sawyl: (A self portrait)
While I appreciate that R3 have to trail their programmes, I can't help but feel they're guilty of overuse and lack of variety. A couple of weeks ago, it felt like every single trail spot was used to tout an upcoming performance of Rusalka in Opera on Three; while this week, it feels like we've had nothing but trailers for the Uproots Festival in Hull.

As I say, I can understand the logic of it, especially for expensive outside broadcast recordings or big on-off events where they obviously want to maximise the audience. But the sheer lack of variety hasn't worked for me: by the time the programme eventually comes round, I've become so inured to the snippets of music included in the advert that I have no interest in listening to the thing itself...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
The sad but not entirely unexpected news that Steve Hewlett has died. Always an excellent interviewer on The Media Show, he also turned out to be a brilliant interviewee and his conversations with Eddie Mair on PM were essential listening.

The interviews often felt like eavesdropping on two old friends having a chat, with Steve talking about his illness and Eddie keeping things on track with an occasional comment or a joke. A few weeks ago their interview was derailed when Steve's drip started beeping like crazy and rather than edit it out they kept the fumbling around in the background, and, once the problem was under control and the conversation resumed, they got back to talking about the state of Steve's failing liver and, I think, his sudden decision to get married.

With hindsight it's now clear that last week's interview, in which Eddie Mair asked Steve whether he had anything he still wanted to get of his chest was something of a swansong. As insightful and sharp as ever and with nothing to lose, Steve talked about his concerns for the BBC and gave the government both barrels; he didn't name names but it was clear who he was talking about and how he thought they'd fallen down on the job. He even expressed a hope to present The Media Show one last time. It's a real shame we're not going to get that...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
I've very much enjoyed this week's Breaking Free mini-season on the Second Viennese School on R3. As Schoenberg's daughter said on Music Matters, the music is actually far more accessable than people thing but most of the time it's played so badly that people think they don't like it.

The two biggest highlights were the performances of Berg's operas Wozzeck and Lulu — the latter in an English transation from ENO, but Essential Classics also featured some of Webern's pieces and whole a series of Schoenberg's string quartets.


But Breaking Free wasn't all serialism all the time and both Webern's and Schoenberg's delightful arrangements of pieces by JS Bach put in an appearance. First, then, is Anton Webern's precise orchestration of the Ricecar a Six from the Musical Offering, where the line is passed from one instrument to another to emphasize the tone colours:


Similarly successful are Arnold Schoenberg's orchestral versions of some of Bach's keyboard works. Eschewing the bombastic and overly Romantic approaches of the majority of arrangers, Schoenberg instead uses his orchestral forces to emphasize Bach's different contrapuntal lines. The arrangement of the Prelude and Fugue in E-flat major BWV552 is an absolute masterpiece — it wasn't until I heard Schoenberg's version that I began to understand the complexities of Bach's original — but instead of that I've gone for the orchestral version of Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele BWV564 from the Great Eighteen Chorale Preludes.

sawyl: (A self portrait)
I've been listening to the final entries in Radio 3's Christmas Carol Competition, which this year features a series of settings of the anonymous text "Alleluia! A new work is come on hand..." The final pieces are all of an extremely high standard and each very distinctive in their own way, making it very hard to chose between them.

Both Nicholas Hopton, whose piece has echoes of Vaughan Williams about it, and Jessie Reeves, seem to be most approachable. Introducing her piece Reeves says that she likes pieces that slightly slushy and twee, with the result that her piece sounds rather like something John Rutter might have written.

Clive Osgood's piece includes a very effective piano introduction and a particularly nice cadence on the first alleluia. Osgood wrote the piece with his own church choir in mind and it certainly comes across as the sort of piece that would work very well in that space. Ghislaine Reece-Trapp's setting had a dancing rhythm — in her introduction she mentions this — reminding me of Holst's partsongs or perhaps one of Vaughan Williams' folk-influenced settings.

Thomas Neal's rhythmic, energetic, Waltonian setting was probably the most interesting and most musically adventurous of the settings; but sadly, the dry acoustics of the recording studio didn't do it any justice in yesterday's live concert. Joy Williams' setting, in contrast, is a quiet, very English setting where the effects are subtle and where solo parts are carefully used to emphasise the text; definite echoes of Finzi or early Howells.

All the pieces are excellent and each is enjoyable in its own way. It'll be interesting to see which one wins when the results are announced on the 22nd.

