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Listen Again to River of Music


Join us as we look back at a truly epic day of music broadcasting on Radio 3.

From 9am on 30 October, our presenters turned their microphones off for 12 hours to make way for a mighty River of Music. And instead of talking about their musical choices on air, they resurfaced online.

Essential Classics presenters Rob Cowan and Sarah Walker posted regular updates and information via this live blog, as well as talking to listeners in real-time via social media.

Read on to see how the day unfolded...

River of Music is now online

The River may have been a one day only event, but you can still listen to all 12 hours of music online.

Our 12-hour River has been divided into two six-hour mixtapes. Part 1 includes the music played from 9am to 3pm, while Part 2 contains the music played between 3pm to 9pm. Both are available for 30 days on the Radio 3 website.

You can also listen to the River on the move. Both mixtapes are now available to download via the iPlayer Radio app.

Thanks to everyone who contacted us with stories, questions and photos. It was wonderful to see how the Music flowed through your day!

21:10 That's a wrap, folks

You’ve just heard Rob and Sarah’s voices on air, which means that the spell has been broken and our 12-hour-long uninterrupted River of Music has come to an end.

Don’t worry if you missed anything: all 12 hours of music are now available to stream from the Radio 3 website, where they'll remain for the next 30 days. You can download River of Music too, in the form of two mighty six-hour mixtapes. Here's how to go about it.

Thanks so much for joining us today. The whole team, including presenters Rob and Sarah, have loved reading and responding to your messages, stories and photos.

Whether you’re a regular listener or a Radio 3 newbie, we hope to see you again soon. We have plenty more great music where that came from!

*normal services will resume shortly*

21:02 WOW. 12 hours of music. That went surprisingly quickly...

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Watch: Radio 3's River of Music in 60 seconds

Listen to all 12 hours of music for 30 days via the Radio 3 website & on iPlayer Radio.

20:58 There's *just* enough time for another zinger of an email...

"The force of the ‘River of Music’ is absorbing, blissful, captivating, demonstrative, engaging, felicitous, germane, harmonious, inspiring, joyous, kaleidoscopic, motivating, nirvana, omnipresent, penetrating, querulous, rapturous, subliminal, tempestuous, ubiquitous, visionary, winsome, xenogenetic, yomping and zany – please, let it flow on and on, into the sea of perpetuity!"

Huge thanks to Kalvin Haley, who has been swimming in our River of Music all day, according to his email. We're so happy to have been a part of his Sunday - and yours too!

*gets dictionary, looks up xenogenetic*

20:53 And because we couldn't think of a more glorious climax for our 12-hour River of Music...

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River of Music: The majestic "immolation scene" from Wagner's Götterdämmerung

Listen carefully for the most famous leitmotif of all time – the Ride of the Valkyries.

20:25 This next piece was chosen for our River of Music by the conductor Marin Alsop. Here's what she told us

"When I was 13 or 14 I was attending a chamber music camp and heard this recording playing in one of the kids’ rooms. I was so captivated by the music that I sat down outside the door and listened all the way to the end.

I felt tears in my eyes and understood, for the first time, the transformational power of great music to move and change us. Brahms has been a refuge for me ever since that day."

Brahms' String Sextet No.1 in B flat major (IV). Amadeus Quartet, Cecil Aronowitz (viola), William Pleeth (cello)

19:30 Rob's impressions of that emotionally and politically charged Proms performance by Mstislav Rostropovich

19:16 Antonín Dvořák: Finale of the Cello Concerto

Rob says:

21 August, 1968. The Proms. I was in a box, with Mrs Svetlanov sitting behind me. She looked decidedly uneasy. Soviet forces had just invaded Prague, and anti-Russian sentiments were running high. Tension was building by the minute.

Mstislav Rostropovich pictured in 1961

The great Russian orchestra was greeted with cheers and jeers. These wonderful players were expected to play the greatest of all cello concertos – by Antonin Dvořák, a Czech composer.

Their performance seemed to spell defiance, Rostropovich attacking the score with a vengeance. Once through with the challenge, he re-appeared alone to play solo Bach, tears streaming down his face.

