Monday 6 – Friday 10 October

BBC Radio 3 returns for the third year to St George’s Bristol for a week of concerts and Essays reappraising the music and life of Brahms. Four concerts from St. George’s Bristol and one from Colston Hall will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, while a series of Essays exploring Brahms’ life will add extra content to the music that precedes them.

Concerts throughout the week include a concert of Brahms and his contemporaries by violinist Daniel Hope and pianist Sebastian Knauer, Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, his rousing Requiem performed by the BBC Singers, and a programme of Brahms alongside Bach and Beethoven, two composers he revered, performed by pianist Stephen Kovacevich. As well as the live concerts audiences will have the chance to go behind the microphone and meet the producers and engineers who plan and record the concerts, as well as Radio 3 presenter Tom Service and Editor Jessica Isaacs to find out more about the planning of the Brahms Experience and ask questions about Radio 3.

Every night throughout the week pianist Natasha Loges and writer Lesley Chamberlain will talk about Brahms’ life and the wider world in which he lived. They’ll show how Brahms’ career intersected with German society, European art and with the politics, personalities and ideas of the age. The talks will be recorded for broadcast on The Essay on BBC Radio 3 between 6-10 October, from 10.45pm.

‘Poor old Brahms…It’s weird to feel sorry for a composer as celebrated and performed as any of the greats, whose works – and whose preternaturally effulgent beard – are as familiar as anything in classical music.

But I do. That familiarity is precisely the problem. What do we hear when we hear Brahms’ music? The acme of solid – even rather stolid – 19th century classicism? The comforting, perfected endpoint of a German tradition that goes back to Bach and Schutz? Or a ‘leviathan maunderer’ (George Bernard Shaw’s phrase) whose earnestness and self-conscious historicism mean that his music is essentially limited in what it’s trying to say?

This week’s performances and broadcasts will, I hope, reveal another Brahms: a visionary pusher of expressive boundaries in his chamber music, a symbolist dreamer in his late piano music and choral works, a multi-dimensional virtuoso of time and space in his orchestral works. And above all: we’re going behind the beard to the seething passions of the man it so expertly disguised. That intensity of feeling, that pain and joy is all there in the music – we just have to hear it.’

Tom Service Presenter, BBC Radio 3

Brahms Experience – broadcast on Live in Concert 

Monday 6 October  7.30pm live from St George’s Bristol
Skampa Quartet with Robert Plane clarinet

Tuesday 7 October 7.30pm live from St George’s Bristol
Daniel Hope violin with Sebastian Knauer piano

Wednesday 8 October 7.30pm live from Colston Hall
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
with Tadaaki Otaka conductor, Veronika Eberle violin
and Andreas Brantelid cello

Thursday 9 October 7.30pm live from St George’s Bristol
BBC Singers with Charles Owens and Katya Apekisheva pianos

Friday 10 October 7.30pm live from St George’s Bristol
Stephen Kovacevich piano

The Essay

Dr Natasha Loges is Assistant Head of Programmes at the Royal College of Music and co-editor of Brahms in the Home and the Concert Hall: Between Private and Public Performance.

Writer Lesley Chamberlain is a journalist, travel writer and historian of Russian and German culture and has published short stories and novels.

Below are details of each and the broadcast times, details of the recordings will be announced shortly.

Monday 6 October 6.15pm
Public Brahms, Private Brahms
In this talk, Natahsa Loges will explore Brahms as a private musician. She writes “Brahms has a reputation as a rather fearsome, gruff personality. I have long been interested in how this picture could be reconciled with the composer of such tender, intimate music as the famous Lullaby and the late piano works. I turned to the memoirs and letters of those who knew him best, his friends from his native Hamburg, and Vienna, where he lived for over thirty years“.

Brahms and Germany
When Brahms was in his late thirties, a long-cherished dream came true – the birth of a unified, strong German nation under the Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Most of the time, Brahms deliberately kept his music free of political associations, but occasionally, he allowed his music to be the vehicle for his views. In this talk, Natahsa Loges explores the nationalist elements of his music, his relationship to the more openly patriotic Richard Wagner, and the ways in which his ‘German’ image was manipulated in the next century.

Tuesday 7 Oct 6.15pm
Brahms and Nature
With Lesley Chamberlain. In the German Romantic tradition Nature is Art’s rival and the artist’s consolation. Brahms’s love of nature, which came to him in hours of shared and solitary walking, intensified the demands he made on himself as a composer.

Brahms and Freud
Brahms and Freud co-existed in Vienna, as psychoanalysis was being born. But they belong to two vastly different epochs: what can we learn by setting them side by side?

Often at a loss for words, frequently gruff and spiky, Brahms was a man with complex personal traits. Devastated by his parents disintegrating marriage, he found relationships exceptionally difficult. A question Freud once asked of us all might help us understand the hidden personality of Johannes Brahms: what is the sublimation of sexual desire, and how much unfulfilled libido can we bear?

Lesley Chamberlain takes us back to the Vienna of the 1890s, where Brahms was composing his late masterpieces and Freud was carrying out his groundbreaking early work.

Thursday 9 October 6.30pm
Brahms and the Future
Brahms lived in a time of tremendous change. The idea of the ‘future’ was never far from peoples’ minds, as they saw new technology emerging, the political map of Europe redrawn, and long-cherished ideas of art and culture overturned. In this talk Natasha Loges will look at how Brahms felt about the future: recording technology, piano design – and his own place in the future of Western art music.

Brahms’s love of Baroque counterpoint, his turbulent personality and the high Romantic times in which he lived, produced some of Western music’s most beautifully wrought and heartfelt masterpieces. As much of his emotional struggling can be heard in the intimate chamber and piano works as in his grand symphonic statements – and already in his lifetime, Brahms was being compared to those other great composing ‘B’s: Bach and Beethoven. Today, that’s truer than ever. For me, the music that encapsulates Brahms’s poignancy lies in the breathtaking opening bars of the Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115, which can be heard at St George’s on 6 October.

Oliver Condy Editor, BBC Music Magazine

Meet Radio 3

Friday 10 October at 6pm

Meet presenter Tom Service and Editor Jessica Isaacs to find out more about the planning of the Brahms Experience and opportunity to ask any questions about Radio 3.  Introduced by Suzanne Rolt.
Further details and ticket information to be announced shortly.