Behind the scenes with BBC Radio 3's New Generation Artists

Emma Bloxham, editor at BBC Radio 3, takes us behind the scenes in the first of a series of guest blogs from the current cohort of New Generation Artists.

Behind the scenes with BBC Radio 3's New Generation Artists
BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists

Founded in 1999 to nurture and promote some of the best young musical talents in the world at the start of their international careers, the New Generation Artists scheme has gone from strength to strength and now numbers over 100 musicians in its distinguished list of alumni.

From pianists to string quartets, via just about everything else, the list of musicians the scheme has supported over the last 15 years or so reads like a who’s who of classical music: trumpeter Alison Balsom, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, viola players Lawrence Power, Lise Berthaud, Antoine Tamestit and Maxim Rysanov, the Belcea, Jerusalem, Ebene and Pavel Haas quartets (to name but a few), pianists including Paul Lewis, Igor Levit, Benjamin Grosvenor and Khatia Buniatishvili, mezzo Christine Rice, sopranos Ailish Tynan and Elizabeth Watts…I could go on.

Add to those the jazz musicians who’ve graced the NGA studio – we take one every two years (our most recent recruit is the fabulous jazz trumpeter, Laura Jurd, below) – and it’s easy to see why membership of the scheme is considered by many to be one of the best opportunities out there.

Laura Jurd, jazz trumpeter

Choosing the New Generation Artists is one of the greatest pleasures of my job – and also one of the biggest responsibilities!

Every January I invite agents and promoters worldwide to nominate up to two artists they feel are at that particular point in their careers when they’re not only able to meet the significant demands of the scheme, but also to benefit from our help and support.

Of course I’m listening out for those artists I think are most deserving of air time, and who I’m most excited about introducing to Radio 3 listeners, but it’s very much a two-way thing: NGAs traditionally play a significant role in Radio 3’s special seasons – learning repertoire specifically for broadcast on International Women’s Day for example (NGAs Elena Urioste and Alec Frank-Gemmill made a wonderful new recording of Ethel Smyth’s Concerto for Violin, Horn & Orchestra last year, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and you may also have heard songs by women composers recorded specially for us by sopranos Olena Tokar and Ruby Hughes), perhaps appearing live on In Tune as part of a big composer focus, or coming into the studio to make the first ever recordings of Tchaikovsky fragments for our complete Tchaikovsky Stravinsky extravaganza (2007, thank you Cedric Tiberghien!) – and, needless to say, they’ll feature significantly in our celebrations marking the 70th birthday of the Third Programme later this year.

Alec Frank-Gemmill, Horn

Membership of the scheme is for a period of just over two years and, for the right musician, offers a unique set of opportunities: the chance to come into our studios at Maida Vale at least twice a year and work with our dedicated team of producers and studio managers on recordings for Radio 3 (which as well as providing a wealth of fantastic material for broadcast is also the first time many of these young musicians get to experience working in a studio environment), concerto dates with the BBC orchestras, appearances at some of the UK’s most important venues and festivals (including Sage Gateshead, Wigmore Hall, the Cheltenham Festival and – for some – the BBC Proms), and, if you’re lucky, a brand new work written specially for you. I’m currently awaiting delivery of no fewer than four new pieces commissioned jointly by the BBC and the Royal Philharmonic Society for New Generation Artists – from Matthias Pintscher, Rolf Wallin, Sally Beamish and Kurt Schwertsik – all of which will be premiered later this year and broadcast on Radio 3. 

Perhaps most importantly of all, the NGA scheme brings people together – and as we know, great things happen when people collaborate.

The list of great musical meetings-of-minds that have occurred on our watch is a joy to behold. It was in the NGA recording studio that violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Cédric Tiberghien first met, for example. A couple of years ago I had the huge privilege of producing a recording of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time with four members of the scheme (pianist Zhang Zuo, violinist Elena Urioste, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and clarinettist Mark Simpson), which was an unforgettable experience for all concerned. I have equally happy memories of a great day spent with the Aronowitz Ensemble and jazz pianist Gwilym Simcock back in 2008, and, more recently, a positively electrifying performance of the Shostakovich Piano Quintet given by Igor Levit and the Apollon Musagete Quartet.

Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien

Our current lot of NGAs seem to be a particularly collaborative bunch: baritone Benjamin Appl and pianist Pavel Kolesnikov have forged a very successful musical partnership, the Armida and Van Kuijk quartets are gearing up for what promises to be a fantastic Mendelssohn Octet at the Cheltenham Festival later this year, violinist Esther Yoo and pianist Zhang Zuo have hooked up with great results, and I have a feeling we’re all going to hear a lot more of the trio they’ve formed with cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan… Our new 2015-17 NGAs have been busy already, and you can listen to some of their first performances for Radio 3 here.

Esther Yoo and Zhang Zuo

In case you’re wondering, it’s by no means all over after two years – in fact, I like to think of a musician’s time on the NGA scheme as just the beginning of their relationship with Radio 3. It goes without saying that I follow their progress with a healthy degree of proprietorial interest, and am always delighted to bump into former NGAs backstage at the Royal Albert Hall during the Proms, to hear them on Radio 3 live from Skipton Town Hall, say (as happened just a few weeks ago), or to be able to invite them and their friends back to give a Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert. I find myself picking their brains on a very regular basis, about all sorts of things, but equally I – and the rest of the team – are always here to answer questions, catch up over coffee, or put them in touch with other musicians.

We’re a family that continues to grow, and I for one can’t wait to get going on finding our new members.

  • Article Type: | Blog |
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