As Classic FM celebrated its quarter-century on Wednesday with not a recording but a live broadcast of a concert from Dumfries House in Scotland — Bach, Mendelssohn, Chopin and Liszt, and the première of a specially commissioned work by the Welsh composer Paul Mealor — Radio 3 has upped the ante by announcing an autumn schedule that promises to be ‘an antidote to today’s often frenzied world’.
Its new programming ranges from a special opera season and a series of organ and choral music to ‘an immersive audio impression’ of what it feels like to hang vertically on the side of a mountain, wind whistling through the ears, feet teetering on the edge. Alan Davey’s mission as controller is to ensure that the BBC’s classical-music-and-words station retains its status as ‘a cultural powerhouse’ that both innovates and reaches a broader audience. It’s a bold initiative. How do you reach out and find new listeners? Will they be persuaded to tune in to ‘slow radio’, soundworks that force us to turn off the smartphone and to listen instead to the pulse of the moment, not rushing ahead for the next thing? How do you stretch the ears of the core audience, incorporating new sounds, different springs of thought, without alienating them?
Programmes such as Michael Berkeley’s Private Passions, the ever-so-straightforward-yet-surprisingly-effective format of inviting a chosen guest to talk about some of their favourite or most meaningful pieces of music, have always promised opportunities to discover new sounds or make surprising connections. This week, the Welsh poet and singer Gwyneth Glyn gave us Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship’ from Scheherazade but also a different Tchaikovsky from the usual tortured maestro of the symphonies with his intensely spiritual ‘Hymn to the Cherubim’ from the Russian Orthodox Liturgy of St John Chrysostom.