Mstislav Rostropovich (cello), USSR State Symphony Orchestra, Evgeny Svetlanov (conductor), 1968

19:11 Boulez: L’Artisanat furieux from Le Marteau sans Maitre

Sarah says:

Le Marteau Sans Maître made me think about what makes an effective composition.

It contains radical serialism, where certain parameters of the music are subject to pre-ordained rules, but I’ve always felt that the music’s success is down to other things, less easy to define. Things like the clarity of the vocal line, the use of contrast, and the nature of individual phrases and gestures – whether or not they’re interesting to the ear.

In the absence of traditional melody, harmony and rhythm, these abstract principles are thrown into stark relief. Pierre Boulez also scores points with his luminous instrumentation (alto flute, viola, guitar, vibraphone and percussion) and interesting choice of text – intriguing poems by Rene Char.

Le Marteau points out the way for music in the mid 20th century with supreme elegance.

Ensemble Intercontemporain, Pierre Boulez (conductor), 1953-55

18:47 Mahler: Symphony No. 9 in D major (IV)

Rob says:

No conductor in the mid-20th century did more to promote the cause of Gustav Mahler than Leonard Bernstein.

Leonard Bernstein pictured in 1965

A composer of note himself – West Side Story was already behind him by the time the Mahler revival was under way – Bernstein penetrated the music from the inside, using his intuition to plumb the depths of symphonies that were often hugely complex.

Mahler wrote nothing greater than the Ninth Symphony, a work that both accepts death – or seems to – and reveres life. Bernstein ignites its emotional world with a degree of temperament and flair that few other conductors could match. This is no cool cerebral reportage, but an authentic re-enactment of a creative force that still has the power to humble.

New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein (conductor)

18:35 Ten-SHUN! This excerpt from John Adams' very first opera features a military chorus singing the Three Rules of Discipline and Eight Points for Attention

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River of Music: Nixon in China

John Adams' 1987 opera reimagines the US president's historic meeting with Chairman Mao.

18:25 Harrison Birtwistle: Panic

Sarah says:

Although I wasn’t present at the world premiere of Birtwistle’s Panic, I presented it on another occasion and was lucky enough to interview the composer, who described Pan in earthy terms. No gentle, woodland creature, this!

Harrison Birtwistle takes his bow at Last Night of the Proms 1995

Birtwistle’s amazing sense of drama means that all performances of his music at the Proms are occasions of great excitement. His instrumental writing takes no prisoners. It has a visceral excitement. The first time I ever saw acoustic shields protecting the player’s ears from the instruments behind them was at a Birtwistle performance.

This piece is a showcase for the saxophone and orchestra, where the soloist takes the role of the mythic God who runs amok “spreading ruin and scattering ban”, as the score tells us. The piece creates a real sense of conflict between soloist and orchestra, with the drumkit compounding the atmosphere of violence. The use of diverging tempi amongst the musicians adds to the complexity. A real tour de force!

John Harle (saxophone), Paul Clarvis (drumkit), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Davis (conductor)

18:15 Verdi: Quid sum miser, Rex tremendae and Recordare from Requiem

Rob says:

Verdi’s Requiem Mass has attracted many great conductors over the years. The most electrifying account of the post-war era was without question that given by in 1964 by the charismatic Italian conductor Carlo Maria Giulini at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

Carlo Maria Giulini pictured in 1964

Among the singers were two of the finest of the period, the mezzo Grace Bumbry and the tenor Sándor Kónya.

This performance has everything – devotional intensity, visceral excitement, fabulous choral singing and virtuoso orchestral playing.

Ilva Ligabue (soprano), Grace Bumbry (mezzo), Sandor Konya (tenor), Raffaele Arie (bass), Philharmonia Choir and Orchestra, Carlo Maria Giulini (conductor), 1962

18:01 Benjamin Britten: Recordare and Move Him into the Sun from War Requiem

Sarah says:

“All a poet can do today is warn,” wrote Wilfred Owen in preface to his war poetry, shortly before he was killed in action at the age of 25. I am haunted by these words, and by the music created by Benjamin Britten for his War Requiem in 1962.

Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears pictured in 1964

Britten’s musical language is direct. He makes clear distinctions between the large orchestra, the group of instrumental soloists, and the organ – metaphors for the mass of humanity, for the smaller community, and for the individual.

This aria from the Lacrimosa section is particularly affecting, its words taken from Owens’ poem Futility. It describes a group of soldiers attempting to revive an unconscious comrade by moving him into the warm sunlight. But it’s too late.

Peter Pears’ clear voice, in this classic recording conducted by Britten, evokes the despair of those present at this young soldier’s death.

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Benjamin Britten (conductor), 1962

17:45 It's lovely to think we're a part of so many people's Sundays...

17:15 We're really quite moved by Rob's illustration for Schubert's Piano Sonata in B flat major. That's Mitsuko Uchida playing it now in the River of Music.

17:06 This majestic orchestral march was written for and performed at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 – though you'll find that it also lends a certain je ne sais quoi to other tasks, such as ironing

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River of Music: Walton's Orb and Sceptre

A stately coronation classic.

16:54 The composer Oliver Knussen popped into our Southbank Centre residency to tell us all about the scandalous beginnings of his choice for River of Music

Watch: Oliver Knussen's choice for River of Music

The composer describes the "scandalous" premiere of Berg's Altenberg Lieder in 1913

16:40 Ron Grainer's tune and Delia Derbyshire's electronic wizardry were a musical match made in heaven. All together now: Oooh-ee-OOH! Eeeeeeee-OOH!

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River of Music: The Doctor Who theme

Take a moment to salute the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, early pioneers of electronic music

16:35 Our producers worked hard to make sure that all the pieces in River of Music flow in an easy, continuous stream. They've done all sorts of clever things to make sure that key signatures, textures and themes just *work* - have you noticed?

16:29 Show us how River of Music is flowing through your day

FM radio, DAB digital or online. On FM or digital radio, on your computer or via the BBC Radio iPlayer app.

In the kitchen while you're doing the roast, on the windowsill as you potter outside or in your pocket, on the move.

It has never been easier to fit Radio 3 into your routine – and now we want to see how the River of Music flows through your day.

Plus, we're all sitting in a studio, so it would be nice to see what's going on in the outside world ;-)

Tweet your photos and messages to @BBCRadio3, comment on our Facebook posts, email us at, or drop us a text on 83111. (Texts will cost 10p to 12p each, depending on the network.)

16:07 Sibelius: Symphony No.7

Rob says:

British music lovers with a taste for Sibelius have been well-served over the years, and Sir Thomas Beecham was responsible for flying the Sibelian flag high above the capital with his magnificent Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, formed in 1946.

Sir Thomas Beecham pictured in 1952

Sibelius concerts under Beecham’s direction were always prized events. He was especially adept in his handling of what I consider to be the 20th century’s greatest Symphony, Sibelius’s Seventh.

The two men were good friends – and you sense that rapport in Beecham’s performances.

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Thomas Beecham (conductor), 1947

16:05 Traditional folksong: Blow the Wind Southerly

Rob says:

For many, Kathleen Ferrier’s voice was the voice of an era. Her appearances at the 1949 Edinburgh Festival were legendary, especially her performances with Bruno Walter, the man who had introduced her to the music of Mahler.

Kathleen Ferrier pictured in 1948

As memories fade, there are precious few live recordings of Ferrier left to us. What we have, though, is revelatory.

The intensity of the singing in this simplest of songs, the warmth of the voice, its capacity for expressing pathos, joy and tragedy, all presage the singer’s own tragic fate.

She died of cancer in 1953, aged just 41.

Kathleen Ferrier (contralto), 1949

15:38 James MacMillan: The Confession of Isobel Gowdie (conclusion)

Sarah says:

I was fortunate enough to be present at the world premiere of James Macmillan’s orchestral work, The Confession of Isobel Gowdie at the Proms in 1990.

It was the first piece of his that I had ever heard – and the overwhelming impression I took away about this young Scottish composer was one of an unflinching directness. His musical style seemed fairly traditional in the context of a lot of the highly complex new music being written at that time, yet I could tell that Macmillan had no interest in mollifying an audience: there simply seemed to be a direct line from his emotions to his manuscript paper.

