Radio 3 controller Alan Davey on the history of the European Broadcasting Union and its relationship with the BBC

What is the European Broadcasting Union and what is its relationship to BBC Radio 3? Alan Davey, controller of Radio 3, talks us through the longstanding partnership

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The European Broadcasting Union is one of those splendid things that in the world of Public Service Media does a quiet job in just getting things done and making things happen for audiences globally. Don’t let its name fool you – its cooperation is worldwide: it has 115 member organisations in 56 countries, with an additional 34 Associates in Asia, Africa, Australasia and the Americas.

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The history of the relationship between the European Broadcasting Union and the BBC

Back in 1967, the BBC and the EBU put together a concert that was shared by countries around the EBU network, which showed off new broadcast technology (the same that had allowed the broadcast of the Beatles’ ‘All You Need is Love’ across different countries), featuring the English Chamber Orchestra and Amadeus Quartet, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. It was the start of the Music Exchange, a notion dreamed up by Hans Keller from the BBC and Oskar Adler with an aim of joining together the nations of the world through live music making. It was a high point in the notion of the power of radio and of the radio transmission of live concerts. As Hans Keller, who had come to this country having suffered detention and torture by the Nazi regime said ‘there will be listeners, all over Europe, who will be more passionately involved in the concert than one or the other listeners here in the hall’.

Fast forward to today. When Stephen Hough played the first notes of Bach’s Chaconne in Busoni’s arrangement in the first Wigmore Hall concert of our June 2020 season – the first live music in a concert hall we had experienced since the national Covid-19 lockdown, it caused a frisson of intense engagement among listeners in the UK and also around the world thanks to the EBU. That engagement with music being made live, enjoyed by millions around the world was as real as in any concert hall with a live audience – and shows the enduring power of radio and music.

What is the EBU Music Exchange scheme?

The EBU Music Exchange scheme, operating under the brand name, Euroradio, has developed into a powerful way of allowing great music-making from around the world to be shared between nations. Recordings made by BBC Radio 3 of British orchestras and ensembles are enjoyed all around the world. Each Monday evening on Radio 3 we visit another country to hear ensembles in concerts that have taken place recently, or in afternoons and lunchtimes we visit festivals or look across a week at the output of particular orchestras. In this travel-free Covid-19 era, this allows the listener to stay in touch with music-making and talent all over the world. On 20 December, throughout the day, BBC Radio 3 will broadcast seasonal music and singing from across Europe and Canada in Euroradio’s annual Christmas Music Day, lifting audiences’ mood in these unusual festive months.

Upcoming EBU programming

This week we will show another aspect of the Music Exchange of the EBU: the power to focus  audience’s attention around a particular grand theme and the power of music. On Human Rights Day, BBC Radio 3 and 36 other radio stations around the world will broadcast a special performance of Max Richter’s VOICES, incorporating words from the 1948 international Declaration of Human Rights sung in languages from around the world. The performance, recorded in the BBC’s Maida Vale studios, features the Max Richter Ensemble joined by narrator Sheila Atim, soprano Grace Davidson and violinist Viktoria Mullova, with members of Tenebrae and conductor Robert Ziegler. The broadcast also includes a performance of Infra, the composer’s musical response to the London 7/7 terror attacks.

Music is an expression of what it is to be human. Hans Keller and Oskar Adler knew that appreciating and listening to music was just that. The ability to play and to hear music is something that is often subject to restriction in times of crisis or even in times of oppression. For millions of people to come together and celebrate human rights through the fundamental human right of musical expression is a marvellous thing. It’s a glorious achievement of the EBU Music Exchange to allow that to happen.

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All 37 radio stations in the European Broadcasting Union are involved in a broadcast of Max Richter’s VOICES on Thursday 10 December to mark International Human Rights Day.