One of the real pleasures of producing the Heritage Tracks for our musical tour of the Commonwealth is the discovery of so many fascinating people and stories. Two young women come to mind: the Bruneian 400m runner Maziah Mahusin and Pakistani swimmer Kiran Khan.
In our interview, Maziah described how proud she was to be the first female athlete to represent Brunei Darussalam at the Olympics (London 2012), carrying the flag for her country at the Opening Ceremony and breaking a national record. After that, everything changed; she’d been considering giving up running because of the precariousness of a career in athletics and the loneliness of being the only woman training among the male athletes. These days, however, she’s stopped in shopping malls to sign autographs and at every training session a cluster of young girls gathers to run around and around the outside of the track as she trains, wanting to be just like her. Maziah will be in Glasgow this summer, inspired to renew her commitment to her sport. Hear her choice of Heritage Track on this Friday's broadcast of World on 3.
Kiran Khan is one of Pakistan’s first female international swimmers. From a studio in Lahore, she spoke about the challenges of being a professional female swimmer in a Muslim country and feeling a responsibility to be a positive role model to other women, as well as a celebrity figure. She returned again and again to the importance of the love of her family and those who support her, particularly her father, who always dreamed his daughter should fulfil her dreams and become an inspiration to others. You can hear Kiran’s inspirational Heritage Track during the April 4th broadcast of World on 3.
There have been many other stand-out moments for me. Sprinter Chris Brown, a triple Olympic medalist, revealed that as a young boy he had been the champion drummer on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera, so music has always been central to his life.
Grenadian writer Jacob Ross used his Heritage Track to reminisce about the education he received under British colonial rule in the 1960s and 70s; as a small boy he was much more familiar with the British seasons than those of the Caribbean, although he had never left Grenada! Hear Jacob's Heritage Track during World on 3 on April 25th.
Grenada - writer Jacob Ross
In this series we’re exploring the music of the Commonwealth but much more besides: we’re gathering snapshots of people’s lives and echoes of the history of the Commonwealth- all told in the time it takes to play a single track.
Commonwealth Connections collection - listen to the heritage tracks and watch videos from the journey so far.
Radio 3 at London's Southbank Centre
Having had a great time at London’s Southbank Centre last week, I was delighted to be back again on a fresh, Monday morning, to take some snaps of my colleagues in the Essential Classics team. You see, lovely though it is at Old Broadcasting House, we don’t get much in the way of natural light when we’re buried in the depths of the building. Quite often I’ll come out at Portland Place feeling rather vampirish, as the sun’s incandescent rays blind my eyes, and I feverishly search for relief in the form of some shade. For the past two weeks however, our glass, pop-up studio has afforded natural light aplenty, together with a beautiful, panoramic view of the River Thames. As far as workspaces go, it surely can’t get much better than this.
Sarah has a chat with some Essential Classics listeners
But it’s not just about the great views. We’ve all enjoyed meeting Radio 3 listeners throughout the past two weeks. Sarah’s been greeting people from all over the country, who had come in especially to see her and to hear the newly-restored organ in the Royal Festival Hall. It’s been great to hear your comments and to reveal exactly what goes on during a broadcast of Essential Classics.
I’ve put up a small gallery of pictures, so if you couldn’t make it in person, I hope this gives some idea of what it was like. As you’ll see, the age-range of our listeners is very wide indeed (and some of them aren’t even human…), and what on earth is Rob Cowan wearing on head...?
· Radio 3 at Southbank Centre
· Essential Classics
· Sarah Walker
Listener and organist Christopher Tinker was present for a dramatic Royal Festival Hall organ premiere in 1971.
It was splendid to hear Gillian Weir this morning on the original RFH organ, and I eagerly anticipate Olivier Latry’s recital tonight. As a pupil of Ralph Downes I frequently turned pages for the organists he invited to the regular Wednesday 5.55 series of years past. On one occasion in March 1971, many critics were present to hear the first (I think) British performance of Ligeti’s ‘Volumina’.
During the morning I had assisted Xavier Darasse, professor at the Conservatory in Toulouse, and was astonished at the range of sounds that emitted from the organ, not least of which was the opening of the work which requires the organist to ‘pull out all the stops’! At the opening, the performer and his assistant are instructed to depress as many keys and pedal notes as possible, and then to turn the organ on. The gradual crescendo of sound was magnificent, although I noticed Ralph Downes looking less than happy, indeed rather alarmed.
We came to the 5.55pm recital. First some Bach, during which Darasse made many slips, causing some hisses from the audience. However, many of them were there to hear ‘Volumina’. Thus to the Ligeti: we pulled out all the stops, depressed the keys, I turned on the motor, the vast crescendo began and for just two seconds the audience was treated to this massive sound! And then, silence.
We pulled and pushed stops, repeatedly pressed the switch, gazed at the organ in astonishment at its silence, but nothing. Eventually the designer and curator, Ralph Downes (not a man for public speaking) addressed the audience, apologised and was most embarrassed to admit that all the fuses had blown and the recital was over. Never to be forgotten, and the season’s title 'Pull Out All the Stops' is a particularly relevant reminder for me.
In February the BBC Concert Orchestra performed the UK premiere of David Lang’s concerto (world to come) with cellist Maya Beiser. The performance formed part of the orchestra’s concert World To Come at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. The concerto, written in the aftermath of 9/11, is a meditation on the spiritual world and what happens to us after we leave this earth, and to find out more we caught up with Maya and David backstage during the rehearsals.
World To Come is being broadcast on Tuesday 1 April at 2pm during Afternoon on 3.
World To Come’s sister concert World Once Known (31 March) featuring music by Debussy, Ravel, Butterworth, Barber, Janácek and Bartók will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 at 7.30pm from Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.
This week Essential Classics, and most of Radio 3, has upped sticks from W1 and decamped to SE1 on London's Southbank. It's all part of Radio 3's two-week residency to help celebrate the refurbishment of the organ at the Royal Festival Hall. The BBC's technical wizards have performed minor miracles in building a complete transmission studio within the confines of a specially prepared glass box in the cafe of the RFH. And if this sounds a little like some kind of modern art installation, I can tell you that from the inside it does indeed feel a bit that way. Being a stone's throw from the Tate Modern (sorry, Tate Modern), I'm a little concerned that Damian Hirst might suddenly turn up with a few gallons of formaldehyde.
In fact it's been a real pleasure to be broadcasting from such a key London location, and whilst the studios at Broadcasting House are quite comfortable, I think it's fair to say they can't quite compete with the views we've been enjoying across the River Thames every morning. It's also been fantastic to be able to mingle freely with everyone who has popped along to see what it's really like behind the scenes at Radio 3. You might be surprised to find that Rob doesn't actually wear black tie when behind the microphone. Or that he enjoys conducting along to the music. If you'd like to see what we get up to for yourselves, and to meet Rob or Sarah, then please come along and say hello if you are in the area. We'd be very pleased to meet you.
We've also taken plenty of snaps this week that you might enjoy having a look at. We've posted a gallery that you can find here.
Radio 3 at Southbank Centre
Commonwealth Connections is broadcast on BBC Radio 3 as part of World On 3 (Friday 11pm-1am) the series runs until the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this July.
BBC Radio 3 at Southbank Centre
From Alan Hall of Falling Tree Productions ...
It’s such an effortless medium, radio. Wherever you are – in the kitchen, driving the car, out and about on your phone – you simply switch on and listen. There’s virtually nothing required of you. No necessity to be still with fixed gaze – in fact, your attention is more than likely divided between the sounds being broadcast and whatever is occupying your immediate surroundings. It’s such an easy companion.
Except … it’s not really like that. Just as a swan glides gracefully across a lake, the furious activity of her webbed feet hidden beneath the water, so Radio 3 elegantly rides the radiowaves. And at Southbank Centre for the next couple of weeks, visitors get a chance to examine the workings of the broadcast machine, to look under the surface at what it takes to keep Petroc Trelawny or Sara Mohr-Pietsch ‘live on air’! The cabling and kit and running orders and, above all, the clocks. Clocks and the unforgiving, fastidiousness of time rule the live broadcast. Effortless it ain’t.
During Radio 3’s residency at Southbank Centre, my colleague Hana Walker-Brown and I will be attempting to capture something of the experience of taking an entire BBC radio station out into the world. We’ll offer our impressions in a soundscape to be broadcast on Radio 3 and also heard in situ at Southbank Centre. We started yesterday, with fly-on the-wall glimpses of Private Passions, the Radio 3 Academy trainees and the rehearsal for the San Francisco Symphony’s amazing Mahler 3. But we’d like help from you, the listeners and visitors, to build a sound-picture of R3’s residency.
BBC Radio 3 at Southbank Centre
It’s no great boast to say you met Tony Benn. Tony Benn wanted to meet everyone, and must have come somewhere near achieving it. By the end of his life, the warm feeling between him and the British public was mutual. That wasn’t always the case: some of those paying posthumous tribute now once considered him the enemy within. This country, I suppose, always prefers its rebels in retrospect. Perhaps, when his MI5 file is declassified, it will allow historians to assess the sincerity of these remarks.
Benn’s life was spent in a long embrace with the Labour Party - which was sometimes loving, and sometimes had a touch of the Reichenbach Falls. He belonged to a tradition of English radicalism that could trace its roots back to the Civil War – quite separate from the Marxist one that gave Labour its ideological framework. It was a distinction he observed when writing about his greatest political hero, the seventeenth-century social reformer Gerrard Winstanley. (“England is not a free people,” wrote Winstanley, “till the poor that have no land have a free allowance to dig.”) Benn drew out the distinction again in his last volume of published diaries, which was the pretext for our conversation in November.
He’d recently moved into a flat off London’s Bayswater Road, into which was crammed the evidence of his political and personal life. The faces of old allies and old enemies – most of whom he had outlived – gazed down from the spines of their memoirs. Under his chair was a copy of Game of Thrones, the spine uncracked. (It scarcely seemed his cup of tea.) By his television was a VHS of The Proud Valley (1940) – the Ealing studios picture in which Paul Robeson plays an American sailor who finds work in a mining community in the Rhondda Valley. It was Benn’s favourite film. He would, I suspect, have loved it all the more had wartime restrictions not put paid to the ending of the original script – in which the miners take control of the pit from its owners and run it as a syndicalist co-operative.
He wasn’t the easiest person to interview: he gathered up what he wanted from a question and used its material to move to a subject of his own choosing. But those manoeuvres could be telling. I remember his firm, but polite refusal to discuss the future he had imagined for this country as a young man. Anyone who was once young can answer this question, but he wouldn’t be drawn - I think because the answer might have made him sound like a Utopianist or a failure. It was probably a wise decision. Some of the strongest images of Benn come from the TV footage of him absorbing the news that he has lost the 1981 Labour Party deputy leadership contest by one per cent of the vote. He did not want this to be his defining moment. And he may yet win that battle with posterity – leaving behind the image of a man who spent his last years encouraging us to use the powers granted to us by democracy – and taking that message from platform to platform, and person to person.
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