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Looking back, and looking ahead

Alan Davey

Controller, BBC Radio 3

So much has made this year unique and epoch defining, both here at Radio 3 and in the wider world. In 'interesting' times, arts and culture can help us make sense of the world around us and we at Radio 3 have a vital role to play in helping audiences navigate that world; as a leading commissioner, promoter, creator and broadcaster of arts and music. We serve audiences by asking questions and giving audiences the means to find their answers.

I can’t possibly run through everything we’ve done this year that has made it so important for Radio 3: so many pioneering moments, so many bold experiments, but I can list a few that I think are part of what makes BBC Radio 3 so distinctive: 

  • We started with New Year New Music - putting contemporary classical in the heart of the schedule and broadcasting rare works from Stockhausen and La Monte Young.
  • We broadcast our first Non-classical concert from Ambika 3.
  • We launched new shows: The Listening Service, Exposure, Jazz Now, a revamped Late Junction with mix tape segments.
  • We had record audience figures and strong listening hours.
  • We appeared at festivals across the land from WOMAD to Great Escape, Hay Festival to Edinburgh Festival, The London Jazz Festival to Aldeburgh Music Festival and many more besides.
  • We celebrated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with an ambitious Sounds of Shakespeare Weekend from the RSC in Stratford looking at the Bard’s musical and cultural legacy.
  • We broadcast Sheku Kanneh Mason winning BBC Young Musician.
  • We had a bumper Proms season with more than 300,000 people attending, not to mention an increase in online consumption of the concerts and record TV figures
  • We celebrated our 70th, seven decades of pioneering music and culture – from a pop-up station at Southbank Centre to new commissions; River of Music – 12 hours of continuous music with no speaking, a special day focussing on what makes our BBC Orchestras and Choirs so unique; we introduced audiences to new music on our breakfast show with 10 wonderful commissions from Matt Kaner who was our 'embedded' composer in partnership with Sound and Music; binaural experiments including Between Ballard’s Ears, and Beckett plays, new music extravaganzas from Florian Hecker, Morton Feldman, Matthew Herbert and theatre director Robert Wilson doing a multilingual radio drama with Fiona Shaw and much more besides.
  • We put a marker in the sand re Diversity in Classical Music through Radio 3’s Diversity and Inclusion conference in partnership with RNCM and BASCA; we pledged to do things differently here and challenged others to change at least one thing so we can be more representative in this industry, all working together. I’m pleased to say the Association of British Orchestras will be carrying this mantle next year at its January conference, and we announced as part of our pledges a new commission for Chi Chi Nwanoku's Chineke Orchestra: we’re very much looking forward to hearing the new commission next year.
  • We also launched a scheme with the Arts and Humanities Research Council to see more female composers who have been forgotten in history being recorded and performed in order to change the classical canon forever.
  • We were part of another Jazz pop-up in partnership with BBC Music and Jazz FM which this year reached more people and had audiences listening for longer.
  • Through BBC Introducing we launched new talent across Classical, World and Jazz; we also launched New Generation Thinkers, New Generation artists and Proms Inspire.
  • We covered the BASCA awards and In Tune went to space – Goonhilly Earth station, Cornwall – to end our 70th Season. 

But we can’t only look back at our achievements or we would be standing still. Next year I promise you more bold programming, more pioneering moments more of what we do best which is connecting audiences with remarkable music and culture. I’ll run you through some highlights to whet your appetite for next year

  • We start the year with New Year’s Revolutions; starting with the annual New Year’s Day Concert and moving swiftly into the Second Viennese School composers Schoenberg, Webern and Berg. This theme of Breaking Free from tradition will inform the rest of our year as we look at cultural and political revolutions and their impact on music and culture. In the Spring we’ll look at the Reformation and its relevance today in arts and music and in the autumn the focus will switch to the Russian revolution and how artists respond to turbulence and rapid change.
  • I can announce that, at the end of January, to celebrate the 80th birthday of minimalist composer, Philip Glass, we will broadcast the BBC Symphony Orchestra Total Immersion on Glass at the Barbican as well as a special broadcast event, an all-nighter from 1am to 7am on 29 January, including a rare outing for his epic masterpiece ‘Music in 12 parts', rarely heard in complete form before.
  • There will be more of our partnerships next year. We’ll also be curating concerts in Hull City of Culture next year, including a 4-day folk and world music in a mini-festival called 'Uproot', We’ll have a special Hull Big Chamber Weekend, we’ll work with the PRS for Music Foundation Biennial as the broadcast partner of these works by new composers, and we’ll be part of a pan-BBC poetry season in the autumn.
  • As part of BBC Music Get Playing, we’re working with Making Music to broadcast premieres of pieces by contemporary composers working with amateur groups as part of their Adopt a Composer scheme and for a new feature on weekend breakfast, we will showcase further recordings by amateur groups.
  • We will also be showcasing new composers we’ve found through our BBC Classical Introducing composition scheme in In Tune, showcasing new works regularly as part of our continued commitment to putting contemporary composers in the heart of our schedule.
  • The Free Thinking Festival is back in March at Sage Gateshead. I can announce here that the theme will be the Speed of Life: there may be some of our characteristic slow radio as part of that festival, but also alongside the music, some of the guests we’ve secured include Damon Hill, Sathnam Sanghera, Jim Al-Khalili , Bettany Hughes, Harriet Harman and Edwina Currie, amongst others.
  • We have other fantastic drama programming confirmed, including a new production of A Government Inspector by Gogol featuring Lenny Henry and Roger Allam and I’m excited to tell you we’ll have a brand new commissioned play to mark his 80th birthday, by poet and playwright Tony Harrison who has written a radio drama called Iphegina In Crimea, and a new production of Shakespeare’s Pericles starring Willard White, the RSC’s Papa Essiedu, Adjoa Andoh and Barrie Rutter.
  • It’s also a big year in classical music next year as Simon Rattle returns to the UK to work with the London Symphony Orchestra: we’ll be reflecting this as well as broadcasting a concert on Thursday 19 January, live from the Barbican with Rattle conducting – as principal radio broadcast partner of the LSO.
  • In domestic news, next year is a big year for our In Tune host Sean Rafferty who will in the autumn have been presenting the programme for 20 years! We will be marking all these events and more next year.

I hope that gives you a flavour of some of the things in store for you next year. This is to you, our listeners: Merry Christmas!


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