Archives for December 2012

Petroc's revving up for the big day in Vienna ...

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Petroc Trelawny Petroc Trelawny | 18:48 UK time, Monday, 31 December 2012


Petroc Trelawny and Franz Welser-Most

Petroc with Franz Welser-Most, before the shirt came off ...

Vienna has got the weather just right this year:  dry and bright, crisp enough to justify hat and gloves, yet without the bitter chill of my last few visits.  Sun streams through the window of Franz Welser-Möst’s dressing room at the Musikverein, reflecting on the gilding around a pair of plaster cherubs,  the only decoration in what is otherwise a rather characterless space.

Given that we are chatting midway through the first performance of the New Year Concert, Welser-Möst is surprisingly relaxed. After greetings have been exchanged, Viennese pleasantries are abandoned as he pulls off his dress shirt.  He’s just ended the first half with Franz von Suppe’s Light Cavalry Overture. ‘This is a piece I was very keen to include,’  he tells me. ‘It was the first music I ever conducted, and it reminds me of watching this concert as a child.’ Growing up in Linz, he says he doesn’t remember a time when he didn’t watch the concert. ‘In black and white of course,  with Willi Boskovsky conducting.'  Boskovsky, sometime leader of the Vienna Philharmonic,  directed the concert for quarter of a century before his retirement in 1979;  nowadays the conductor changes every year; this is Welser-Möst’s second appearance on the rostrum.

The New Year's Day concert is performed three times,  in the evening of New Year's Eve,  the broadcast on New Year's Day,  and on December 30th,  when the Austrian army fills the balcony.  Their drab olive-green uniforms contrast with the riot of golden caryatids, plaster busts and the shimmering crystal chandeliers, young soldiers leaning out over the edge of the slips to photograph each other with their smart-phones.

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Ghosts of Bush ...

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Graeme Kay Graeme Kay | 15:51 UK time, Thursday, 27 December 2012

Bush House


Bush House, for more than 70 years the home of the BBC World Service, fell silent on 12 July this year. Its programmes, currently broadcast in 28 languages, moved to the newly-extended Broadcasting House in central London. John Goudie visited the deserted and emptied building, shortly before it was handed back to its landlords at the end of November, for Radio 3's Between the Ears 


‘Clean sheets. Comfortable beds. Very nice ladies who would come and say “Yuri - wake up”.’  Late on a cold bright November morning, Yuri Goligorsky led me across the Bush House courtyard and down a narrow corridor to a locked door. This was the site of the Bush dormitory, long gone, but once a haven for night-shift workers: Bush was a non-stop radio operation decades before rolling TV news.

Yuri joined the Russian Service at the age of 24, and worked in Bush House for more than three decades. Early in his career, he abandoned the dormitory, driven out by what he calls the ‘incessant snoring’. 

Night-shift snoring - and the whispered entreaties of the dormitory staff - are just two of the millions of Bush House sounds that now exist only in the memory.  The towering central marble stairwells still possess a reverberation time more common in a cathedral. Robin Warren, a Bush studio manager, remembers the simple pleasure of whistling on the stairs and landings, and hearing the notes swirl and decay around him. For Najiba Kasraee, who broadcast to Afghanistan with the Pashto Service, the sound which most evokes Bush is not an old signature tune or studio announcement, but the resonant clack of heels on those marble stairs.

By November, Bush House was bare. Every microphone, cable, mixing desk, studio clock and red ‘on air’ light has gone, to be sold at auction. The newsroom and the maze of production offices, once the nerve centres of the building, have lost all identity. The clutter of daily broadcasting - the computers, headphones, maps, notebooks, newspapers, coffee cups – has disappeared. Discoloured patches on the walls reveal the past homes of photos and pictures. The auctioneers' catalogue lists them all - Cliff Richard, Paul McCartney, Henry Kissinger, Bobby Charlton and dozens more...

Yuri took me to the site of his first desk in the Russian Service. This office, he recalled, was defiantly smoke-filled even after the arrival of the workplace ban. 'I'm not going to cry,' he said, standing in the spot where he spent five years as a young broadcaster, 'but I am emotional. Probably I will never enter this building again.’

There’s no indication now that this low ceilinged room with a view of the Bush courtyard produced thousands of hours of radio for the Russian Service, from the days of Cold War jamming to the Putin era. Standing in the deserted reception area, broadcaster Michael Goldfarb told me that he couldn't think of another workplace that inspired such warmth or affection - and no other building in the world sounded like it. 



