarding and always full of energy, interesting new effects - rosin-less bows to simulate the scratching of quill on paper - and myriad colours. A highly effective and unusual piece, which made us come off stage wanting to do it all again!

Culture mash - the Symphony Orchestra and the rappers in Urban Classic

Post categories:

Phil Hall Phil Hall | 11:46 UK time, Tuesday, 6 March 2012


Photo of Phil Hall with Fazer

Phil with Fazer

The BBC Symphony Orchestra has done plenty of unusual concerts in its 80-odd years: gigs in railway stations, shop windows, a muddy field in Korea, even teaming up with Monty Python, writes sub-principal viola Phil Hall. But nothing prepared us for the Urban Classic sensation last night.

The idea was simple - a whole concert with Brit Urban Grime rappers Skepta, Devlin, Fazer and Ms Dynamite together at the Barbican. Both groups were pretty much out of their respective comfort zones but the roaring (literally) success of Saturday's concert was down to the excellent communication skills of conductor Jules Buckley. Jules managed to quell the anxieties of the rappers unused to having such a huge backing group and also the 85 classically trained musicians unfamiliar with Rap charts, dry ice and an audience that actually left their seats to dance in one of their concerts! It was wild. I shan't easily forget the frenzy Ms Dynamite whipped up in 'Wile Out'. The nice thing was that there was huge mutual respect on both sides and it felt as if the two contrasting genres moved a few inches closer. Jules even got the orchestra to 'rewind' in the manner of a club DJ who quickly winds the record back to the start when someone shouts 'reload' or 'pull up' half-way through. I just hope our conductor Jiri doesn't get any ideas to try that in Mahler 7 next week...


Read the rest of this entry

Listen to all of the Music Nation programmes

Post categories:

Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick | 08:41 UK time, Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A screenshot of a Pinterest board created to show all of the BBC Radio 3 Music Nations programmes on one page.

Music Nation is over but the reverberations will be echoing around British music-making for a long time. Thousands of musicians - amateur and professional - got together in hundreds of venues, from pubs to shopping centres to concert halls to celebrate music in the widest possible sense. It was, without risk of hyperbole, awe-inspiring. Radio 3's commitment to the festival extended to over 24 hours of output, much of it live (the station's largest-ever outside broadcast commitment). Music - and the voices of those making it and enjoying it - was heard on-air from over fifty separate locations, from the North of Shetland to the West of Cornwall. Here, using a new service called Pinterest, is a page showing all of Radio 3's Music Nation programmes in one place. They will, of course, all be available for the next seven days.

Steve Bowbrick, Interactive Editor, BBC Radio 3

Susannah Simons introduces Music Nation

Post categories:

Susannah Simons Susannah Simons | 08:08 UK time, Friday, 2 March 2012

Photo of Nicola Benedetti with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Nicola Benedetti will take part in Music Nation with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Susannah Simons, the BBC's Project Executive 2012 explains the background to Music Nation and looks forward to this weekend's events.

Two years ago when we first set out on the journey that has become Music Nation I doubt any of us dreamed that it would turn into the glorious celebration of the UK’s musical life that it has become.

We began with the BBC’s six performing groups, which had been challenged by Tim Davie to do something together to celebrate their work as part of the BBC’s role in the wider Cultural Olympiad and we hit upon the weekend of the 3rd and 4th of March for two reasons – they were all free and this was one of the few moments in 2012 when nothing else was happening: we had a chance to shine.

This was followed by a call to arms to the wider orchestral sector during the Association of British Orchestras' conference in Glasgow in February 2010 when I made a speech urging the rest of the sector to join in. Little did I know what would happen – it started slowly with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra announcing they were going to go to Shetland and was given a boost by Andrew Jowett and the British Association of Concert Halls deciding they would join in and the next thing we knew we had a steering group that included the ABO, Making Music, Orchestras Live, Arts Council England, Conservatoires UK, LOCOG and of course the BBC. For the next two years we have cajoled, enthused, chivvied and generally encouraged musical groups to join us in order to showcase the very best of what we as a nation have to offer. They were all encouraged to focus on a number of themes – excellence, education, participation and partnership – and their plans had to meet with the approval of Ruth Mackenzie, director of the London 2012 Festival, and here we are: more than 100 events across the country, North to South, East to West, large and small with over 15 000 participants, 18 new commissioned works and over 24 hours of broadcasts over the weekend on Radio 3.

Many of them are taking music outside and into the city – in Southampton and Cardiff for example – so I hope the weather holds; some of them like the Ulster Orchestra and the RTE Orchestra from the Republic of Ireland playing side by side for the first time are making history; and lots of them like Sinfonia Viva in Derby and Superstrings in Wiltshire are working with young people; we have the National Youth Orchestra and the Choir with No Name, Handbag of Harmonies and the Hallé, Wagner and Bellowhead: a wonderful heady demonstration of what we do so well and the role that music plays in our life, making us who we are. My thanks go to all the participants who have made this weekend what it is, to Radio 3 and all the other networks who are joining us on this journey – including audiences in Brazil the host nation for the next Olympic Games – as we show the world how to do it!

Find out more about Radio 3's Music Nation events with the National Concert Finder


More from this blog...


These are some of the popular topics this blog covers.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.