Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: The Listening Service; Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Classical Music

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: The Listening Service; Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Classical Music

Article excerpt

He's been billed as the new Pied Piper but it's going to take a while for Tom Service to quite match the engaging brilliance of David Munrow, who back in the 1960s persuaded us that medieval pipes-only music was cool listening. Munrow's series on what was then the Third Programme was aimed at six-to-12-year-olds but succeeded in drawing everyone in because of his gift for communication and his willingness to explore the wilder shores of repertoire, creating sound connections we had never heard before. Service's new magazine programme for Radio 3, The Listening Service , may be inspired by Munrow but it's not yet sure what it's meant to be. How experimental? How difficult the content?

It's timetabled at 5 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, presumably in the hope that, like Munrow's series, it might catch the interest of 'young adults' before they have to buckle down to the last-minute homework rush. This perhaps explains why, in the first episode at least, it was difficult to pin down its tone, starting off with Julie Andrews and The Sound of Music and ending with Mozart's overture to Le nozze di Figaro (note the lack of translation). That first programme looked at musical beginnings: how do composers (whether standard classical, contemporary upstart or platinum-selling pop star) start a piece of music? How do they begin?

Anna Meredith, who has written music for the BBC's Last Night of the Proms as well as for 'a flashmob body-percussion performance' in a service station on the M6, says that even before she has written a note she will have the title. This gives her an idea of the journey she wants to go on, and also the trip she wants us as listeners to enjoy. Service himself took us back to Bayreuth in 1876: a theatre plunged into darkness, then the faint glimmer of a long, slow chord from the double basses, gradually building, instrument by instrument, into the tumult that announces the beginning of Wagner's Ring cycle.

But the musical clips were all too short, the pace of delivery too fast for us to take in what we were being told. I wanted, or rather needed, to hear more of Mozart's 'Paris' symphony to appreciate fully what he was up to, and how he was working on his audience, surprising and thereby engaging. More coherent was Neil Brand's segment of the programme, devoted to pop music, and how stars such as Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney hook us in with those first crucial seconds. …

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