Archives for October 2012

Free Thinking online and in living colour

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Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick | 14:47 UK time, Wednesday, 31 October 2012


Free Thinking, Radio 3's annual festival of ideas, is this weekend. It starts on Friday evening with a special In Tune, live from The Sage Gateshead, and the festival goes on all weekend, covering dozens of big issues. The theme this year is 'them and us'.

The band of interesting, provocative speakers and debaters booked to entertain you this year include: writer and thinker Amos Oz, correspondent Kate Adie, novelist Philippa Gregory, campaigning journalist Polly Toynbee, evolutionary scientist Mark Pagel and former president of Ireland Mary Robinson. There are dozens more. Read the whole programme on the Radio 3 web site.

And the big online story this year is that we're streaming live video from the festival all weekend. Free Thinking has always been a vivid live event in a physical venue in the real world. It's now also a live event in your study or your kitchen or your living room, wherever you happen to live.

Fourteen sessions, starting with that special edition of In Tune on Friday and going right through Saturday and Sunday, will be streamed in vivid colour on the Radio 3 web site. Join us. It'll be amazing.

And we'll be tweeting and updating the Facebook page throughout, of course. If you're watching the live stream or if you're coming to The Sage Gateshead, use the hashtag #freethinking.

Steve Bowbrick, Head of Interactive, BBC Radio 3

Pudsey brings Piano Season on the BBC to a spectacular close

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Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick | 15:58 UK time, Friday, 26 October 2012

Photograph of piano keys with limited depth of field.

Chris Wines is the Radio 3 producer responsible for Piano Season on the BBC. He's getting ready to bring down the curtain on this festival of pianos and pianism - SB.

Piano Season on the BBC reaches its climax on Monday with a Gala Concert from Cardiff with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Grant Llewelyn. We have a pianistic tour de force in which established virtuosi sit alongside the piano novice for a packed programme of music by Bach, Dohnanyi, Fitkin and Rachmaninov.

Kathryn Stott, Noriko Ogawa and Valentina Lisitsa share the stage with the joint winner of the Yamaha International Amateur Pianist Competition, Thomas Yu; and with the one-armed pianist Nicholas McCarthy who will perform solo items for the piano left-hand; and also with four of our "piano learners" - BBC presenters and celebrities who have undertaken to learn the piano in just six weeks and who now perform with BBC National Orchestra of Wales live on Radio 3. They'll be supported by Blue Peter's Barney Harwood in an arrangement of music by Dohnanyi. The whole concert is being given in support of BBC Children in Need and even Pudsey will make his concert platform debut at the piano.

This weekend sees the culmination of Peter Donohoe's selection of 50 Great Pianists and on Sunday morning the featured Vintage Pianist will be Artur Schnabel.

In Tune is in party mood on Monday when their A-Z of the piano reaches a peak with Z for Zany.

All-in-all, a spirited climax to the Piano Season on the BBC.

When stations collide

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Peter Meanwell Peter Meanwell | 13:58 UK time, Friday, 19 October 2012

John Cale, founder of the Velvet Undergound, photographed in the 1960s

John Cale

It's easy to compartmentalise music, to impose divisions of high and low art - music for the old, music for the young - but increasingly, as I turn my radio on, any boundaries I may have thought existed have been melting away. Just so this Sunday morning, as the ever excellent Cerys Matthews show on 6Music segued from Late Junction-favourite Riley Baugus playing the old-time classic June Apple into the station's celebration of the Velvet Underground and an interview with pioneering experimental musician and Velvet Underground founding member John Cale. As he chatted about his young musical life in Wales and London, he talked of his love of Varèse, Cage, Berio, Stockhausen, and his involvement with Morton Feldman.

These composers, corner stones of musical exploration over the last century, are all subjects of 50 Modern Classics, the weekly podcast from Radio 3's Hear and Now, exploring key compositions from the 20th Century. Through listening to them, and Cale, it's possible to build a real picture of how the world of experimental composition and art school experimentation created the breeding ground for some of the most exciting music in the last 60 years. It's at moments like these when you realise that great music is just a continuum of boundary-pushing and exploration, and whether it's regarded as for the concert hall, or for the dance floor, it all makes for great listening. Perhaps Radio 3 and 6 Music listeners have more in common than we ever thought.

Peter Meanwell is a producer for BBC Radio 3

The Anglo-Saxons are coming!

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Graeme Kay Graeme Kay | 16:21 UK time, Thursday, 11 October 2012


An illustration from '1066 and all that' by John Reynolds


Producer Beaty Rubens introduces a new, extended series of The Essay on Radio 3 – three blocks of ten episodes stretching in to 2013, the first series beginning on Monday 15th October.

I was interested in the Anglo-Saxons – that wasn’t the problem.  In fact, I had attended a primary school called King Alfred’s, and even today could sketch you the school logo – a wonky little line drawing of Alfred, seated on a throne, wearing a sort of Anglo-Saxon dress and pointy shoes and holding up a book to show off his passion for education.  Which is ironic, really, because education – or my lack of it – on the subject was exactly why I felt so unqualified to produce a 30-part series called Anglo-Saxon Portraits.

