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  • Peter Donohoe

Archive: Fifty Great Pianists on BBC's Radio 3

As part of the BBC's Piano Season, I found myself acting as continuity announcer and program presenter/compiler rolled into one on Radio 3 in a series called ‘Fifty Great Pianists’.

The broadcasts were at 08.30 daily between 17 September and 28 October. Each consisted of a brief verbal introduction by me, followed by a short recording of one pianist. Then later during the morning during Essential Classics, Rob Cowan or Sarah Walker would include the same pianist in a more extended work. For scheduling reasons, occasionally two pianists would be coupled on the same day. For me it was an opportunity to organise my thoughts regarding my personal heroes and heroines - both past and present. But it was also a considerable challenge because I had never been a broadcaster in this particular way before.

Giving interviews is one thing – the interviewer usually leads the way, and is either good or otherwise at creating a situation in which one is able to comfortably say something pertinent. Contributing to a round table discussion is another form of broadcasting with which I am very familiar – again the way is led by a chairman, who is usually a consummate and experienced broadcaster him or herself. However, this was different. When verbalising alone, the key qualities required of confidence, coherence and clarity tend to go into decline without the stimulus of a more experienced broadcaster to bounce ideas off and vice versa. I discovered that my fairly long experience in giving pre-concert talks before many of my own recitals did not help me feel less nervous of the microphone.

My brief was to write a series of fifty short introductions, edited and tweaked at the time of recording, and recorded in batches of around 10 at a time – in the event in London (Broadcasting House), Birmingham (“The Archers” Studio in the Mailbox, where The Archers’ sound props that were in the studio were very intriguing…) and Manchester (Media City). As an inexperienced and untrained broadcaster, and I found myself essentially taking on the role of continuity announcer on the most intellectually sophisticated radio channel of the world’s greatest broadcasting corporation.

Having said that, the producer, Chris Wines, whose inspiration it was to create the series in the first place, is himself an old hand at announcing on radio – particularly on BBC Radio 3. He is also an old friend and colleague, and he inspired and encouraged me to the point that I now want to do more of the same. He was able to guide me through the process and help me avoid the pitfalls that I would have been guaranteed to fall into otherwise.