‘Forgotten’ compositions to premiere on BBC Radio 3

Close up view of violins

New research supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has unearthed neglected repertoires by composers from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

The composers include:

  • Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges
  • Margaret Bonds
  • Ali Osman.

Afternoon Concert, the BBC Philharmonic live in Salford: celebrating diversity in classical music will be broadcast on 2 February at 14:00 UK time on BBC Radio 3. It will be available to listen to afterwards on BBC Sounds.

The broadcast is the result of a year-long collaboration between BBC Radio 3 and AHRC, part of UK Research and Innovation.

Expanding breadth and diversity in classical music

The scheme was launched in autumn 2020 with a call out for expressions of interest from academic researchers.

It aims to expand the breadth and diversity of what is accepted as belonging to the classical music canon, recognising and celebrating Black, Asian and ethnically diverse composers across the centuries.

The seven researchers who were awarded funding in spring 2021 are currently unearthing pieces of music that have been rarely performed, and at times are not commercially available as recordings.

The upcoming Afternoon Concert presents the first results of the BBC Radio 3 and AHRC collaboration, with a further concert scheduled to be broadcast in autumn 2022.

Besides the orchestral premieres, the programme includes:

  • works for solo piano by Nathaniel Dett, Kikuko Kanai, and Julia Perry, played by Clare Hammond
  • pre-recorded string quartets by Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint George, presented by students of the Royal Northern College of Music.

The research behind the performance

Complementing the concert, two BBC Radio 3 Arts and Ideas podcasts will be hosted by New Generation Thinker Christienna Fryar.

It will feature discussions with the seven researchers, each one giving an insight into the lives of the composers they are focusing on and the music they are unearthing.

Diverse Composers forms part of a longstanding collaboration between BBC Radio 3 and AHRC.

Previous examples include the Forgotten Female Composers scheme which showcased the work of five female composers who have been largely left out of musical history.

Engaging existing and new audiences

Professor Christopher Smith, AHRC Executive Chair, says:

These performances, made possible by the work of leading arts and humanities researchers, make an important contribution to expanding the breadth and diversity of the classical music canon.

AHRC is proud to help ensure that these sublime compositions will be heard for generations to come.

Alan Davey, BBC Radio 3 Controller, says:

BBC Radio 3 is all about expanding the canon and engaging both existing and new audiences with composers that might not be familiar, including those from diverse backgrounds.

That’s why the collaboration with the colleagues at AHRC is of such key importance, as with their support we present new musical gems to our audiences and we take steps to make sure that unfairly forgotten figures are welcomed again into the western classical canon.

Further information

The full list of researchers who have been awarded a grant is:

  • musicologist and pianist Dr Samantha Ege, Lord Crewe Junior Research Fellow in Music at Lincoln College, University of Oxford, on American composer and pianist Margaret Bonds (1913 to 1972)
  • Professor of Music at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Christopher Dingle on French composer, violin virtuoso and conductor Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745 to 1799)
  • musicologist and violinist Dr Maiko Kawabata, Lecturer in Music at the Royal College of Music, on Japanese composer Kikuko Kanai (1906 to 1986)
  • conductor and PhD candidate Dwight Pile-Gray, London College of Music at the University of West London, on Canadian American composer, organist, pianist, choir director and music professor Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882 to 1943)
  • PhD student at Bath Spa University and multi-instrumentalist and ethnomusicologist Ahmed Abdul Rahman on Sudanese composer Ali Osman (1958 to 2017)
  • Royal Northern College of Music Principal Study Vocal Tutor Michael Harper on American composer Julia Perry (1924 to1979)
  • Pianist, musicologist, and postdoctoral research fellow at The University of Edinburgh Dr Phil Alexander on Scottish Jewish composer Isaac Hirshow (1883 to 1956).

Top image:  Credit: Smederevac, Getty Images

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