I knew something about the Celts and the Romans and the Tudors, but the half millennium between the departure of the Romans and the arrival of the Normans was a shocking blank.  Perhaps the Anglo-Saxons just weren’t much taught in the 50 years after the War, when the idea of Aryan and Germanic invaders wasn’t all that fashionable.  

The little I did know came almost entirely from that masterpiece of English history, Sellars and Yeatman’s 1066 And All That.  There are sections of their Test Paper I, which I can quote almost by heart:  Question 2, for example, solemnly requires you to: 'Discuss in Latin or Gothic (but not both), whether the Northumbrian Bishops were more schismatical than the Cumbrian Abbots.  While Question 8 simply asks: Have you the faintest recollection of: (1) Ethelbreth? (2) Athelthral? (3) Thruthelthrolth?

And all this did was to confirm my ignorant pre-conception that the Anglo-Saxons had a taste for vaguely absurd names and were constantly engaged in ecclesiastical disagreements over arcane matters such as monastical hair-cuts. 


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Changes to Radio 3 online and on your mobile

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Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick | 10:25 UK time, Monday, 8 October 2012

We've made some big changes to Radio 3 online today - there's a new web site for PC, mobile and tablet and a new mobile app - (free from the Apple app store at launch, other mobile platforms to follow).

The new site is part of an effort to bring new consistency to BBC Radio online. All the BBC stations (including BBC nations and local radio) now have a common structure and navigation. This should make it easier to find the information you need and to play the content you like.

It's new but we think you'll find it pretty easy to use. Here's a quick guide to how to use the new homepage:

Click the big arrows at left and right for what's going on at Radio 3 right now and this week. Scroll down to the big boxes for important stuff that doesn't change so often and use the grey bar at the top to find a particular programme.

Click the image for a printable version.

And here's a bit more detail about the three main ways to find things online:

The grey navigation bar just below the top of the screen:

The iPlayer Radio navigation bar from the new BBC radio web sites

If you're looking for a particular show, click 'Programmes' and type its name. Browse programmes by genre from the 'Categories' menu or use the schedule to locate a programme directly.

Just below the grey navigation bar, the meat of the new web site:

The main part of the new BBC Radio 3 web site.

Here you'll see details of the programme that's on-air now plus the next one and the one after that. Click the big grey arrows at left and right to flick through panels of information about the station's output: highlights selected by us, the top programmes for online listening and other content we're featuring. This is regularly-changing content where you can get a sense of what's going on at Radio 3 right now and this week.

Further down the page you'll find a panel of boxes:

The boxes from the new BBC Radio 3 web site.

This is where you'll find links to all the important Radio 3 stuff - our newsletter, the blog and social media and to the A-Z index of composers, for instance. We'll also put links here to big seasons and to the BBC Orchestras.

Click the 'What's New?' link in the grey navigation bar for a visual guide to the new Radio web sites. Use the hashtag #bbciplayerradio if you're discussing the new web sites and the app on Twitter and follow @BBCiPlayerRadio for news and information.

Mark Friend, Controller of BBC Radio's interactive department, has written a post for the BBC Radio blog about the changes. Let us know what you think of the new design by leaving a comment on his blog post.

Steve Bowbrick, Interactive Editor, BBC Radio 3

End of the path to Bohortha ...

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Michael Zev Gordon Michael Zev Gordon | 17:20 UK time, Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Picture of countryside nera Bohortha
Composer Michael Zev Gordon has allowed readers to follow every step of the compositional journey leading to the BBC Symphony Orchestra's world premiere of his orchestral work, 'Bohortha'. Michael signs off his series of blogs now with a searingly honest and exceptionally revealing  'before' and 'after' view of the premiere...
Bohortha in rehearsal
It’s been a long time coming. I’m just out of rehearsal with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste. I finished Bohortha back at the end of March, because teaching duties called, and also because I knew that the preparation of parts would take much longer than predicted – and I didn’t, for once, want to be rushing.

And suddenly, it is the sand speeding up as it runs out of the hour-glass, or as it appears to – and finally, after all this time of composing and preparation, I am at the point of meeting those who will bring it out into the light of day; and finally at the point of finding out if what I hear really matches up to what I imagined.

Discussions with musicians are always pragmatic in part: do the page turns work, is there a sharp missing in the horn part, does the pause need to be a bit longer to allow the flautist to change to the alto flute? But I actually greatly enjoy this side of it: the things that must be done as a professional to make the making of music work!

And there are further basic practical things to consider: can you hear the bassoon solo at this point, does the celeste colour the strings in the right way, does the percussion cut through precisely as it should, or ought the dynamic be changed to make it more effective?

There are always things to hone further: turns of phrase that don’t make the impact you hope they will; pacing that seems too pacey or too slack; a climax point that seems to underwhelm. And as I reflect now – and will continue to – there are places in Bohortha that could be altered.

But what came through today with force – unexpected force I have to say – was the sheer sound of the orchestra: the marvellous thing of 100 or so musicians playing together. My work resonated, it ‘spoke’, the big picture was clear – well at least for me.

And it felt a privilege to have conductor and orchestra putting their energy, intellectual, emotional and physical into my piece. I slaved for many months at the piano, at the desk – alone. Finally, there they were: those that complete the music, those that breathe life into it.

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