It's Question Time again on Radio 3

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Graeme Kay Graeme Kay | 17:39 UK time, Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Sue Perkins and Tom Service 

Calling Radio 3 Listeners! Steven Rajam, the producer behind 'Symphony Question Time' in 2011, is rolling out another series of the programme with presenters Sue Perkins and Tom Service ...

Ever wondered if there’s such a thing as a ‘perfect’ melody…?
… Where the idea of ‘major’ and ‘minor’ comes from…?
… Why there are eight (or is it 12?) notes in a scale…?
… And why people love opera so much?

In early 2013, Tom Service and Sue Perkins will be answering YOUR questions about music and music history, as part of the BBC’s Story of Music season.

 It’s your chance to ask BBC Radio 3 anything you’ve ever wondered about how music works – whether classical, jazz, world or pop – and about some of the most famous moments – and myths – in musical history ...

Who or what really killed Mozart? (It wasn’t Salieri, honest) …
… Why contemporary composers don’t like writing tunes…
... How you tell a Stradivarius from a cheap factory fiddle…
… And what the Ancient Greeks might have been listening to...

They’ll also be looking at how and why music makes sense to us, and what lies ahead for the future of music …

… Why some music makes us want to cry…or dance…
… How and why certain melodies get stuck in your head…
… Why some people are ‘tone deaf’, and what it really means…
… And how advertisers use music to subliminally sell you stuff…

You can join Sue and Tom in five weekly episodes, every Monday from 28 January, in the interval of Radio 3 Live In Concert (from 7.30pm).

But before that, they need YOUR questions! Anything – whether simple, complicated, maddening or strange – that you’ve ever wondered about music. So get in touch…

You can email your queries to; on the BBC Radio 3 Facebook site – or you can tweet with the hashtag #r3qt – we’ll be looking out for them.

Story Of Music Question Time, from 28 January in the interval of Live In Concert, on BBC Radio 3.



Jonathan Dove's Portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi

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Graeme Kay Graeme Kay | 17:25 UK time, Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi meets Jonathan Dove (l)

Aung San Suu Kyi meets Jonathan Dove (l)

This afternoon Barry Wordsworth took the stand at Cadogan Hall to conduct the BBC Concert Orchestra in a live broadcast of Portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Burmese opposition politician. On Radio 3's highly successful Portrait Day in May this year, listeners were asked to suggest an individual for Jonathan to take as the subject of a portrait in music.

In his opening remarks to presenter Louise Fryer, Jonathan explained that Aung San and the details of her life were so well known that there was a risk in trying to portray a life of events, many of them cataclysmic, and so his approach was to compose ‘around’ aspects of her character – and there wouldn’t be any pastiche of Eastern music, although we might hear some ‘modes’.

The piece makes considerable use of the strings, which opened the work with an extended passage of Mahlerian calm and serenity – the beauty of Burmese countryside was evoked, along with images of Aung San’s stoic calm through endless years of house arrest. We know that this was no idyll, as Aung San remained separated from her husband in the UK, even to his death; a reminder of the egregious cruelty of this comes with the shock interruption of chilling machine-gun raps in the percussion and blaring military tropes from the brass. The final section of the work is a fast workout with accelerating Sibelian busyness in the orchestra with beautiful woodwind solos atop – this struck me as representing the frenzy of renewed political activity and positive energy which has flowed from Aung San’s release from captivity. The work ends suddenly – Aung San’s work is far from complete, and the story is by no means over.

If I’m right about the Sibelian flavour of Jonathan’s work, he could not have known that the Concert Orchestra would pair it with Vaughan Williams’s 5th Symphony, which RVW dedicated ‘To Jean Sibelius, without permission.’  In fact, the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s legendary conductor Sir Adrian Boult (whom I heard conduct the 5th at a Prom concert in 1975, in one of his last public  appearances) subsequently secured permission. Sibelius wrote: ‘I heard Dr. Ralph Vaughan Williams' new Symphony in Stockholm under the excellent leadership of Malcolm Sargent...This Symphony is a marvellous work...the dedication made me feel proud and grateful...I wonder if Dr. Williams has any idea of the pleasure he has given me?’

Certainly, I felt the spirit of Sibelius’s poignant, limpid Swan of Tuonela hovering over both works this afternoon. VW’s 5th is one of those symphonies which ends quietly, and the BBC Concert Orchestra did the work full justice before a packed Cadogan Hall, not least in the closing bars of the third movement, Romanza, which is one of the most beautiful pieces of lyric orchestral writing in the entire canon.

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