The week ahead: Rattle, research and radio

16th May 2016

After a really splendid week walking in Italy (thanks to Inntravel and their itinerary A Stroll Through History), it’s back to a busy week, starting with Simon Rattle on Sky Arts tonight.


Tonight at 9pm sees the premiere of our new Sky Arts programme, Simon Rattle conducts The Seasons. Just exactly a month ago at London’s Barbican Centre we recorded the great conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Chorus performing Haydn’s 1801 oratorio The Seasons. The soloists are soprano Monika Eder, baritone Florian Boesch and tenorAndrew Staples, who was a late replacement for the indisposed John Mark Ainsley. The resulting 140-minute programme, which is a co-production with the LSO, features the full work, together with introductory comments by Simon Rattle between each of the four sections. Rhodri Huw directs the screen version with his invariable flair and precision, and Lucie Conrad is our producer.

Reviewing the evening for the Guardian, Tim Ashley wrote:

Haydn was in his late 60s when he composed the score, and it is the work of an elderly man looking at life with great contentment, even as he contemplates its close. The plot, such as it is, is slight, and deals with the growing love of Lukas and Hanne under the watchful eye of her farmer father. But what makes it so special is Haydn’s affectionate evocation of the flux and variety of the natural world – much of it derived from memories of his own childhood in rural Austria.

It’s a work that suits Rattle, with his fondness for drive and detail, uncommonly well. It’s easy to forget the experimental nature of Haydn’s music, but here it was impossible to escape the novelty of effect within the cumulative span of the whole. Fine articulation from the London Symphony Orchestra’s strings and wind brought out a myriad details as frogs croaked and crickets sang.

Ultimately, though, it was the chorus’s evening, and they rose to the work’s challenges superbly, with plenty of warm tone from sopranos and basses, and great strength in the alto and tenor lines… And the whirling wine harvest waltz – Rattle took it at an almost daunting speed – was glorious in its detail and elation.


Tomorrow evening at 6.00pm I am contributing to a panel titled Film as Research at Birkbeck, University of London. Organised as part of Birkbeck Arts Week, the event is free but you need to register in advance. The other speakers are: Dr Joanna Callaghan from the University of Sussex; Professor Sue Clayton from Goldsmiths, University of London, and Birkbeck’s own Professor Laura Mulvey. And this is what we’ll be exploring:

How might film communicate historical knowledge, and how does this differ from the printed page? This discussion brings together film-makers and academics to consider the ways in which film can create new forms of research and new ways of looking at research materials.


Thursday sees an exciting conference at The British Library, Radio Modernisms: Features, Cultures and the BBC. Organised by my Screen Plays colleague Dr Amanda Wrigley and Dr Aasiya Lodhi, both with the University of Westminster, this day-long event also features contributions from Todd Avery, University of Massachusetts Lowell, who will give the keynote lecture; Hugh Chignell, Bournemouth University; Alex Goody, Oxford Brookes University; David Hendy, University of Sussex; Alex Lawrie, University of Edinburgh; and Henry Mead, University of Teesside.

The broad topic is identified as the ’emerging and pluralistic conceptions of radio modernism in relation to the BBC’s radio feature programmes’, and the more detailed outline is as follows:

As a creative nucleus, the personnel, editorial strategies and programming of the Features Department, to its closure in 1964, offer rich points of focus for British broadcasting’s complex entanglements with late modernism.

The recent re-evaluation of the theories, methodologies and historiographies used in scholarly considerations of radio programming, personnel and audiences across the twentieth century means that radio is becoming more firmly situated in its proper place within the media ecology of the last century and it is also increasingly located in its various cultural, creative, educational and political ‘ecologies’. Radio as a thing experienced and made sense of by individual listeners is receiving renewed attention; and there is also a broader acknowledgement of the inherent modernism of the medium and its forms in this period.

The conference explores,  both through close reading and examination of wider cultural contexts, notions of remediation, intermediality, broadcast vernacular, emotion, listening constituencies, spatiality, technoculture, and more, with a view to encouraging further scholarly engagements with the various interpretations and interplays of ‘radio modernisms’ in 20th-century Britain.

The title of my paper, which is slightly at a tangent to the main focus of the day, is ‘ “The incursion of television”: The Intermedial Relationships of Radio Features with the Small Screen in the Late 1950s and Early 1960s’. That aside, this promises to be a fascinating day of papers and debate, and I shall report further at the end of the week.

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