The theme of this piece was a challenging one – the idea of a woman being burnt as a witch is unbearable – but Macmillan’s response was to acknowledge her suffering and to offer comfort by means of a sort of unofficial requiem.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra played brilliantly on that warm summer evening in 1990, and there was a great ovation at the end of the performance. I wasn’t surprised that James MacMillan was often seen on the conducting podium after this. He clearly had great respect and understanding of how an orchestra works.

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Jerzy Maksymiuk (conductor)

15:36 David Munrow, who directed this performance, had a sideline as the host of Radio 3's Pied Piper series – one of the only music programmes aimed squarely at younger listeners (though it had its fair share of older ones, too!)

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River of Music: Praetorius' Dances from Terpsichore

A 1974 recording by the Early Music Consort of London under director David Munrow.

15:18 And if this doesn't get your toes tapping, there's simply no hope for you

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River of Music: Wynton Marsalis plays Thelonious

Here's a musician who constantly crosses the boundary between jazz and classical.

14:59 Antônio Carlos Jobim: The Girl from Ipanema

Sarah says:

Stan Getz’s recording of The Girl from Ipanema emerged in 1962, when the Bossa Nova was enjoying great popularity. It evokes the 1960s in a powerful way – especially with Astrud Gilberto’s effortless, slightly husky singing. Jobim’s song of unrequited love is still one of the best-known jazz standards around, and it seems to divide opinion. for some, it’s corny and ubiquitous, for others, it’s the perfect Bossa.

Personally, I’m a fan. The harmonic structure is so clever and satisfying, the melody full of chromatic twists and turns. Superficially, it sounds like child’s play, yet it can be tremendously challenging to sing - I know this through occasionally singing it with a big band. Sometimes, female singers change the lyric to The Boy from Ipanema, but I prefer Astrud’s version, where she sings: “Oh, but he watches so sadly – how can he tell her he loves her?” The note on “Oh” is the hardest.

Joao Gilberto, Astrud Gilberto, Stan Getz (saxophone), 1962

14:57 John White: Piano Sonata No.54

Sarah says:

John White (b. 1936) approaches his sonatas like a sort of personal diary or journal. In each one, we find his current musical enthusiasms and homages to a wide range of composers from past and present. Rather like Scarlatti’s sonatas, White’s sonatas are single movement pieces, and they share with Scarlatti a sense of pianistic adventure. Many of them are highly virtuosic!

This sonata was written at a time when John White was moving away from his experimental, systemic pieces and towards a more traditional musical language. And yet the way tonality works in these pieces is not quite traditional: the music gains its coherence through the interplay of references and quotations. I find the music witty and delightful.

Roger Smalley (piano), 1995

14:48 "The still point in the middle of an amazing jamboree": our fourth guest star introduces an exquisite 17th-century hymn to the Virgin Mary

Watch: Dame Emma Kirkby's choice for River of Music

Soprano Emma Kirkby sings the praises of Monteverdi's "exquisite" Ave Maris Stella.

14:46 Ravi Shankar: Gat Kirwani

Rob says:

When it comes to music that unfolds to a consistent pulse, my greatest love (before minimalism) was Indian music – specifically when played on the sitar by Ravi Shankar, whom I had the good fortune to interview in the early 1990s.

Ravi Shankar pictured in 1967

A gentle, kindly man, he chatted to me about his collaboration with George Harrison, and the way Indian music has influenced aspects of Western popular music.

Shankar’s artistry, with its adoption of Carnatic rhythms from southern India, slowly gained in popularity from the 1960s. His trademark use of the sitar’s bass octave – together with the hypnotic effect of the tabla – still casts a spell.

Ravi Shankar (sitar), Paul Horn (flute), Sam Chianis (santoor), Penelope Estabrook (tambura), Alla Rakha, Phil Harland (tabla), Harihar Rao (tabla, dholak), 1964

14:36 The emails have been pouring in today! Thanks so much if you've taken the time to get in touch - we're responding to your messages as fast as we can. Here's one we received earlier that's just too lovely not to share...

