BBC Radio 3 Celebrates Ralph Vaughan Williams At 150 With Vaughan Williams Today
From a new version of The Lark Ascending recreated using real Lark birdsong, to a complete Symphony Cycle, a four-week Composer of the Week series, and Breakfast exploring Folk Songs and Hymns
Across BBC Radio 3 schedules from Wednesday 3 March to Sunday 29 May as part of national RWV150 celebrations
- A complete Vaughan Williams’ Symphony Cycle broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in Concert over six programmes, featuring performances by BBC Philharmonic and the Hallé (2 March - 12 May)
- A four- week series of Composer of the Week, dedicating twenty hour-long episodes to Vaughan Williams (2-27 May)
- Between The Ears: The Lark Descending featuring a new electronic re-imagining of Vaughan William’s beloved piece, where a sampled lark performs its renowned violin solo (29 May)
- Breakfast explores Vaughan Williams’ Folk Songs and Hymns (weekday 2-13 May & Sunday Breakfast 1-29 May)
- In Tune Mixtape presenting special Vaughan Williams (inspired playlists using works by the composer, or inspired by him 9-13 May)
- Record Review’s Building a Library feature focuses on Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 4 (14 May)
- Essential Classics devotes five Essential Moments to Vaughan Williams (23 to 27 May)
- Opera on 3 presents an archive performance of the opera Sir John in Love first broadcast from English National Opera in 2006 (14 May)
- Royal Northern College of Music Brass Band Festival Highlights celebrating Vaughan Williams amongst some of Britain’s finest 20th century contributors to brass band repertoire (2 March)
Joining the 2022 celebrations marking 150 years since Ralph Vaughan Williams’ birth on 12 October 1872, BBC Radio 3 presents Vaughan Williams Today, three months of special programming exploring the life and music of one of most cherished figures in British classical music – putting a spotlight on the familiar as well as the lesser-known stories about his character and creative evolution, and placing him in the context of his legacy in music today.
Alan Davey, BBC Radio 3 Controller, says: “This Spring, and later in the Autumn, at BBC Radio 3 we will take a moment to explore and reassess one of the UK’s musical giants : a man who we think we might know but whose creative output is astonishingly wide, varied, and frequently pushing boundaries, and whose influence on British music is perhaps yet to be fully appreciated. With this special programming, we hope to stimulate curious listeners to go beyond what they think they know about Vaughan Williams, and to discover aspects of his life and music which have not yet been fully appreciated. We hope listeners will join us and be inspired through this journey of discovery , rediscovery and reassessment.
At the heart of the RVW150 celebration is the broadcast of a complete cycle of Vaughan Williams’s nine symphonies, in the Radio 3 in Concert slot, where the BBC Philharmonic and the Hallé join forces in Manchester to showcase the extraordinary achievement of a musical visionary. Spanning six programmes, the Radio 3 in Concert special series begins on Wednesday 2 March with the BBC Philharmonic performing Symphonies Nos 3 (with New Generation Artist tenor Alessandro Fisher) and 5 conducted by Mark Wigglesworth, as recorded at the Bridgewater Hall in late February. Other artists involved in this symphonic festival are: conductors Sir Mark Elder; Sir Andrew Davis; and John Wilson; sopranos Sarah Fox and Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha; baritone Roderick Williams; and pianist Steven Osborne.
Following the immersive Composer of the Week series on Beethoven in 2020, Donald Macleod conducts an in-depth survey of Vaughan Williams’s life and music in a four -week focus on the programme. With contributions from guests including pianist and academic Ceri Owen and conductor Martyn Brabbins, the twenty hour-long episodes reassess the composer’s impact on British musical life. The programmes explore Vaughan Williams’s early interests and international outlook on life; the impact of WWI on his creativity; his development as an artist through his symphonies; his relationships with women; his theatrical ambitions, and his reputation since his death in 1958. Playlists included in the episodes feature best-selling favourites like Lark Ascending and Tallis Fantasia, as well as his nine symphonies which represent the greatest contribution by any British composer to the form. Also included are his many choral works, and the music for the stage, which he pursued throughout his career, alongside lesser-known works, such as his early Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra, and his many film scores – whose immense value is only recently being recognised.
Starting on Monday 2 May for two weeks, Petroc Trelawny on Breakfast delves into Ralph Vaughan Williams’s passion for collecting English folksongs. The programmes explore some of the many settings the composers made of this repertoire and follow him on his travels throughout the country to discover them. During the month of May, Martin Handley on Sunday Breakfast focuses on The English Hymnal, which was edited by Vaughan Williams and includes tunes he wrote himself, or adapted from traditional English folksongs, as well as pieces he commissioned colleagues to create.
A special Between the Ears: The Lark Descending on Sunday 29 May re-imagines Vaughan Williams’s most famous work through non-orchestral arrangements, culminating in a new electronic composition where a sampled lark performs the famous violin solo which carries the melody of The Lark Ascending. Celebrating a birdsong that used to be frequent in the UK but is in decline due to environmental changes, the programme features sounds of larks as captured by bird lover and Radio 3 contributor Lucy ‘Lapwing’ Hodson in North Downs, close to Vaughan Williams’ childhood home in Surrey.
On Saturday 14 May, Opera On 3 presents a rare archive broadcast of Vaughan Williams’s opera in four acts Sir John in Love, a retelling of Falstaff’s love life. Recorded at English National Opera in 2006, in Ian Judge’s production, Oleg Caetani conducts a cast including bass Andrew Shore in the title role; with mezzo-soprano Jean Rigby and bass Alastair Miles among others.
Also part of Vaughan Williams Today, a week of In Tune Mixtape programmes take inspiration from the composer’s best loved works to present special musical journeys including pieces which influenced Vaughan Williams, were inspired by him, or which echo the spirit of his distinctive sound world; Essential Classics presents five Essential Moments devoted to the composer’s life, as introduced by Kate Romano; and in Record Review, Andrew McGregor is joined by musician and journalist Mark Lowther for Building a Library to discuss and illustrate recordings of Vaughan Williams’s great 4th Symphony, and to review versions conducted by Boult, Bernstein, and Previn amongst others.
And on Wednesday 2 March, after the Radio 3 in Concert programme, the station broadcasts a special programme of highlights from the RNCM Brass Band Festival, returning in 2022 after last year’s cancellation due to COVID. This edition celebrates the contribution to brass band repertoire by some of Britain’s finest 20th Century composers, such as Vaughan Williams, Sir Malcolm Arnold, and Ray Steadman-Allen.
Vaughan Williams Today continues in Autumn 2022, with another moment of special programming to celebrate RVW150 around the anniversary of his birth in October.