ETA: Jessie Reeves was the successful winner with her charming verse setting on the poem. Given the appeal of the piece and the composer's evidence skill at writing for voices, I find I'm not particularly surprised by the result!
sawyl: (A self portrait)
In a slightly odd moment this morning, I woke up not to Tweet of the Day but rather to the broadcast of a prayer for unity and reflection. I'm not sure whether this was planned or not, but, even though I don't believe, there was something extremely comforting about it and I found myself better prepared for the day and for the Today Programme to come...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Been listening to a good deal of R3's River of Music this afternoon and some of the sequences have been inspired. I particularly loved the section that ran:
  • Recordare and Move Him into the Sun from Britten's War Requiem
  • Quid sum miser, Rex tremendae and Recordare from Verdi's Requiem
  • Harrison Birtwistle's Panic
  • Kaval Sviri, a traditional Bulgarian piece arranged by Peter Liomdev
  • John Adams' Nixon in China from the opening through Soldiers of Heaven, finishing with the landing of The Spirit of 76

Which segued into:

  • Stan Kenton's Artistry in Rhythm
  • The Adagio from Mahler's nineth in one of Bernstein's performances with the New York Phil
  • L'Artisanat furieux from Le Marteau sans maitre by Pierre Boulez
  • Orlando Gibbons' The Silver Swan — a madrigal which features in Iris Murdoch's The Bell
  • Antonín Dvořák's Cello Concerto in an amazing performace with Slava Rostropovich and Evgeny Svetlanov

Amazing stuff.

sawyl: (A self portrait)
Lovely series of interviews with Ken Loach on R3 this week. Much to Sarah Walker's amusement, Loach picked the UK Theme as one of his choices:



She thought it was interesting that someone who'd also picked The Internationale and The Ballard of Joe Hill had also selected a piece that includes Rule Britannia!
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Having woken up early, I turned on the radio and caught a trail for next week's EBU Christmas around Europe thing immediately followed by Something Understood. I was amused to find that both the trail and the program featured the same piece of music — Morton Lauridsen's beautifully tranquil O Magnum Mysterium — only for the program to introduce it as something else entirely: one of Francis Poulenc's four Christmas motets. Oops.



Fortunately the rest of the program proved so soporific, I managed to doze off again in next to no time...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Thanks to Friday's In Tune, I've had Craig Leon's arrangement of Down By the Salley Gardens stuck in my head. And while it's true that Andreas Scholl could make a shopping list sound beautiful, I think this really works...

sawyl: (A self portrait)
Bit of a non-day today one way and other, so in lieu of any real content, here's a recording of R3's broadcast of choral evensong from Liverpool Anglican Cathedral from early in July. Even if you're not a fan of the prayers and readings and religiousness — and I'm not — it's worth hearing for the music alone.

The anthem is a superb performance of William Walton's Coronation Te Deum, which uses the trumpets of the cathedral's vast Willis organ to excellent effect, while the voluntary, Percy Whitlock's Fanfare, does much the same for the organ's tubas. Kudos to Dan Bishop, the associate organist, and to the BBC's engineers for capturing such a wonderful performance.


For those who want to skip, the Walton starts at 35:15 and the Whitlock at 48:54.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Todays edition of Music Matters featured a commemoration of John Tavener, including what now turns out to have been his last one-on-one interview. The piece also included an interview with Oliver Knussen, who conducted the premier of The Protecting Veil and who said that they realised they had something special almost as soon as they started rehearsing.

sawyl: (A self portrait)
Oh my god, The Now Show is sending up Arnold Riddley's — yes, that one — play The Ghost Train and doing a pretty good job of it. Talk about niche!
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Very much enjoyed John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme. The sketch about the radio afternoon drama, Saying the Plot Out Loud was a particularly funny spoof of all those terribly worthy things that R4 churns out during the week where everything is spelt out in painfully obvious detail. The sign off message was particularly good:

Lucy's Complex Dilemma was written by the BBC Dramabot 5000. And if you've been affected by any of the issues in the play, then God knows, you've had them painstakingly clarified for you now.

I think all radio plays should finish like this...

sawyl: (A self portrait)
Wonderful feature on Colin Davis on Music Matters, which draw on interviews with friends and recordings from the BBC's archive to present a fascinating portrait of a deeply complex man. Particularly interesting where the pieces on Davis' transformation from the nervous, ambitious, abrasive conductor of his early days into the mellow and much-loved person he later became. According to an extremely candid archive interview with Anthony Clare, Davis realised, aged 35, that he didn't much like the person he'd become:

I said to myself: my boy, this won't do. And I set out to tame myself. To put all this energy into a more positive form. And to overcome these obscene bouts of bad temper. And so I set out to change myself as far as I could. And I'm still on this journey.

The rests of the interviews were good, but the highlight was an archive recording from the early 70s of Davis in conversation with Michael Tippett:

Davis: You stretch the technical capabilities of your players with great glee, beyond anything they ever thought they could do.
Tippett: Glee isn't really the right word. I do it because I'm forced. Partly because, you said much early on, am I looking at means of doing these things. When you start recreating the means and making them alive, things do happen. But also I think, at the back of it too, is the feeling that I still have that the orchestral ensemble, which in the period of Rimsky-Korsakov is so wonderfully balanced and so forth, we're remaking the orchestras all the time. So we've got this position where we remake everything [ Tippett briefly becomes impossible to follow as he talks a mile a minute ] Then you do find stretching, though you don't mean it only in the form of stretching techniques. I think, as you will know because you've been rehearsing all the time, that at lot of it is stretching all the sounds that go with sounds, not merely the question of playing further up the keyboard.
Davis: No, it's making instruments make different kinds of sounds that they may not have made...
Tippett: And together....
Davis: And it happens to be difficult...
Tippett: Yes, it happens to be difficult...
Davis: It does!

