September 9, 2009 / 11:35 AM / 10 years ago

BBC New Generation gives young musicians a boost

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - When it comes to defining who the BBC “New Generation” artist program is designed for, it’s hard to find anyone more appropriate than violinist Jennifer Pike.

Violinist Jennifer Pike poses at The South Bank Show Awards with her Times Breakthrough Award at Dorchester Hotel in London January 29, 2008. REUTERS/Anthony Harvey

In 2002 at the age of 12, Pike was then the youngest person to win the British broadcaster’s “Young Musician of the Year” award. Still not even 20, Pike was in a posh area of London recently to play Elgar’s technically demanding violin sonata with all the mastery of a seasoned pro.

“I love this slushy British music,” Pike told Reuters after her warmly received performance for a daytime audience at Cadogan Hall, where she was appearing as a “New Generation” artist.

“There’s a youthful feeling in it, especially the second movement, a kind of magical quality that’s sort of looking back on young lives and that’s why I think it’s good and quite moving to play when you’re young,” she added.

Helping young people to play their hearts out and learn the ropes of the intensely competitive classical music business is what the BBC’s New Generation Artists program is all about.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the program has recruited some 70 young musicians representing about 30 nationalities to help them build up their repertoire, learn the ins and outs of recording, but most of all, give them exposure on the radio, in recital halls...getting them out and about to be heard.

Bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu credits the New Generation program for landing him a recital in one of the smaller halls of that world temple of music, New York’s Carnegie Hall — and as a New Zealand-born Samoan islander, Lemalu had a much longer way to go than most to get there.

“The great thing about the scheme is the resources of the BBC...they have the relationships with European and American venues, so that’s how I did my debut recital at Carnegie,” Lemalu, 33, whose voice is so powerful it could touch off rockslides, said before he gave the Cadogan audience a sample.

“The BBC has always had a commitment to young musical talent but before this scheme came along it was a little bit piecemeal,” said Adam Gatehouse, the editor of live music at BBC Radio 3, the public broadcaster’s main classical music channel, whose brainchild the New Generation Program is.

The BBC has long programed live concerts and recitals but Gatehouse said he thought he could do something “a bit more focused and strategic” by taking six artists a year under the BBC’s wing and working with them for a period of two years.

“We try to give them as much exposure as we can across as many platforms as we can,” Gatehouse said.

By this he means everything from making recordings or playing live for BBC Radio 3, to doing the extremely popular lunchtime concerts at chamber music venues like London’s Wigmore Hall and elsewhere, appearing as soloists with British orchestras and — as the icing on the cake — performing at the famous Promenade concerts in London over the summer season.


Lemalu, Pike and dozens of other New Generation alumni showed up for a special “Proms” weekend at the end of August for three days of concerts which put the amazing breadth and depth of the program on display — everything from vocal and instrumental soloists to string quartets and woodwind ensembles.

There were even enough string quartets to play an oddball and, for obvious reasons, seldom performed “Allegro for four string quartets” by the Dutch composer, Johannes van Bree.

Some of those alumnus couldn’t praise the program enough.

“I don’t know if this is the right thing to say or not, but for them to give that sort of platform to a wind quintet helped to establish the wind quintet as a force to be reckoned with,” said Katherine Spencer, clarinetist with the now 16-year-old Galliard Ensemble wind group.

So how much does this cost, and what does the BBC get for its money — which comes from the public purse?

The quid pro quo, Gatehouse admits, is a lot of raw material for the music-hungry programing of Radio 3, where he proudly notes that 56 percent of the output is live or purpose-recorded.

“It costs us relatively little, it’s peanuts compared with what we’re getting out of it,” he said, estimating the cost to be in the “low six figures.”

And for the artists? They get paid for their work, but what price being heard in concert halls, at the Proms and on radio?

“The first thing is the coverage, getting out there, being on the BBC,” said tenor Andrew Kennedy, 32, who comes from a working-class background, won several vocal scholarships and has made a career specializing in Britten and Stravinsky operas.

“My friends say, ‘God, you’re never off the blooming radio.’”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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