I was born in 1947 so am almost the same age as the Third Programme/Music Programme/Radio 3. I first became aware of the riches available on air in the early 1960s when I discovered, purely by chance, a series of Haydn String Quartets which were being broadcast around the time I got home from school. No one had ever told me that this stuff even existed let alone how fascinating and compelling these musical narratives were.

I remember discovering Bruckner (6th Symphony) in the kitchen, Miles Davis (Kind of Blue) in the bathroom and Bartok (The Miraculous Mandarin) in the bedroom

I used to rush home from school to catch them at 4pm and I began to devour whatever music I could. But the real breakthrough came in 1962 when I heard an evening performance of Elgar's Second Symphony conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. I became totally obsessed with this work. I found the score in my local library and had it out on loan for three years and could not understand how on earth it was not constantly in demand as it was never recalled. It was through this experience that I decided to devote my life to music.

I remember discovering Bruckner (6th Symphony) in the kitchen, Miles Davis (Kind of Blue) in the bathroom and Bartok (The Miraculous Mandarin) in the bedroom. Where else in the world, in the sixties, would you have been able to hear the music of Webern, Luigi Nono and Stravinsky late into the night? And, as I write, I can hear Stimmung - that astonishing masterpiece by Stockhausen which I first heard late one evening in 1971 - these broadcasts are etched into my memory.

I went on to study music professionally (Southampton University and the Janacek Academy) and have earned a living from it ever since as a player, composer, writer and academic. I can honestly say that without the stimulus of the music programme this might never have happened.

As I approach 70 myself, the river continues to flow, piped (wirelessly nowadays) into every room, a constant and indispensable sound track.

Thank you
Dr. Rod Paton

Thanks so much to Dr Paton and to everyone else who has taken the time to email us about River of Music and Radio 3.

If you'd like to get in touch, send an email to, drop us a tweet, or text us on 83111. Texts cost 10-12p, depending on your network.

14:27 What’s playing on Radio 3 right now?

Good question! After all, we haven’t heard from our presenters on air since 9am today.

If you’ve just tuned in, you’re listening to River of Music on Radio 3: 12 hours of glorious music, where the only human voices you’ll hear are lifted in song.

So how can you tell what’s playing right now? Simple.

  • Check the top of any page of the Radio 3 website (including this one). The track now playing is scrolling across the top.

  • Read the DAB text that scrolls across your digital radio display or smart TV.

  • Check out this episode page for River of Music – it shows all the music that has already played out today on the River.

  • Check our Twitter feed – we’re busy posting information about many of the 70 tracks being played as part of River of Music. We’ll be happy to answer your questions too!

  • This blog is a bit of a clue – as you can see, Rob and Sarah are posting regular updates about their musical choices.

Franck: Sonata for Flute and Piano, III

Sarah says:

James Galway was perhaps the first classical musician whose name I ever learnt. I saw him on TV – his flute, an incredibly photogenic instrument as it flashed under the studio lights. But what really drew me in was the way he communicated his personality and human warmth through the flute.

Hearing him play Bach’s Badinerie definitely encouraged me to take up the flute myself – I’d heard the instrument briefly at Junior School when the now-famous-author, Joanne Harris, played it in a little ensemble in assembly, and I felt instantly in love with its gentle sound.

James Galway’s playing gave me that extra push to put my hand up in class one day and say that I’d like to take on the spare Music Service flute that had become available. Only now do I really appreciate the inner workings of what he does – the bright vibrato and lively technique. He’s still an inspiration to me!

James Galway (flute), Martha Argerich (piano)

14:01 Stravinsky: Rite of Spring, Part 1 (Adoration of the Earth)

Rob says:

No-one who saw Pierre Monteux conduct the Rite of Spring at the Royal Albert Hall in 1963 (on the 50th anniversary of its premiere) would claim that it was the greatest performance ever. But it was certainly a memorable occasion!

Stravinsky himself is reported to have said that he had no intention of hearing his music being murdered by “that frightful butcher”. The composer had planned to attend to a performance of Mozart’s Figaro that evening, but friends persuaded him to journey to the Royal Albert Hall instead – which he did in time for the end of the performance, after which conductor and composer embraced affectionately.

Of Monteux’s many recordings of the Rite, this is the one that wins the prize for excitement and balletic flair.