At which point they both laugh themselves stupid. It's quite, quite wonderful.

sawyl: (A self portrait)
Working from home — I had a medical appointment in town — I finally got a chance to catch Colin Walsh's program of French organ music from Lincoln Cathedral, broacast on R3 on Monday. Very much my sort of thing, I've been going around humming the plain chant theme from Tournemire's improvisation on Victimae Paschali Laudes ever since.

sawyl: (A self portrait)
This is why I love The News Quiz. Half an hour with almost nothing on she-who-must-not-be-named beyond a quick question and some snarky asides:

They've been full of propaganda, the North Korean papers, actually, about Kim Jung-il, as usual. And I have to say it's when you realise you're in a good country. You'd never find the British papers filled with gushing uncritical praise for a complex and divisive political figure...

sawyl: (A self portrait)
A nice line from Jon Holmes on The Now Show in response to various complaints to Feedback about left-wing bias in R4's comedy line-up: "I don't think it's a fair criticism to say that all BBC comedians are left-wing. Nigel Farage is hilarious and he's always on the BBC..."
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Todays iPM featured an long and excellent interview with a listener who thinks that gun control laws in the UK are too restrictive. Despite providing some interesting insights into the question it quickly became clear, thanks in part to Eddie Mair's superb interview skills, that none of the arguments put forward by the interviewee stood up to scrutiny and that his case was largely founded on sentimental attachment.

For example, one of the claims was that the 1997 firearms act was unfair and pointless. It was argued that the act, which effectively removed the right to privately owned handguns, would only effect those who chose to surrender their weapons whilst leaving criminals (by definition!) free to continue to own illegal weapons. However this argument is clearly absurd. Taken to its logical extreme, it implies that it is unfair and pointless to restrict any action which might be carried out in a state of nature because it strips the good person of a right whilst leaving the bad untouched (assuming the law is not applied preemptively). Thus, according to this criteria, it is unfair to legislate against murder and theft etc.

Leaving the logical problems aside, there are a number of additional problems with the claim. Firstly, while it may be true that the 1997 act was unlikely to prevent people from continuing to acquire weapons on the black market, it and its 1988 predecessor were passed in response to two serious shootings — Hungerford and Dumblane — in which the weapons were licensed under existing legislation and it is for this reason that they restrict private ownership. Secondly, by limiting the number of weapons, the act effectively reduces the chances of their illegitimate use. When Mair asked whether the interviewee would keep a gun under his pillow if he could, the man replied that he wouldn't because it would put it in each reach of anyone who might invade his home. Thirdly, as implicitly acknowledged by the interviewee in his statement that people now think there is something unusual about being interested in handguns, the act asserts a normative value: in a civilised society, private individuals should have (almost) no reason to own a gun. I suppose this is equivalent to Weber's definition of statehood as a monopoly on violence.

Finally, I think the interviewee's own story fatally undermined his case. Asking him about his general experience with guns, Mair wondered whether he'd ever been shot. Obviously uncomfortable with the question, the interviewee answered that he had. After moving through the rest of the discussion, Mair returned to shooting and asked how it had happened. The interviewee admitted that it had occurred while he was organising a shooting club outside the UK. He had asked a person to leave on the ground of poor behaviour, only for them to return a short time later with an ancient weapon — "a 19th century pile of rubbish" — and attempted to shoot the interviewee in the face. Fortunately he'd been able to distract the person and the shot hit his boot. But, as he admitted, if the person had had a modern weapon, he probably wouldn't have survived.

I felt sorry for the interviewee. They'd obviously had to give up a hobby they loved and, in the post-Dumblane amnesty, they'd had to surrender a rare antique pistol. But at the same time, I feel the law is justified. Shooting not like driving, which while dangerous also possesses a utility value. It's more like drink-driving, something that the person involved may enjoy but which increases the chances of harm to those around them who don't participate and which needs to be restricted for the common good.
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Via this morning's CD Review, Paul McCreesh's wonderful new recording of Mendelssohn's Elijah with Simon Keenlyside in the title role. I'm definitely adding it to the list.
sawyl: (Default)
Having a big thing for the English cathedral tradition, I really love R3's midweek broadcasts of choral evensong. But despite that, my shallow atheist sense of irony can't help be mildly amused by the recent series of power cuts and acts of God that have knocked out some of the live broadcasts over the last month or two.

I know it's wrong to feel this way — I enjoy the services, despite not believing a word of them, and I feel bad for the people who've put in a lot of effort only to see things fail at the last ditch — but I just can't help myself.

I very much suspect this makes me a Bad Person...

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