Simon Russell Beale, Greta Scacchi and Benedict Cumberbatch in studio
Emma Harding has produced and directed Michael Frayn's play about the controversial meeting in 1941 between physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, friends who now found themselves on opposing sides in Hitler's war. Here, Emma describes the concept and the casting ...
I set out to direct Michael Frayn's Copenhagen for radio with great joy - I'd hugely admired Michael Blakemore's original 1998 stage production and Howard Davies' inventive 2002 BBC film version - but also with a great sense of trepidation. How would we turn a brilliant stage play into something that worked as a radio drama? How would I help the actors - and the listeners - navigate some very complex scientific and moral ideas?
But as I read and re-read the play, I began to feel that one of the keys to the piece was Frayn's playful and metaphorical use of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. The notion of uncertainty runs through the whole drama - the uncertainty and the unsaid within human relationships, the uncertainty and the contradiction of human memory, and the uncertainty - the unknowability - of human motivation. And, in the foreground, is the still unresolved mystery of why Heisenberg went to see Bohr in Copenhagen in 1941.
But a drama about the uncertainty of a character's motivation presents an interesting dilemma to actors and director, who are more used to asking 'why am I doing what I'm doing?' and making a decision one way or another. Fortunately, I had a terrifically bright and engaged cast - Simon Russell Beale, Benedict Cumberbatch and Greta Scacchi - who were more than capable of taking on these mind games.
It's also critical that the actors are confident with the complex scientific ideas that their characters are throwing around the dinner table. I invited the physicist and broadcaster Jim Al-Khalili along to our read-through, so that the cast could ask him detailed questions about Bohr and Heisenberg's work. As anyone who's listened to Radio 4's The Life Scientific
will know, Jim's a brilliant expositor of mind-bending ideas, so by the end of the session, we all felt we had some sort of grip on the science that informs the drama.
But the play itself isn't about science. Or rather, it is about science, but it's about science in the context of morality, politics and history. These two physicists are working on opposing sides in a global war and they are both very aware of the potential chain reaction - that their work on the atom could inevitably contribute to the deaths of millions of people.
These are big ideas. But Copenhagen is also an intimate, domestic drama about a friendship between two men and a perceived betrayal.
In Simon and Benedict's portrayals of Bohr and Heisenberg, we worked on creating a real sense of a friendship that has become strained, but that was once incredibly close - the friendship between an eminent physicist and his mercury-witted protégé, or between a father-figure and his adopted son. And Greta, as Margrethe Bohr, presents a fiercely intelligent woman, torn between her inherent instinct towards graciousness and hospitality, and her irritation with Heisenberg.
If there is such a thing as nobility in the jazz world, the two surnames that dominate this week's programme are undoubtedly of royal lineage. Our main performance comes from a man whose father is noted as the most revered and revolutionary saxophonist to mark music history – a tough shadow to follow – but as Ravi Coltrane, son of John and Alice, proved with his quintet at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, he's a player who's making giant steps of his own.
Coltrane released Spirit Fiction last year – an album that marked his debut as a leader on Blue Note – and it feels in many ways like a 'coming-of-age' for the saxophonist. Displaying a mastery of his instrument and a wonderful sense of understated lyricism, Coltrane has a distinct approach that is truly engrossing without ever getting flashy; and in trumpeter Ralph Alessi he has found a true musical ally – just listen to their instinctive conversational improvisation in the set-opener, Klepto. That said, and having awarded patient listening for the best part of their gig, the quintet let fly at the end in an exhilarating rendition of Thelonious Monk’s Skippy, a raucous swinging affair which well-and-truly brought the tent down.
And to close the show, more saxophone sovereignty, this time from the Marsalis family. Tenor and soprano-player Branford has led one of the leading acoustic jazz quartets of the last twenty years and the band was an inspiration to Nathaniel Facey, frontman of London-based Empirical. You can hear the young Brit interview his Ameican idol at the end of the programme, but until then here’s a clip from their illuminating conversation.
Make sure to tune in on Monday evening from 11pm or listen online for seven days after the broadcast.
If you have comments about the show, or requests for
music you’d like to hear, do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter at @BBCJazzon3
Guy Meredith wrote this weekend's Verdi-meets-Wagner drama. Here he confesses that he made it all up, even the bit about the camels:
I have to be honest and admit that I wasn't aware of the forthcoming joint anniversary of Wagner and Verdi's birth before the producer Cherry Cookson emailed me in the summer of 2011. She had been sharp enough to notice it and make a preliminary approach to Radio 3 and to the production company Goldhawk Essential.
