We’re used to Radio 3 clearing its decks for a season focusing on a single composer, or even exploring The Symphony, but the network’s latest season is unusual in being the first devoted to a single instrument: the piano.
‘We chose the piano,’ explains producer Edwina Wolstencroft, ‘because it has a more extensive repertoire than any other instrument. It can move its sound world instantly from highly percussive to warmly lyrical and it captures a range and wealth of expression unavailable to any other instrument. Also lots of composers see the piano as a way of trying out ideas. Stravinsky did, while Beethoven famously tried out a lot of his compositional techniques on the piano before putting them into his orchestral work.’
The six-week season began on 13 September with live broadcasts of the semi-finals and finals of this year’s Leeds International Piano Competition (and if you missed them, they are still available on Radio 3’s Listen Again facility.) Beginning on 21 September, BBC Four will be showing six documentaries, each one focusing on a Leeds finalist and including their concerto performance complete.
Regular Radio 3 programming, too, will be piano-orientated. Every morning in Breakfast, Peter Donohoe selects his choice of the fifty greatest pianists. Composer of the Week across the season looks at the lives of the big piano composers: Clementi, Chopin, Field, Liszt, Debussy, Mednter, Rachmaninov and Granados, there because of the importance of the piano in Latin American music. In Tune will contain an A to Z of Piano, with a broad mix of people talking about aspects of the instrument. Lang Lang, for example, has chosen to discuss ‘V for Virtuoso’.
Monday evenings are being given over entirely to piano music, not all of it classical: jazz pianists will be featured. There will be a series of recitals given by an array of international artists, including Radio 3 New Generation artist, Igor Levit, who will be performing Frederic Rzewski’s fiendishly difficult set of variations The People United will Never be Defeated, and Ashley Wass and Huw Watkins playing Robin Holloway’s tour de force Gilded Goldburgs.
In order to encourage listeners to try the instrument, three radio presenters are being given a weekly piano lesson on which they will be reporting back. The guinea-pigs are Dev from Radio 1, Tommy Sandhu from the Asian Network and Jane Garvey from Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.
‘There will be a huge range of countries, composers, performers and styles of piano writing threaded throughout the season,’ says Wolstencroft. ‘Another fun thing is we’ve got piano advocates dotted across the schedule, people you might not have expected to play the piano but actually do. One is James May, the Top Gear presenter, who talks to us about what a marvelously engineered piece of machinery a piano is. Barney Harwood from Blue Peter is also a very good pianist.’
On Radio 3’s website David Owen Norris is giving a specially recorded piano master class, while BBC Four will be showing two Lang Lang documentaries – there will also be an Imagine featuring Lang Lang on BBC One.
The season ends with a celebration concert from Cardiff’s Millennium Centre given by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, in which there will be three pianos on stage and a variety of starry soloists.
Full details of the season can be found on www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/piano.