Christmas cracklers | December broadcasting highlights
Gather round the wireless this Christmas for the networks’ festive programming
Temple Church is one of London’s most historic and beautiful buildings with a musical tradition stretching back some eight hundred years. Choristers and choirmen from the Temple sang for King John and the barons during the vital (and disastrous) negotiations that led to the Magna Carta. In order to celebrate this musical tradition, and the arrival of new director of music Roger Sayer, the Temple has this year launched the first Temple Winter Festival. Radio 3 will be broadcasting all the festival concerts live in the lead up to Christmas.
The music being performed contains a mixture of Christmas spirit and winter chill, much of it choral, all with a seasonal flavour. The Heath Quartet and clarinettist Mark Simpson open the week-long festival (16 December) and are followed by the Tallis Scholars singing works by Lassus, Hassler, Schutz, Arvo Pärt and Praetorius. Peter Phillips directs (17 December). James Gilchrist performs Schubert’s Winterreise accompanied by Anna Tilbrook (18 December), and it’s then the turn of the Temple Choir and Temple Players, under Roger Sayer, to perform a programme entitled Gloria, with pieces by Bach, Weelkes, Gibbons, Byrd and, of course, Vivaldi, whose Gloria is always a popular Christmas offering. For the closing concert, the BBC Singers join forces with the Baroque Players in Handel’s Messiah with soloists Ruby Hughes, David Allsopp, Robin Tritschler and Neal Davies, conductor David Hill (20 December).
Christmas is, of course, a time for singing with carol services being held up and down the land. Indeed many people around the world do not consider Christmas to have properly started until they’ve heard the King’s College Choir’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Radio 4 (24 December). This is repeated on Radio 3 on Christmas Day when the pre-recorded Carol Service from King’s is also being shown on BBC Two.
Other vocal activity includes carols recorded especially by the BBC Singers for Radio 3’s Breakfast programme, some in response to suggestions by listeners, and, following the success of the listener-generated Advent calendar last year, Radio 3 will again be asking for listeners’ requests to broadcast every day from 1 to 25 December.
Carols feature strongly in Classic FM’s Christmas output, too. On 23 December, politicians of all shades of opinion will put aside their differences to sing in the Parliament Choir’s Christmas Concert, held this year in St John’s Smith Square, while on Christmas Day itself, listeners can hear the annual carol concert given for members of the royal household in the ballroom of Buckingham Palace. Later on Christmas Day there’s a special Christmas concert featuring a selection of seasonal fare performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus.
Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride is one of the most instantly recognisable of all Christmas tunes but who was the man who wrote it? On Boxing Day, Classic FM presenter Tim Lihoreau will reveal all. ‘Was he a gifted linguist,’ Lihoreau asks, ‘fluent in nine languages including his family’s native Swedish? Was he a touring dance band musician playing the cruise ships with his brother? Or was he Our Man in the Pentagon?’ Turns out he was all three. There will also be a performance of Anderson’s The Typewriter in the programme, played by a mystery guest.
There’s more Christmas music on Radio 3’s In Tune, starting on 17 December with the first of four features looking at different aspects of the genre, while on 21 December there’s an In Tune Christmas special.
Sean Rafferty, the presenter of In Tune, can be heard again over the festive season in a new Radio 3 series entitled Sean Rafferty at home with… This commences on 23 December and then runs every afternoon for two weeks. In it Rafferty interviews some of the biggest names in music in their homes. ‘It’s about their lives’, he says, ‘about what their passions are, what their interests are, what it’s like where they live, how these things have formed their lives. We’ll also be discussing early musical influences.’
Among the artists revealing their passions are Mitsuko Uchida, Julian Bream, Antonio Pappano, Neville Marriner, John Eliot Gardiner, Thomas Allen, James Galway, Kiri te Kanawa and Danielle de Niese. Marriner was interviewed sitting amongst his antique furniture, surrounded by his collection of clocks. ‘He’s a quite remarkable man,’ comments Rafferty, ‘who’s got more energy than most people half his age. When we interviewed him he was busy organising his ninetieth birthday concert.’
Another seasonal concert worth looking out for is a performance of Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ, broadcast live from the Barbican on 15 December as part of their French season. Francois-Xavier Roth conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the soloists are Karen Cargill, Yann Beuron, Marcus Farnsworth and Christopher Purves.
Headlining the Christmas programming on Sky Arts 2 is the phenomenally popular violinist André Rieu. He first appears on 7 December in Welcome to my World, a ten-part behind-the-scenes, on the road series which features a tribute to Mary Poppins, and then in a Christmas special on Christmas day. Sky Arts 2 is also showing the gala reopening of the Mariinsky Theatre featuring such artists as Anna Netrebko and Placido Domingo (1 December), the festive Advent concert from the Frauenkirche in Dresden with Thomas Hampson and Sophie Koch, conducted by Christian Thielemann (17 December), and, finally, for all the family, there’s the opportunity to see Suzie Templeton’s award-winning animation of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf (9 December).
Happy Christmas everyone, and a peaceful new year.
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