Paris Conservertoire Orchestra, Pierre Monteux (conductor), 1963

13:50 Right, time for a seriously thrilling top C – this time from 1963

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River of Music: That iconic 1963 recording of Allegri's Miserere

A game-changing performance that made that made a 12-year-old choirboy famous.

13:17 This lovely ditty reflects Radio 3's longstanding support of lighter repertoire. It even includes the voice of bass Brian Kay, one of the station's key presenters in the 1980s and 1990s...

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River of Music: The Peanut Vendor

A vintage track from the King's Singers' debut recording.

13:13 Compay Segundo: Chan Chan

Sarah says:

I was watching Jools Holland one night in 1997, looking forward to hearing from the American musician Ry Cooder. But then, surprise surprise: this renowned composer and producer was to be found seated amidst a large band of elderly gentlemen, playing a rhythm guitar part that was barely audible. He clearly wasn’t there to promote himself!

Cooder had discovered the Buena Vista Social Club on a visit to Cuba and brought the veteran players over to the UK to perform. Chan Chan became their signature tune. It reminds me of those ancient tunes such as La Folia and La Spagnoletta, with their repeating harmonic patterns, and the Latin flavour of the track is still irresistible to me. One day, I’ll learn to dance to it…

Buena Vista Social Club, 1997

We're seeing a lot of love for a piece we played earlier by Thomas Adès. That was an excerpt from Asyla played by City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Simon Rattle. Powerful, pulsing phrases.

12:50 Remember how we said earlier that we were going to try to get Rob to dig out some old photos?

Well he's only gone and done it. Ladies and gentleman: the youthful Rob Cowan.

He's threatening to break out his baby photos next...

12:42 Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante for violin, viola and orchestra

Rob says:

In 1963 I attended my very first London concert. It was very much a case of starting at the top – the venue being the Royal Albert Hall, and the programme Mozart’s great Sinfonia Concertante, with the Oistrakhs playing viola and violin and Yehudi Menuhin conducting. David Oistrakh then swapped over to the podium to conduct Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, with Menuhin as soloist.

It was the Mozart that made the biggest impression on me, the father and son on stage communing in music as I’d never heard before. As luck would have it, my own dad recorded the broadcast on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, so I was privileged to enjoy the concert many times after returning home. I must have worn the tape out!

David Oistrakh (viola), Igor Oistrakh (violin), Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Yehudi Menuhin (conductor), 1963

12:35 Our third guest star explains his choice for the River of Music. It may not have jumped off the page for him at first, but he soon came to understand it...

Watch: Sir Mark Elder's choice for River of Music

The conductor introduces "a very noble, moving composition": Elgar's The Apostles.

12.17 How is River of Music fitting into your day?

If you’ve found our live blog, you’ve obviously been sufficiently curious about the lack of voices on Radio 3 today to come and find out what’s going on. Welcome!

Presenters Rob and Sarah are here in the Radio 3 studios, updating this blog and responding to listeners' questions and comments via social media.

This is the first time we’ve ever tried anything like this, and we’re really curious to see how River of Music is flowing through your day. Where are you listening? Who are you with? And what music has been your favourite so far? We’d love to hear your stories.

Send us your photos, comments and questions – we'll respond to as many as possible and repost the best messages on this live blog.

12:01 As you know, this is a very new way of doing things for us and we're learning a lot. It looks like you are, too! We love the academic rigour that some of you are bringing to River of Music...

11:52 This Proms premiere has proved to be one of the festival's most popular and enduring commissions ever

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River of Music: John Tavener's The Protecting Veil

Listen to the deeply devotional opening of this 1989 work for solo cello.

11:44 Not to be outdone, Rob has got onto some artwork as well! Here's his response to the Beethoven now playing...

11:42 Beethoven: First movement of Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”)

Sarah says:

The great conductor-musicologist Roger Norrington (b. 1934) made the bold move of respecting Beethoven’s original metronome markings, an action that had up to that point been regarded as unfeasible. Nevertheless, symphonies which had previously been performed in a grand, expansive manner (a bit stodgily) now came to life, and for me, none more so than the Pastoral symphony.