If I'm even honester - while I enjoy opera, I'm by no means an opera buff in general or a Wagnerian in particular. Which was a little more worrying; I imagined that taking a few liberties with Verdi's life wouldn't particularly offend his sunny Mediterranean-style followers but to tell anything but the strictest of truths about Wagner felt like it could get me into very hot Nordic water. Or maybe that should be very cold.
What didn't worry me though was the fact that the two composers never met. Radio is a great medium in the way that the writer meets the listener in a co-owned space. Both their imaginations are at work and so filling that space with something illusory is second-nature.
Cherry and I had worked together some years ago on a Radio 3 play, 'The Surprise Symphony', about an orchestra tour where the musicians kept dying in suspicious circumstances. Re-visiting the ground of comedy and music together with Cherry was an attractive proposition, though the comedy in 'One Winter's Afternoon' is more restrained.
But here, in OWA, there was something else which drew me in: the bitter-sweet period at the end of each composer's life, Wagner dying when he had finally achieved financial stability, Verdi having retired but unable to refuse the call (and the deep frustration) of another last job.
Two other key elements were the affair which Verdi may or may not have had with the soprano Teresa Stolz and his murky claim that he was in some way coerced by his publisher Ricordi into writing Otello: mystery plus room for invention - who could resist? The pairing of Ricordi and the librettist Boito as a comic duo was the icing on the cake - even if I'd made the icing myself.
On the subject of invention, I have to admit that there is no evidence whatsoever for Verdi losing the camels destined for the premiere of Aida in the siege of Paris. The idea however of them being eaten along with the other zoo animals (which is true) seemed too good an opportunity to miss. Reading the play again, I notice that I didn't take any such liberties with Wagner's life. Clearly still too scared.
One was that Wagner productions in Germany tended to be overly controversial and far removed from anything which Wagner might recognise as his own. There had to be distance between today's Germany and the anti-Semitic composer whom Hitler adored. Witness, I opined, the recent row over the production of Tannheuser in Duesseldorf, replete with Nazis gassing victims.
To feed my prejudice, I had met the chairman of the Welsh National Opera who said that the WNO's excellent (but reasonably 'traditional') production of Meistersinger had been applauded ecstatically by Germans who had gone to Cardiff to see it - "We just couldn't do it like that in Germany", they had said.
So when I saw the Deutsche Oper's Tristan (set on an ocean liner, complete with naked drug addicts), my prejudices were confirmed. I put my opinions to the intendent of the company. Dietmar Schwarz paused and said: "The producer was British". And so he was – Graham Vick.
Or my theory that Wagner didn't really have a place in the DDR – too nationalistic, too close to the Nazis. But in Leipzig, I learnt that Meistersinger was the very first production when the city's magnificent rebuilt opera house opened in 1960.
I now think that Wagner doesn't have that much of a hidden nationalistic resonance in Germany – it's the music that matters. The German elite, from Chancellor Merkel down, flocks in frocks to the gala opening of the festival in Bayreuth each Summer. But that's what elites do – meet and schmooze and socialise at the opera.
When I covered a Neo-Nazi rally in Dresden, there was loud string-music swelling from the speakers over the snarls and shaven heads. Who wouldn't get a surge of nationalistic pride from this Wagnerian wave of sound? Except that it was Elgar.
Tom Service, presenter of Music Matters, travelled to Zurich, where Richard Wagner the revolutionary lived in exile for nine years. Here's his account of the visit:
There’s no more successful myth-maker in music history than Richard Wagner. But travelling to Switzerland - to Zurich and Lucerne - for Music Matters revealed to me – and hopefully to you – the man behind the music and before the myths of his later years: Wagnerian legacies like his pink silk bloomers and velvet-clad composing costume, the Bayreuth theatre consecrated solely for the performance of Wagner’s music in 1876, and the court of his acolytes and idolators, including first and foremost his wife, Cosima.
