Glastonbury on the BBC Radio 1: Better off at home?

Pyramid selling.

Glastonbury
BBC Radio 1

“I’m not just saying this ’cos this is the BBC but I’m genuinely going to be catching up on iPlayer all week.” Huw Stephens is lounging in Nick Grimshaw’s Glastonbury tepee, comparing notes. “I saw someone at the Stones with a baby,” sniffs Grimshaw. “Newborn baby. And I thought, ‘Weird accessory to bring – a newborn.’” Children at festivals are but a heavy and inconvenient Anglo-Saxon affectation. “Who was that?” sympathises Stephens. “Dunno!” shrugs Grimmy, appalled.

Never has Grimshaw been so likeable – sucking his teeth about a day ahead of being professionally and relentlessly upbeat about bands like Noah and the Whale and possibly not being entirely honest about what he did after the headlining act last night. (“Went for a Chinese. Sweet and sour chicken with rice. Then came home.”) It made a pleasant change from Jo Whiley up in the bosom nookery smiling fondly at everyone on the roster, from Kenny Rogers to Bruce Forsyth. For some reason, it has long been the BBC’s unquestioning job to be enthusiastic and humble about everything to do with Glasto but this year the corporation plugged a tone of particularly unceasing middlebrow moral uplift. ] Even Mick was at it, tweeting pics of himself looking excited holding the door of a portable toilet or swaddled in cashmere on the helipad. Jagger – that old miser and icecold businessman – will not be taken for a fool and proved himself on Saturday yet again as a guy never to make mistakes. Only from the mouths of some was it more bearable than others. In between sets on the BBC Introducing Stage, Jen Long and Ally McCrae – both under 25 and easily the busiest and most interesting presenters delivering any radio commentary this year, sweetly cackling and melodramatic to cover their inexperience – confessed innocently that they may have seen the best of things had they stayed at home.

“I could just about catch the edge of the TV screen in front of the Pyramid Stage,” confided McCrae, “so I’m just gonna watch it all back on iPlayer.” Jen nods, feeling for a moment comfortingly together after three days snowblinded by BBC zeal and righteousness. That said, maths clearly isn’t her thing. “I was up in the tower and looking out over the sea of . . . 2,000? Six thousand? I dunno how many people were there. But lots.”

Unhappy campers: BBC iPlayer provides a festival in a box. Photograph: Getty Images.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The world takes sides

BBC/Chris Christodoulou
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Proms 2016: Violinist Ray Chen was the star of a varied show

The orchestra soaked up his energy in Bruch's first violin concerto to end on a triumphal note. 

Music matters, but so does its execution. This was the lesson of a BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus programme which combined both a premiere of a composition and a young violinist’s first performance at the Proms. 

The concert, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, opened with Tchaikovsky’s symphonic fantasy The Tempest, a lesser-known sibling to his Romeo and Juliet overture. The orchestra got off to a fidgety start, with some delayed entries, but fell into line in time for the frenetic chromatic runs that drive the piece. The end, a muted pizzicato, was suitably dramatic. 

Another nature-inspired piece followed – Anthony Payne’s composition for chorus and orchestra, Of Land, Sea and Sky. Payne drew on his memory of watching of white horses appearing to run across water, as well as other visual illusions. At the world premiere, the piece began promisingly. The chorus rolled back and forth slowly over scurrying strings with an eerie singing of “horses”. But the piece seemed to sink in the middle, and not even the curiosity of spoken word verse was enough to get the sinister mood back. 

No doubt much of the audience were drawn to this programme by the promise of Bruch violin concerto no. 1, but it was Ray Chen’s playing that proved to be most magnetic. The young Taiwanese-Australian soloist steered clear of melodrama in favour of a clean and animated sound. More subtle was his attention to the orchestra. The performance moved from furious cadenza to swelling sound, as if all players shared the same chain of thought. Between movements, someone coughed. I hated them. 

Ray Chen in performance. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Chen’s playing had many audience members on their feet, and only an encore appeased them. It was his first time at the Proms, but he'll be back. 

The orchestra seemed to retain some of his energy for Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Region. Composed between 1904 and 1906, this is a setting of lines by the US poet Walt Whitman on death, and the idea of rebirth.

The orchestra and chorus blended beautifully in the delicate, dark opening. By the end, this had transformed into a triumphal arc of sound, in keeping with the joyful optimism of Whitman’s final verse: “We float/In Time and Space.” 

This movement from hesitancy to confident march seemed in many ways to capture the spirit of the concert. The programme had something for everyone. But it was Chen’s commanding performance that defined it.