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Richard Powers

As part of Radio 3’s celebration of forests, Michael Berkeley’s guest is the American novelist Richard Powers.

As part of Radio 3’s celebration of forests this autumn, Michael Berkeley’s guest is the American novelist Richard Powers. His latest novel, The Overstory, is his twelfth, and it’s a monumental work which was entirely inspired by trees.

It all started when Powers was teaching in California, and visited the giant redwoods there. That encounter amounted he says to “a religious conversion”. He realised he’d been blind to these amazing creatures all his life. So, to make up for lost time, in his new Booker long-listed novel he gives trees a voice:

"A woman sits on the ground, leaning against a pine. Its bark presses hard against her back, as hard as life. Its needles scent the air and a force hums in the heart of the wood. Her ears tune down to the lowest frequencies. The tree is saying things, in words before words."

Inspired by his passion for trees, Richard Powers has now moved to live in the forests of the Smoky Mountains which run along the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.

"In 15 to 20 minutes, I can be up and walking in these forests that are recovering from a century-and-a-half of logging and see the way that nature persists and transforms and perseveres."

On a brief trip to London, he looks back over a thirty-year writing career in which each novel is more audacious than the last. But one theme runs through all his writing: the power of music, and Powers plays the cello, guitar, clarinet and saxophone. His music choices include Dowland’s “Time Stands Still”, Bartok’s String Quartet No. 4, Bach’s Cantata BWV 100, and Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata.

A Loftus production for BBC Radio 3
Produced by Elizabeth Burke

Available now

34 minutes

Last on

Sun 21 Oct 2018 12:00

Music Played

  • Georges Bizet

    Jeux d'Enfants: La Toupie

    Performer: Katia Labèque. Performer: Marielle Labèque.
    • Bizet: Jeux d'enfants.
    • Philips.
    • 2.
  • John Dowland

    Time Stands Still

    Performer: Ronn McFarlane. Singer: Julianne Baird.
  • Béla Bartók

    String Quartet no.4 (2nd mvt: Prestissimo)

    Ensemble: Guarneri Quartet.
  • Gustav Mahler

    Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (Ruckert-Lieder)

    Orchestra: Hallé. Conductor: John Barbirolli. Singer: Janet Baker.
  • Charles Ives

    Piano Sonata no.2 (Concord, Massachussetts) (3rd mvt: The Alcotts)

    Performer: Gilbert Kalish.
  • Caroline Shaw

    Partita for Eight Voices (1st mvt: Allemande)

    Ensemble: Roomful of Teeth.
  • Johann Sebastian Bach

    Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan (Cantata no.100)

    Ensemble: Bach Collegium Japan. Conductor: Masaaki Suzuki.
  • Trad.

    The Parting Glass

    Ensemble: The Wailin’ Jennys.


Archive Unlocked: Two Decades of Private Passions

Archive Unlocked: Two Decades of Private Passions

Michael Berkeley introduces memorable interviews from Private Passions' archives.