It’s a large structure, and how much more taut, more compelling it sounds when taken at Beethoven’s original, brisker tempi. The fact that the London Classical Players use period instruments also freshens up the sound. When their recording of the Pastoral starts, it’s like stepping onto a new-mown lawn with bare feet. Utterly refreshing.

London Classical Players, Roger Norrington (conductor), 1987-89

11:33 Hildegard to Elgar: here's Sarah's artistic response to that wonderful first hour of River of Music. Nice one, Sarah!

11:31 Steve Reich: America – Before the War, from Different Trains

Rob says:

Back in the 1980s I fondly recall setting out to interview Steve Reich about Different Trains with – wait for it! – a ghetto blaster, which was the only tape recorder I had at the time. He looked at me with a half-smile and said: “Am I going to talk into that thing, or are we going to bop to it?”

We didn’t bop to it, but I did learn a great deal about speech sampling, the technique that Different Trains is built on.

I’ll never forget the impact that the opening had at the work’s London premiere: a combination of driving rhythms from Kronos, mirrored fragments of speech and that screaming, off-beat train siren.

Fabulous. Even now, I listen to the piece with ever-renewed enthusiasm.

Kronos Quartet, 1988

11:28 Duke Ellington: Blue Bird of Delhi from Far East Suite

Sarah says:

When Duke Ellington died in 1974, he’d just turned 75 and had barely slowed down; still running his ground-breaking jazz orchestra and composing a wide range of pieces that defy categorisation.

The Far East Suite sums up what I love about him. Firstly, there’s the elusive quality of his skilfully blended orchestration. Then there’s the structural innovation – taking us way beyond the traditional song format – and lastly, the genius for atmosphere.

Blue Bird of Delhi is like a miniature tone poem. It’s so powerfully descriptive: an Indian mynah bird, evoked by a clarinet melody, juxtaposed with a brooding bassline.

It reminds me of the way Olivier Messiaen sets his birds in craggy landscapes, making them all the more delicate and delightful.

Duke Ellington and his Orchestra, 1974

11:17 This chart-smashing performance from Nigel Kennedy remains one of the best-selling classical recordings ever made

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River of Music: Nigel Kennedy plays Autumn from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons

The violinist made his name – and broke some records – with this 1989 recording.

11:10 Chopin: Scherzo No.2 in B flat minor

Sarah says:

I first got to know Benjamin Grosvenor’s playing through his CD of music by Chopin, Liszt and Ravel. We played the Chopin Scherzo No. 1 in B minor on Essential Classics a few years ago, I recall. Of course I was already aware of the excitement surrounding Benjamin and his playing – people marvelling at his youthful brilliance – but I am always keen to hear for myself and try to make up my own mind.

I was totally bowled over by his playing – so much intelligence in there, you could almost cut it with a knife – moods changing with such precision, and as for his sound – so bell-like and clear. What I’d call “persuasive” – touching the emotions and taking you with him on each musical journey.

There’s more Chopin on his later album of Dances, and it’s exciting to see how his repertoire is developing in interesting new directions – Scriabin, Granados, Morton Gould, Adolf Schulz-Evler! Following their own instincts in terms of repertoire is, I think, an important way in which players will keep classical music fresh and interesting to a new audience.

Benjamin Grosvenor (piano)

11:01 Cristóbal de Morales/Jan Garbarek: Parce mihi Domine

Sarah says:

The Hilliard Ensemble introduced many of us to the rich, haunting atmosphere of early organum – the medieval beginnings of modern harmony.

The Hilliard Ensemble with Jan Garbarek

It’s through them that I realised that chords without a particularly “major” or “minor” character could actually be quite interesting in their own right.

The Hilliards’ precision of intonation also made rich Renaissance polyphony wonderfully clear and colourful. So it’s not surprising that the Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek was attracted to their soundworld and saw its potential as a basis for improvisation.

His album Officium was recorded in 1993 at the monastery of Propstei St Gerold in Austria. Its echoing acoustic proved irresistible, with over 1.5 million copies of the album sold so far.

