BBC announces a year-long celebration of classical music on TV and radio

The programme for the BBC’s ground-breaking project, Our Classical Century, has been revealed


Over the next ten months the BBC will broadcast a series of TV and radio programmes celebrating the most memorable moments in classical music from the last 100 years.


A host of well-loved guests will take part in a series of documentaries and performances that culminates in a specially-commissioned work on the First Night of the BBC Proms in July.

Four episodes of Our Classical Century will be presented by Suzy Klein on BBC Four, each exploring how classical music collided with popular culture. The first two, featuring guests Lenny Henry and John Simpson respectively, will capture the profound influence of the First and Second World Wars on composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten.

In part three, Klein will be joined by journalist and broadcaster Joan Bakewell to explore the increasing entanglement of classical music with that of television and film, generating its own roster of high-profile stars who achieved celebrity status.

In the final programme in the series, singer Alexandra Burke will be exploring the world of classical music from the 1980s right up to the present day – a period in which the genre became accessible to millions through the advent of new technologies.

BBC Four will also be broadcasting a series of programmes discovering the stories behind seminal works from the last century, complete with performances from various of the BBC’s ensembles. In November an archive documentary by award-winning director John Bridcut will be broadcast, in which HRH The Prince of Wales, a longstanding enthusiast of composer Hubert Parry, uncovers the story behind one of Britain’s best and least-known composers.

Brian Cox, Amanda Vickery and Tom Service will present documentaries on composers and their works on BBC Two over the course of the year, while historian Lucy Worsley will be exploring the British Musical Revolution under Queen Victoria, in a unique programme to be aired in June.

Throughout the year BBC Radio 3 will be counting down its top 100 Essential Classics, identifying the key moments from the world of classical music, including premiers of seminal works like The Planets and Boléro.

Director general of the BBC Tony Hall has said: ‘This autumn marks the most ambitious classical music programming to date, exploring a century of classical music across BBC TV and radio.’

Programme 2018-2019

Part One: November-December 2018 (1918-1936)

Our Classical Century Episode 1, 1918-1936, on BBC Four presented by Suzy Klein and Sir Lenny Henry

Holst & Vaughan Williams – Making Music English, on BBC Two presented by Tom Service and Amanda Vickery

Discovering… Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Dausgard, on BBC Four presented by Josie D'Arby

The Prince and the Composer: A Film about Hubert Parry, on BBC Four presented by HRH The Prince of Wales

Top 100 Countdown in Essential Classics (1-25) on BBC Radio 3

Part Two: February-March 2019 (1936-1953)

Our Classical Century Episode 2, 1936-1953, on BBC Four presented by Suzy Klein and John Simpson CBE

Discovering… Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Moritz Gnann, on BBC Four presented by Kate Derham

Britten's War Requiem at English National Opera, on BBC Four

Top 100 Countdown in Essential Classics (26-50) on BBC Radio 3

Part Three: April-May 2019 (1953-1971)

Our Classical Century Episode 3, 1953-1971, on BBC Four presented by Suzy Klein and Joan Bakewell

Discovering… Arnold's The Bridge on the River Kwai, performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra/Christopher Seaman, on BBC Four presented by Katie Derham

Brian Cox on Holst's The Planets, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra/Ben Gernon, on BBC Two

Top 100 Countdown in Essential Classics (51-75) on BBC Radio 3

Part Four: June-July 2019 (1980's-Present)

Our Classical Century Episode 4, 1980s-present, on BBC Four presented by Suzy Klein and Alexandra Burke

Lucy Worsley presents Queen Victoria and the British Musical Revolution on BBC Two

Discovering… Saariaho's Graal Théâtre performed by the BBC Philharmonic/Ludovic Morlot, on BBC Four presented by Tom Service

Top 100 Countdown in Essential Classics (76-100) on BBC Radio 3

First Night of the Proms 2019


See the December issue of BBC Music Magazine for an accompanying feature on Our Classical Century.