The BBC looks back on 20 years of its successful New Generation Artists (NGA) scheme, which has helped around 130 young musicians build an international career. Radio 3 is celebrating with a week of live and recorded concerts, culminating on 1 Feb. with 14 hours of live programming, available in MUS (SM/2020/01/25/01-04). In an EBU web interview, Radio 3 Producer Emma Bloxham talks about the joys and challenges of being responsible for the NGA.
Q: Janine Jansen, Alice Coote, Benjamin Appl: the list of New Generation Artists who have gone on to stellar careers over the past 20 years is already quite impressive. Emma, please give us some history of the NGA. How did this all start back in 1999?
Emma Bloxham: It was the idea of my predecessor, Adam Gatehouse, who wanted to do something to support young artists at that crucial moment right at the start of their international careers – through studio recordings, dates with our fabulous BBC orchestras, new commissions, and performances at some of the UK’s most prestigious venues and festivals.
Q: Has the basic format of the NGA ever varied since the start?
EB: Not significantly, no. The heart of the scheme remains the opportunity to work in the studio, which, as we know, is pretty rare these days! It’s a fantastic thing for a young musician to be able to record something that isn’t necessarily for posterity, like a CD. We’re not aiming for perfection: these recordings are simply a snapshot of that artist’s view of that particular work at that particular moment in time – and that’s a really precious thing. Everyone who comes through our scheme finds it incredibly helpful to work with our fantastic team of producers and sound engineers, and it’s amazing how much they learn just from just listening back to themselves in the course of a three-hour session!
Then every NGA gets to perform in our prestigious Monday Lunchtime Concert series from Wigmore Hall (all of which are broadcast live on Radio 3); there’s also the opportunity to commission new work, thanks to a long-standing partnership with the Royal Philharmonic Society.
One thing I’ve been really keen to develop since taking over the scheme is the range of opportunities to perform and festivals and venues – it’s great for the NGAs to get out and about all four corners of the UK, and of course fantastic for Radio 3 listeners to actually see them as well as hear them! We’ve been broadcasting from the wonderful new concert hall at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire every day this week, for example, and in February we’re taking four NGAs – two current ones, and two alumni – to Snape Maltings, which is a lovely place for young musicians to hang out, work on some repertoire together and then perform in that beautiful space.
I think the thing I’m most proud of is that no two NGAs have exactly the same experience of the scheme. As we all know, every artist or group is different, and we’re able to tailor the offer to suit the individual. Pianist Pavel Kolesnikov, for example (2014-16), took full advantage of the opportunity to make studio recordings of repertoire that a record company might not have wanted to take a punt on at that moment in time – so Radio 3 listeners were treated to some wonderful recordings of CPE Bach and Louis Couperin. The Ukrainian violinist Aleksey Semenenko hadn’t done very much chamber music at all before he joined the scheme in 2017; during his two years with us we introduced him to the Amatis Trio and violist Eivind Ringstad (which resulted in all of them performing together at the Edinburgh International Festival last year, to great acclaim), and he’ll be getting together with Eivind again, and Elisabeth Brauss (piano), and Anastasia Kobekina (cello) at Snape next month. So he leaves us with a raft of great musical experiences under his belt, but some lifelong friends too!
Q: Tell us a bit about the crop of new talent for 2019-2021.They overlap with the 2018-2020 group, don’t they?
EB: Yes, membership of the scheme is for a period of just over two years. Obviously, the last thing I want is for people to feel like it’s all over at the end of that time though, so I like to think of us as an ever-growing family, with membership of the scheme just the beginning of a lifelong relationship with Radio 3.
There’s Alexander Gadjiev, a wonderful young pianist from Slovenia/Italy, with some very interesting programme ideas. The Consone Quartet from the UK are our first ever period instrument quartet – they’re very classy! Ema Nikoslovska is a very exciting young mezzo-soprano from Macedonia/Canada. Eric Lu (US) will probably be a familiar name to some because he won the Leeds Competition – another wonderful pianist. Johan Dalene is a very young – he’s only 19 – Swedish violinist who’s already made a great impression. He made his solo debut with the BBC Symphony Orchestra just before Christmas doing the Bruch [Violin Concerto No. 1], and that was sensational. We’ve also got the wonderful jazz guitarist Rob Luft, another British musician, very classy. Then finally, another British artist, the violist Timothy Ridout. He also made his debut with the BBC Symphony Orchestra before Christmas in the Bartók [Viola Concerto], and he’s very up for collaborating – like all viola players I guess! So now the BBC Symphony Orchestra is thinking: “How can we get Timothy and Johan together? What about the Mozart Sinfonia concertante, what about the Britten Double Concerto?” Watch this space!
Q: Tell us about the all-day 20th anniversary celebration coming up from Wigmore Hall on Saturday, 1 February. It features a nice mixture of up-and-coming artists along with some of the most famous NGA alumni.
EB: Well, since we did the 10th anniversary celebration, we’ve got twice as many artists to feature! I believe we have around 130 alumni now, so if we featured them all in a day, they’d get something like six minutes each. So we’ve expanded it to a week, which will culminate in a whole day of special programming on 1 February. During the week, we’ll be featuring several alumni each day in our morning programmes, Breakfast and Essential Classics. Our daily Lunchtime Concert features alumni and current NGAs, with four concerts recorded in Birmingham. Afternoon Concert is a celebration of our relationship with the EBU, spotlighting some of those artists who are heard very regularly in Europe. We’ve got some fantastic people lined up: Paul Lewis, Lisa Batiashvili, Alban Gerhardt, Simon Trpceski… a real feast of great music-making! Radio 3 in Concert will feature distinguished alumni Alice Coote, Benjamin Grosvenor and Igor Levit; we also have a lovely concert recorded before Christmas at Bath Mozartfest featuring the Aris Quartet, Eivind Ringstad, and the only horn player we’ve had on the scheme (so far!) – Alec Frank Gemmill. Then on the day on Saturday, we’re on air from from 9 AM to 1.00 in the morning, playing recordings (on disc, from our own archive, or from the EBU!); we’ll also go live to Wigmore Hall for no fewer than four concerts, featuring alumni from all the different generations in new chamber music combinations. It promises to be an unforgettable day, and it’ll be offered by the BBC to EBU Members. Enjoy!