But before all that was possible, Wagner spent crucial years in Zurich between 1849 and 1858. And thanks to an extraordinary love-triangle, the freedom he felt in political exile from Germany (he had fled Dresden after the part he played in the revolution there), and the support of rich friends and benefactors, from Franz Liszt to Otto Wesendonck, he was able to conceive and map out the course of the rest of his life. He completed the first two instalments of the Ring cycle, he wrote all of the prose poetry for the rest of it (the climactic operas all the way to the end of The Twilight of the Gods), he started work on the music of Siegfried, the third part of the Ring, he wrote a slew of chauvinistic, idealistic, and racist essays, and dreamt of a new kind of theatre for his operas. And despite his marriage to Minna, he fell in love with Mathilde Wesendonck, Otto’s wife; that consuming but un-consummated passion was the essential inspiration for the febrile love-death of Tristan und Isolde, Wagner’s single most revolutionary opera.
When Minna found out about the infatuation in 1858, Wagner was forced to leave Switzerland. When he came back in 1866, it was again because of a woman – his scandalous relationship with Cosima von Bülow, Liszt’s daughter and wife of the conductor, pianist, and Wagner-devotee Hans von Bülow. Their relationship scandalised Munich society and forced them out Germany; bankrolled by King Ludwig II, Wagner lived for 6 years at Tribschen, a magnificent villa amidst the otherwordly beauty of Lake Lucerne. These were some of the happiest years of his life: he finished Siegfried and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - and he continued to cuckold Hans von Bülow with Cosima, fathering three children out of wedlock and finally marrying her in 1870.
Both the magnificently opulent Villa Wesendonck, where Otto put up the Wagner family in a smaller house on the grounds, and the almost unbelievable perfection of Tribschen’s situation, make them ethereally special places, as I was lucky enough to find out. It’s not surprising that the Swiss landscape, and Wagner’s astonishingly ambitious walking tours in the alps, inspired some of the imagery and music of the Ring – rainbow bridges, cities above the clouds, raging tempests, they’re all there if you look for them in Switzerland. Combine that with the intensity of his love affairs – realised and unrealised, legitimate and illegitimate – and you could say that it’s Switzerland, not Germany, that is the true crucible of Wagner’s life’s work. Well: that’s how it felt to me, at least, experiencing both of these villas of Wagner’s musical invention. And their musical stairwells - as you’ll hear in the programme!
Tonight at London's Barbican Hall, and live on BBC Radio 3, the BBC Symphony Orchestra will perform the world premiere of Jonathan Lloyd's new balls (a Royal Philharmonic Society Elgar Bursary Commission), Brahms's Piano Concerto No.2 - one of the great pinnacles of the classical repertory - and Michael Tippett's Symphony No.1.
We asked tonight's concerto soloist, Stephen Hough, to introduce the Concerto.
And our regular blogger, the Orchestra's sub-principal viola Phil Hall, first encountered the music of Tippett as a student; here, Phil talks about the advice on interpretation which he received from the composer, and explains what to look out for in the Symphony.
BBC Symphony Orchestra chief producer Ann McKay looks forward to tomorrow’s awayday at the Brighton Festival. James Gaffigan conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, in Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s Symphony No.2, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and Brahms’s Symphony No.4
We’re honoured to be invited to take part in the Brighton Festival this year – it’s a brilliant, innovative festival and the Dome is a great venue to perform in. It isn’t the largest space, and so to ensure that everyone is comfortable on stage, we’re reducing our platform presence by one desk of strings - this makes for a more intimate experience for us and for the audience.
Our ‘seaside’ engagements usually take us to Snape Maltings and Brighton – we always hope for good weather but last time in Brighton there was a sea fog which rolled over the car park but didn’t get into the hall.
But that adds to the local colour and in our scripts we make a special point of reflecting the different places we go to – it’s about performing away from the studio and showing the vibrancy and special energy which inhabits every place we visit.
Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and Brahms’s 4th Smphony are pillars of the classical repertoire and share a lyricism which is quite intoxicating. The Hartmann symphony will be new to most people – we performed it twice in the 1950s (before my time!) and I produced a studio recording here at Maida Vale in 2002 before – it was written between 1940 and 1944 as an Adagio for large orchestra, and revised as the Symphony No.2 – it’s jazz-influenced.
And we’re pleased to be working with conductor James Gaffigan for the first time; our violin soloist Veronika Eberle is a current Radio 3 New Generation artist.
The concert starts at 730, and there is a pre-performance talk with James Gafffigan at 615 in the Founder's Room.
Here’s a clip from Brahms’s 4th symphony which the orchestra are rehearsing in Maida Vale even as I write!
The Cheltenham Jazz Festival is an event for me that always
seems to mark the beginning of summer, and this year certainly fell nothing
short of radiant, both musically and meteorologically. Fittingly, our featured
performance this week comes from the aptly titled Sun Rooms Trio, led by US
vibes player Jason Adasiewicz – a band that mesmerised festival goers on the
closing night, with mirages of shimmering harmonies and a sheer physicality
that at times, bordered on creative destruction.
As a former drummer, the Chicagoan is known for approaching the vibes with a similar vigour and force – driving his mallets hard into the metalwork and pushing the instrument to resonate almost to the point of distortion. And as he explains in conversation, it's a curiosity with the instrument's natural capabilities and limitations that define his voice. During the piece 'Rose Garden', Adasiewicz exploits long sustained notes to create a hypnotising palette of pulsating chords and colliding overtones that move in dreamlike scenes. A more percussive side is used in the impressive introduction to 'Warm Valley', where he employs extended techniques and mutes the bars to draw out rattling metallic qualities. Drummer Mike Reed's languid swing feel adds to the band's grinding forward motion, and bassist Devin Hoff has some real stand out moments of his own – particularly his extended solo on 'Life'.
Looking forward to the programme in coming weeks, we'll also be giving you the chance to hear festival sets from master tenor player Ravi Coltrane with his quintet, in addition to Troykestra – the extended 18-piece version of Troyka, featuring Chris Montague, Kit Downes and Joshua Blackmore.
Make sure to tune in on Monday evening from 11pm or listen online for seven days after the broadcast,
If you have comments about the show, or requests for music you’d like to hear, do get in touch at email@example.com or on twitter at @BBCJazzon3
We've just started preparing for Friday's concert at the Barbican, part of the Barbican’s gloriously-titled weekend A Scream and An Outrage curated by that dynamic bundle of creative energy, the American composer Nico Muhly. It's an ideal opportunity for the BBC Singers and the BBC Symphony Orchestra to work together and the musicians of both groups love such projects. Recent collaborations have included John Adams's iconic opera Nixon in China in London and Berlin, and Donizetti’s rarely-performed opera Belisario at the Barbican - now that I manage both ensembles there will be more such collaborations.
Friday's concert includes the world premiere of Nico Muhly's a cappella work Outrage, performed by the BBC Singers (a Barbican Centre/BBC co-commission), and Paola Prestini's multi-media cantata Oceanic Verses (European premiere of a new version) in which three amplified soloists and the BBC Singers perform texts by Donna di Novelli, alongside the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by American conductor Jayce Ogren.
To watch a video in which David Lang introduces his percussion concerto 'man made', follow this link ...
Here, you can watch part of the rehearsal for the world premiere of 'man made', with So Percussion (Eric Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski and Jason Treuting), and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jayce Ogren ...
Our part in the weekend - we're more involved in the Outrage than the Scream - is based on collaboration and is just the latest in a series of events that, over more than a decade, the BBC SO and Barbican have jointly presented. For me, most things in life are more enjoyable if you do them with somebody else, and collaboration is the way I like to work. The Barbican is a brilliant partner, whether on a silent movie, an opera, a marathon 'event' like this one, or a composer celebration. Over the years, we've developed a sort of creative shorthand that comes from mutual trust, curiosity, and artistic ambition that means together we can present what neither of us can do on our own, and neither party is afraid to ask 'what's in it for us?' These sorts of projects reinforce the decision, taken in 1999, to relocate the BBCSO's base to the Barbican.
The word 'stellar' is often overused in
descriptions of jazz music, but with the latest suite of compositions by Kit
Downes - shot through with a kind of ethereal bluesiness, and inspired by ideas
astronomical - the word seems to do nicely. For my money Light From Old Stars
is the UK pianist's strongest statement to date, and on this Monday's Jazz on 3
you can hear his group launch this new material live at London's Cockpit
Theatre, headlining my monthly Jazz In The Round night.
It's a set rich in dynamic variation and
subtleties of texture and - as their encore, the older tune Skip James, makes
clear - the group never stray too far from the richly melodic.
And adding to the time-traveling dreamy
atmosphere on the night were the animations of Lesley Barnes, and illustrator
with whom Kit has collaborated. Here's just one of those pieces performed live:
Before all that, Tony Kofi - one of the
Jazz Warrios of the '90s and now a member of the legendary World Saxophone
Quartet - delivers a solo set centred around the compositions of Thelonious Monk;
and to kick us off, a young twenty-one year old drummer by the name of Moses
Boyd shows us that the UK jazz scene is brimming with light from new stars too.
Tune and listen live on Monday from 11pm or catch up online for seven days after the broadcast.
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