Thursday, 31 January 2013

New track for the Choir

Aled Jones
Aled Jones moved to ITV's Daybreak sofa last year and has now vacated his position in charge of Radio 3's much loved Sunday evening programme The Choir. From Sunday 3 February, Jones's position will be taken, in six special programmes, by what the BBC's press release calls 'Stars from the choral community'. Suzi Digby, Paul Mealor, Ken Burton, Harry Christophers, Mary King and Eric Whitacre will each present a single programme concentrating on subject close to their hearts. There is no word, so far, about what will happen after six weeks, or who is being considered for permanent replacement.

Some of the programmes sound genuinely interesting, with personalities looking at areas which interest them and which make good listening, though in one or two there is a hint of sticking a celebrity in front of the microphone and watch the listening figures rise.

Suzi Digby will be showcasing young talent from the world's youth choirs and discussing the challenges and joys of working with young singers with two experts in choral training. Composer Paul Mealor will discuss writing for special occasions, which perhaps is rather less interesting than the more basic question of quite how one writes music at all and where it comes from. Ken Burton, who has worked in a variety of styles from popular music to gospel, will explore the influence of gospel singing on choral music. Harry Christophers will be discussion sacred choral music, focussing on three composers he admires Poulenc, Victoria and James MacMillan.

Sara Mohr-Pietsch presents a baroque themed edition, as part of Radio 3's month-long Baroque Spring season. She will be joined by Robert Hollingworth in what promises to be an interesting programme. Mary King will be exploring the links between folk-music and choral music, looking at Janacek and Bartok as well as British folk-arrangement.

Finally the celebrity composer phenomenon Eric Whitacre will be introducing performances of his own music, using a concert to be recorded on March 12 at St. Luke's Chelsea.

Whilst it is admirable to have two different contemporary composers involved, it is a shame that the contemporary element is firmly in the tonal/don't frighten the horses genres. It would have been rather interesting to have a programme on the more difficult elements of contemporary choral music - after all the BBC Singers have recorded Michael Ferneyhough's Missa Brevis. Still, we must wait for the next presenter to be announced and hope.

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