Jan Garbarek (saxophone), Hilliard Ensemble, 1994

10:54 Next up, Gabriel Prokofiev chooses a piece he first heard as a 16-year-old (on Radio 3, of course)

Watch: Gabriel Prokofiev's choice for River of Music

The composer-producer describes the "game-changing" Stimmung, by Karlheinz Stockhausen.

10:33 Brahms: Tragic Overture

Rob says:

When Sir Adrian Boult welcomed Arturo Toscanini to the Queen’s Hall in the 1930s, British music lovers heard performances the likes of which they’d never heard before. Then, in 1952, Toscanini came to London’s year-old Royal Festival Hall to give two concerts with the Philharmonia, an orchestra that he greatly admired.

The repertoire was 100% Brahms – including all four symphonies and a work that was especially close to the Maestro’s heart, the Tragic Overture, where he somehow made the score sound uncannily like a Faustian tone poem.

Toscanini’s way with Brahms stripped the music clean of excess baggage, making it strong, lissome, hugely energetic, and – in the case of the Tragic – riveting.

Philharmonia Orchestra, Arturo Toscanini (conductor), 1952

10:24 Miles Davis: So What (from Kind of Blue)

Sarah says:

So What is one of the first pieces I learned to improvise over. Containing just two chords, it’s perfect for that purpose. The first and last sections are based on the Dorian mode on D, and the middle one shifts up a notch into E flat – so as long as you can play a Dorian mode starting on either of those notes, you can improvise some sort of a solo.

I doubt whether Miles Davis thought of it this way. Perhaps he was more concerned with the cool atmosphere created by the mode; the wonderful lift when the music breaks into the higher key, and the sense of resolution when it goes back down.

As for the rhythmic structure – that enigmatic melodic phrase, answered by the “so what?” gesture – I find it infectious and hypnotic.

Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Jimmy Cobb, Paul Chambers, John Coltrane and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, 1959

10:10 We're having lots of lovely chats with you lot on Twitter. It's clear that people are getting into River of Music in their own way...

09:45 Sir Neville Marriner chose a comparatively little-known piece by Elgar for River of Music: here's why

Listen: Sir Neville Marriner's choice for River of Music

Hear Sir Neville talking earlier this year about Edward Elgar's In The South.

09:35 Now we hear from an ensemble that has been a BBC Proms regular since its formation in 1999: the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra

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River of Music: Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.5

A live performance from Daniel Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

09:25 Schumann: Träumerei (“Dreaming”) from Kinderszenen (“Scenes from Childhood”)

Rob says:

1982 not only saw the very first visit to the UK by a reigning Pope, but also the world’s greatest pianist give his first London recital in years. As I waited outside the Royal Festival Hall for Vladimir Horowitz to arrive, the pontiff’s helicopter roared overhead, but all eyes were on the black vehicle carrying the legendary musician.

I’ll never forget it. The Prince of Wales was there too, and at the start of the concert, as Horowitz prepared to play the national anthem, the pianist’s hands were visibly shaking.

But once into his stride, the old Horowitz re-emerged and began to work his magic, most especially in Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood, where every miniature was finely tooled, sharply characterized and very special.

Vladimir Horowitz (piano), 1982

09:10 Oh, wow!

Sarah has just whipped out a memento from her 1980s student days.

It's just too good not to share...

Now, how can we get Rob to dig out a photo from the archives?

09:07 Hildegard von Bingen: O Jerusalem aurea civitatis

Sarah says:

I was halfway through my music degree when I became aware of the voice of Emma Kirkby, whose career was really taking off in the 1980s. She was the first soprano I had ever heard whose voice didn’t have a whiff of the opera house. She floats “like a feather on the breath of God”, but there’s backbone there, too: a bit of an edge in her voice which I still love.

For me, Emma Kirkby is closely identified with the music of Hildegard von Bingen: I could believe in her as the embodiment of a 12th-century abbess. We now know so much more about Hildegard: writer, composer, philosopher, visionary, polymath and builder of abbeys. I can imagine her brewing tea for the stonemasons – but keeping their noses to the grindstone.

Emma Kirkby (soprano), Gothic Voices, Christopher Page (director), 1985

09:05 We're off! And what an opening...

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River of Music: Also sprach Zarathustra

This 1968 recording famously stole the show in Stanley Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey.