I love music - of all kinds and varieties. By day I’m part of the senior technical leadership team for Ticketmaster - working to make it possible for people all over the globe to enjoy their favourite artists and performers in a live environment. And I’m also the founder of this splendid business - Expressive Audio - set up specifically to help people enjoy recorded and live music from the comfort of their own homes. As a music lover, I think it’s important to have a regular source of fresh music and and fresh ideas and knowledge about music. For me, that source is, almost without exception, BBC Radio 3.
Radio 3 finds its roots in the BBC Third Program, which was launched in in 1946, and continued until 1967, whereupon it was replaced with “Radio 3”. Of the national stations, it occupies a unique position. Radio 1, known for its ongoing support of “new music”, has its finger on the pulse of modern pop music, electronica, dance, hip-hop and indie. Radio 2, the most popular station in the BBC national network, offers an even wider selection - mostly mainstream pop music from the last forty or more years being mixed with other genres. Radio 4 is in second place, with its diet of spoken word, news, drama, comedy, science, and history - it’s possibly the most celebrated public radio station in the world. I’m old enough to recall the launch, in 1990, of “Radio 5” (now 5 live) - a rolling news and sport station, whose viability was proven during the 1990-1991 gulf war. It has a wide following for those who appreciate its constant stream of news, sport, chat, interviews, and phone-ins. But it’s Radio 3 I want to celebrate today.
Sometimes unfairly characterised as a fuddy-duddy’s channel, or an elitist niche, for me it’s a dear friend, a near constant companion, a teacher, a guide, and a source of ongoing delight. I’m going to give you a quick tour of the landscape of Radio 3 today, and try to convey to you quite how delightful it is, and quite how lucky we are to have this in our lives.
I first grew to love Radio 3 at Oxford - one of my tutors was a huge fan, and entreated me to explore the habit of listening a little every day, as a way to enlarge and enrich my musical experience. It’s a habit I’ve never lost, and it’s been one of the finest gifts anyone has given me. I’m going to cover some of the programs available by way of showing the variety and rich free content available, some, or even all, should catch your attention, and be where to begin to develop your own friendship with this beautiful institution.
Actually one of my strongest memories of Oxford was Wednesday afternoons. I had a tutorial first thing on a Thursday, which meant that often I’d be busy scrawling ideas across lined paper, on a Wednesday afternoon whilst listening to choral evensong, broadcast from across the country. I love choral music, and I offer my own meagre talents in the tenor section of the PGS community choir. I also have a deep love for the Anglican liturgy, so often at 15:30 on a Wednesday afternoon I still tune in. Broadcast live from a different cathedral each week, it’s a glorious program, regardless of religious slant. If you appreciate organ and choral music, give it a spin.
Composer of the Week
A lunchtime companion for decades now, "Composer of the Week" takes the format of five programs exploring the life and music of a given composer - sometimes a well-known person, but often an emerging, under-represented, or contemporary composer is featured. This has been a wonderful way for me to broaden my knowledge and taste, as I’ve nibbled my sandwiches! Tune in at noon every week day. This year the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth has been being celebrated, with 25 programs enjoying the input of Beethoven scholars and performers, from pianists and conductors to historians and broadcasters. Available as a set of episodes in podcast format: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/37916tSXw7s3CRcj9FZjpyq/beethoven-unleashed-the-box-set
Night Waves / Free Thinking
If you like ideas - intellectual discussion, cultural issues, etc - Night Waves is, or should I say was, the program for you. It was renamed “Free Thinking”. I can honestly say I’ve never not listened to an episode and not come away knowing more, and wanting to know even more. There are three fresh episodes a week, at 10am, and I wholeheartedly recommend the program. Have a look at the web page for a taste of the subjects discussed:
Radio 3 isn’t just about classical music. The station’s commitment to ‘experimental music’ across genres from Jazz, World Music, Folk, Ambient and Electronica is showcased inLate Junction - at 10pm on a Friday night. Sometimes it includes sessions, but is usually a curated mix. It’s a landmark of radio programming - uniquely brilliant. Tune in and have your mind and taste broadened! We’ve had the music of after-hours Tokyo, Somalian disco, improvised music with computer and human collaborating, interviews with outstanding musicians such as Bjork and Robert Wyatt, and a range of sessions. Eclectic doesn’t come close to describing it. If you want your horizons to be expanded, this is the place to be.
Live music is in the DNA of Radio 3, and this is exemplified in the daily lunchtime concerts broadcast at 13:00 every weekday. Often broadcast from London’s Wigmore Hall, much-loved international artists and young, up-and-coming performers from the BBC New Generation Artists scheme. During the first lockdown in the UK, Radio 3 pioneered live broadcasts from an empty hall, with a skeleton production crew. It’s a lovely lunchtime companion, and I’ve discovered lots of lieder and chamber music from these broadcasts.
Of course we couldn’t mention Radio 3 without mentioning the proms! Originally named the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts, The Proms is an annual eight week season of classical music concerts and events, now mostly held in the Royal Albert Hall, in London. Launched in 1895, the BBC has broadcast them since the 1920s, and they are now also viewable on BBC Four. The connection with the BBC led to the creation of the BBC Symphony orchestra. The quality of concerts is sublime, and as a youngster I recall recording them to tape to build my library.
Building a Library and Record Review
Speaking of building a library, no Saturday morning is complete without tuning in to at least some of Saturday morning’s “Record Review”. This program discusses the latest releases, and includes conversation and interviews. Building a library is a feature of the show, in which a selection of recordings of a certain piece are dissected, reviewed, and recommended, before making an overall recommendation. It’s a fascinating and fun program that again has hugely augmented my understanding of music.
The Early Music Show
Moving from Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon, we have The Early Music show - showcasing European music up to the time of Bach. Discussion covers the music itself, the performers, and even sometimes the philosophy of playing style, instrumental design, conducting and recording. It’s a fabulous way to enrich your understanding of medieval, renaissance and early baroque music.
Jazz Record Requests
Jazz Record Requests
is one of the longest-running jazz programme on the BBC. It was first presented by the jazz musician Humphrey Lyttelton in 1964, and is now an hour long, occupying a proud slot on Sunday afternoon. If you’re starting to develop an interest in Jazz, or even if you’re an experienced fan of the genre, this is highly recommended.
Our whistle-stop tour of noteworthy features ends with In Tune - Radio 3’s “drive time” early evening program. It is broadcast live from broadcasting house in London, and alongside recordings of classical and jazz music, guests are featured, often playing live studio sets, followed or punctuated by interviews. The style is light-hearted and friendly, and Sean Rafferty and Katie Derham are delightful hosts. It’s a lovely way to inject a bit of fun and knowledge into the day. In recent times it’s concluded with the In Tune Mixtape - thirty minutes of umninterrupted, curated music, of electic origin and genre - which remarkable seems to work. Probably the most approachable of the shows we’ve discussed, it’s an ideal way to dip your toes in.
Before we bring this to a close, I feel I should mention what a contribution Radio 3 makes to the musical ecosystem - both by commissioning and promoting new work, but also via its celebrated New Generation Artists program.
Radio 3 has a reputation for being a little high-brow, perhaps even elitist. That’s simply not true. It’s engaging, approachable, educational, free, inclusive and encouraging. I consider it to be one of my closest friends. When I get in the car and turn the key in the ignition I know what time it is by what is on. Often it’s the middle of a piece, and I get to play guess the work - something which I used to be hopeless at! Sometimes there’s an interview, a discussion piece, a drama. Often I’ve been known to take a detour, or sit in the car, parked outside the destination listening to the rest of the program, or piece. Radio 3 is a celebration of the world of music - recorded and live. It’s not “popular” music, as that is covered by Radios 1 and 2. But it’s everything else - literally everything else. It’s a constant source of information, ideas, challenge, and fun. Maybe try it yourself for a bit - a little every day. Maybe you’ll fall in love too.