300 episodes

Michael Berkeley's guests share their musical passions and reveal which pieces bring them joy and sustain them through hard times.

Private Passions BBC

    • Music

Michael Berkeley's guests share their musical passions and reveal which pieces bring them joy and sustain them through hard times.

    Rory Stewart

    Rory Stewart

    Diplomat, Soldier, Explorer, Politician, Academic – Rory Stewart defies easy labels. By his own admission, his identity is complicated: he describes himself as “a Scot, born in Hong Kong and brought up in Malaysia”. After Eton, he went on to Oxford and to the Diplomatic Service, but then abandoned this conventional career path and spent two years walking across Afghanistan and Iran. He became a deputy governor in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, and then ten years later entered British politics as a Tory MP, serving under both Cameron and May, and finally making a bold bid to become Party Leader and Prime Minister. When Boris Johnson won the election in 2019 he resigned, and threw his hat into the ring to become the new London mayor. After that contest was delayed by Covid, he left politics, and indeed left the country; he now teaches international relations and politics at Yale University.

    In conversation with Michael Berkeley, Rory Stewart reveals that he feels nothing but relief at leaving politics behind. He looks back at the years he spent in Afghanistan and wonders how much of that work will survive, and he explains why he’s now moving with his young family to Jordan. Music choices take him back to his father, who often sang to him, and to his travels in the Borders and in Iran. He talks too about his search for religious belief, a yearning expressed by a Bach cantata; and why above all we must continue to hope – not despair – about the future.

    A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 3
    Produced by Elizabeth Burke

    • 40 min
    Mark Solms

    Mark Solms

    Mark Solms is a neuroscientist who has spent his whole career investigating the mysteries of consciousness. His research throws light on some of the most difficult questions of all: how does the mind connect to the body? Why does it feel like something to be you? Born in Namibia and educated in South Africa, he came to Britain in his late twenties to avoid military service under the apartheid regime. He made his name with research into what happens in the brain when we’re dreaming; then he startled his scientific colleagues by training as a psychoanalyst, something which, he says, “put me at odds with the rest of my field”. He’s now very unusual in holding eminent positions within both psychoanalysis and scientific research. He’s the author of six books – his latest is "The Hidden Spring" – and he divides his time between London and Cape Town, where he also pursues his other career... as a wine-maker.

    In conversation with Michael Berkeley, Mark Solms reveals the traumatic childhood event which made him determined to become a doctor, when his brother jumped off a roof and suffered a major brain injury. He discusses the latest research on dreams, and how working with brain-damaged people can teach us about the nature of consciousness. And he tells the story of how he tried to rescue his family vineyard from the wider historical trauma of the apartheid past.

    Mark chooses music which he hopes will illuminate the nature of consciousness itself: Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata, Bach, Ligeti, Chopin, and Talking Heads.

    • 39 min
    Esther Freud

    Esther Freud

    Esther Freud talks to Michael Berkeley about her extraordinary childhood and her passion for story telling in both words and music.

    After attending drama school and making appearances in The Bill and Dr Who, Esther Freud changed direction at the age of 20 and turned to writing. She found instant success with her first novel, Hideous Kinky, which drew on her experience of living in Morocco as a very young child with her mother and sister Bella. She was named as one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists and has gone on to write eight more books, the latest being I Couldn’t Love You More.

    Esther tells Michael about her childhood passion for telling stories and how her experiences in Morocco dominated her imagination for years afterwards. She conjures up memories of life in North Africa with a song by the legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum.

    As she grew older she grew closer to her father, the painter Lucian Freud, partly by sitting for him and partly by their sharing a rare holiday. We hear Lotte Lenya singing Kurt Weill, which reminds Esther of her father’s German heritage.

    Esther learned the cello at school and its sound has remained an abiding love; she chooses music by Saint-Saëns and by the contemporary English composer Michael Hoppé. And music from Britten’s Peter Grimes transports her to her beloved Suffolk coast.

    Producer: Jane Greenwood
    A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 3

    • 38 min
    Walter Iuzzolino

    Walter Iuzzolino

    Walter Iuzzolino is an Italian television presenter who has become well known on our screens thanks to Walter Presents, Channel 4’s free streaming service of European television dramas. He’s a man with a mission to open up European culture to the British, and he has now begun a specially curated publishing list too, so that we can read the latest European fiction. Alongside that latest venture, he’s created special playlists – because together with his passion for European television and literature, Walter Iuzzolino is a classical music fan, with a love of Chopin.

    In conversation with Michael Berkeley, Walter reflects on the challenges of opening up British culture to “foreign” influences, and explains why he’d actually rather live in London than Genoa.

    A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 3
    Produced by Elizabeth Burke

    • 35 min
    Francesca Stavrakopoulou

    Francesca Stavrakopoulou

    Francesca Stavrakopoulou is fascinated by the Bible, and she’s a leading scholar of those ancient texts which have so profoundly shaped how we see the world. She’s Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion at the University of Exeter; she’s also a convinced and passionate atheist. She is the author of several books about the Bible, and her most recent is her most daring: called “God: An Anatomy”, it draws on the Bible to describe the body of God, from head to foot, in a way she herself describes as “very controversial”.

    In conversation with Michael Berkeley, Francesca talks about how her early fascination with Greek gods has inspired her to think differently about the God of the Bible. She talks movingly too about her partner, who served as a marine in Afghanistan, and how difficult it is to adjust to life after the army.

    Music choices include Tallis, Beethoven, Elgar, and Handel’s portrayal of her favourite Biblical heroine, Athalia.

    Produced by Elizabeth Burke
    A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 3

    • 35 min
    Helena Attlee

    Helena Attlee

    The writer Helena Attlee transports Michael Berkeley to the sounds, smells, tastes and music of Italy.

    Helena has spent most of her life immersed in Italian culture, and she has written two bestselling books that take her readers to the heart of Italy via unexpected avenues: The Land Where Lemons Grow tells the story of citrus-growing in Italy, from the Medici to the Mafia; and Lev’s Violin recounts her obsessive search in Italy and beyond to discover the history of a battered but beautiful old violin.

    Helena chooses music by Paganini that takes her to the Tuscan garden once owned by Napoleon’s sister; a folk song from Sicily, the heartland of Italian citrus farming; and a moving recording of singing from the windows of Siena during the lockdown.

    She tells Michael how for much of her life she felt excluded from classical music until one evening, and one violin, transformed her relationship with music and changed the direction of her life.

    Producer: Jane Greenwood
    A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 3

    • 34 min

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