297 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.

    Nadifa Mohamed

    Nadifa Mohamed

    Since the publication of her first novel while she was still in her twenties, Nadifa Mohamed has been a writer to watch. Her second novel, The Orchard of Lost Souls, won her the Somerset Maugham Award and gave her a place on the prestigious Granta List of Best Young Novelists. She’s about to publish her third novel, and is also turning it into an opera – a commission from the Royal Opera House. What’s striking in all her work is the epic sweep of her storytelling, which explores themes of exile and survival: her characters are caught up by war and love. Nadifa herself left Somali-land in northern Somalia when civil war broke out and she was only four when she came to Britain in 1985.

    She talks to Michael Berkeley about her dramatic family history, and about her father, who was a travelling troubadour in Sudan. She pays tribute too to the Somali musician Hudeidi, who died of Covid this last April. He was her teacher on the oud for seven years, and her mentor, and she spent many evenings jamming with him in his west London flat. Her musical choices range from Pergolesi, Purcell and Vaughan Williams to Max Richter, Toumani Diabate and Louis Armstrong.

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

    • 35 min
    David 'Kid' Jensen

    David 'Kid' Jensen

    Michael Berkeley talks to disc jockey David ‘Kid’ Jensen about his career in pop music and his lifelong love of classical music.

    In 1968 David Jensen left his native Canada to become the youngest member of Radio Luxembourg’s original ‘all live’ line up. He was just 18 – hence his enduring nickname, ‘Kid’. Since then he’s never been off the air, working at Radio 1, Radio 2, Capital Radio, Heart, and picking up five Gold Sony Awards along the way. And for many people of a certain age his appearances with John Peel on Top of the Pops were the highlight of their week.

    David tells Michael about his first job in radio, at the age of just 16, playing classical music on a radio station in his native British Colombia and he chooses music by Dvorak that reminds him of that time.

    His passion for opera is reflected in arias by Italian composers and a contemporary Icelandic composer, in honour of his Icelandic wife, Gudrun, and their happy marriage of 45 years.

    In 2013 David was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and he talks movingly about the challenges of living with the disease and the determination and optimism with which he has faced it.

    And he shares memories of practical jokes at Radio 1; holidays with Paul and Linda McCartney; football matches with The Rolling Stones; and how Billy Bragg helped launch his career by delivering a curry to David and John Peel at Broadcasting House.

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

    • 29 min
    Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason

    Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason

    Anyone who saw Sheku Kanneh-Mason play the cello at the Royal Wedding, or win BBC Young Musician of the Year at the age of only 17, will realise that he comes from the most extraordinary family. Two of his siblings are also Young Musician finalists, and his older sister, Isata, is a professional pianist. Collectively the seven Kanneh-Mason children make music wherever they are. During lockdown, that was the family home in Nottingham, from which they performed live on Facebook.

    Michael Berkeley’s guest is their mother, Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason: the woman who inspires them, who gets up before dawn to drive them to lessons and trains, who organises their practice schedules, who dances with them in the kitchen. She tells Michael Berkeley about how she does it – and why. She looks back on her childhood in Sierra Leone, and the huge transition of coming to live with her grandparents in Wales after her father died. She reveals her own musical ambition – to play the violin – and discusses how she manages to get the children to practise. She explores with Michael the question of prejudice in the classical music world. And she plays the reggae song the family will be dancing to at Christmas.

    Other choices include Verdi’s “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves”, Shostakovich’s Second Piano Trio, Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Trout Quintet and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “Deep River”.

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

    • 34 min
    Judith Herrin

    Judith Herrin

    On this darkest day of the year, Judith Herrin brings to Private Passions the dazzling gold of medieval icons and mosaics: she has spent a lifetime exploring the history of Byzantium, that thousand-year civilization which led Europe out of the dark ages and into the modern era. She’s one of our greatest historians of the early medieval Mediterranean world, that melting pot of East and West, Christianity, Islam and paganism. She’s worked in Paris, Munich, Istanbul and Princeton, and is currently Emeritus Professor of Byzantine Studies at King’s College London. She is the author of eleven books, and her latest is a fascinating study of the north-Italian city of Ravenna, famous for its gold mosaics and once the centre of the Roman and then the Byzantine Empire.

    In Private Passions, she talks to Michael Berkeley about her passion for Ravenna, which she first visited as a teenager. The mosaics there made an unforgettable impression – an almost mystical experience. As a young woman, Judith Herrin spent her summers in Prades in Southern France, working on a peach farm by day and going to hear Pablo Casals at night. She chooses a memorable archive performance of Casals, as well as a recording of Jacqueline du Pré, who was a friend when she was growing up. Her own instrument is the bassoon and she chooses bassoon music by Mozart and by Janáček. And she has never forgotten seeing The Doors at the Roundhouse in the mid-60s, with revolution in the air and the excitement of creating a new kind of history.

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

    • 34 min
    Alexandra Harris

    Alexandra Harris

    Michael Berkeley talks to Alexandra Harris, one of the very first Radio 3 New Generation Thinkers, about her passions for landscape, weather and music.

    As the evenings draw in and the weather gets colder, Alexandra Harris could not be happier. There’s no greater fan of English weather – even the miserable cold, wet variety – so much so that she’s written a book about it – Weatherland: Writers and Artists under English Skies.

    Alexandra is a Professor of Literature at the University of Birmingham, is this year’s chair of the Forward Prizes for Poetry, and among her other highly praised books are a biography of Virginia Woolf, and Romantic Moderns, about the complex relationship between modernism and tradition in English art and literature, which won the Guardian First Book Award.

    Alexandra tells Michael about her love of weather, winter and Schubert’s Winterreise, and about the music that conjures up the English landscapes that mean so much to her: we hear pieces by Britten, by the violinist Laura Cannell and by the Norfolk composer Simon Rowland-Jones.

    Alexandra’s twin passions, for early church music and for the quiet of the evening, are brought together in music by Tallis written for the monastic service of Compline – and she acknowledges how lucky she is to be able to listen to it in the warmth and comfort of her home rather than in a freezing medieval monastery.

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

    • 38 min
    Mike Brearley

    Mike Brearley

    Mike Brearley, the former England cricket captain, talks to Michael Berkeley about the wide range of classical music that inspires him.

    Mike is one of the most successful cricket captains of all time, winning 17 tests for England and losing only four. No one who follows the game will forget the so-called ‘miracle’ of the 1981 Ashes: recalled as captain, Mike galvanised the demoralised team in one of the greatest-ever feats of sporting psychology - and led England to an astonishing 3-1 series victory.

    The Australian fast bowler Rodney Hogg famously described Mike as having ‘a degree in people’ – and that’s particularly appropriate as he’s gone on to have a long and successful second career as a psychoanalyst, as well as writing a series of books and working as a cricket journalist.

    Mike talks to Michael Berkeley about the close engagement he has with music – he listens with the same intensity and concentration he brought to test cricket and that he brings to his work as a psychoanalyst.

    He chooses music by Bach, Monteverdi, and Tchaikovsky, and a Mozart sonata that reminds him of his father, also a first-class cricketer.

    Mike is drawn to the complexity and darkness of music written by Beethoven and by Schubert at the very end of their lives and to an opera by Harrison Birtwistle that he finds challenging and difficult but ultimately enlightening.

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

    • 37 min

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