276 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.

    Stephen Schwartz

    Stephen Schwartz

    Stephen Schwartz is a master of musicals. He wrote Godspell, Pippin, and The Baker’s Wife; he’s written the lyrics for films such as Pocohontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Enchanted - and many others. His musical Wicked, for which he wrote the words and music, has become something of a cult; it opened on Broadway in 2003 and in the West End in 2006, and it’s been running both in New York and in London ever since. He’s received numerous awards – three Oscars, four Grammys – and he’s over from New York for the opening of his new musical, The Prince of Egypt, a stage version of the popular film.

    In conversation with Michael Berkeley, Stephen Schwartz reveals how classical music gives him ideas for his most successful musical numbers. In fact, he admits, he steals ideas from the great composers “flagrantly”. The opening of Wicked, for instance, comes from Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C-sharp minor – listeners to this episode can hear both, and compare them. He has been influenced too by Carl Orff and the exuberant orchestration of Carmina Burana. He also talks us through the bass chords he has borrowed from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and the two bars of Beethoven that he believes are the most moving music ever written. He reflects about the success of Wicked – and the “green girl inside us all”. Other musical choices include Bernstein’s Mass, Bach’s sixth Brandenburg Concerto, Copland’s Appalachian Spring, and Puccini’s opera La Rondine.

    Produced by Elizabeth Burke
    A Loftus production for BBC Radio 3

    • 36 min
    Isabel Allende

    Isabel Allende

    Isabel Allende’s first novel, “The House of the Spirits” catapulted her to literary stardom, and was acclaimed as a classic of Latin American magic realism. That was nearly forty years ago and she’s not stopped writing since: with twenty novels and four volumes of memoir, she’s been translated all over the world and has sold some seventy-four million books. They’re vivid family sagas, with eccentric characters, dramatic reversals, discoveries of lost children, violent death, disease and revolution, and sudden consuming love affairs.

    But Isabel Allende’s own life is as extraordinary as any of her novels. Abandoned by her father as a small child, she spent her early years travelling across South America with her stepfather, who was a diplomat. He was the cousin of Salvador Allende, Chile’s socialist leader, who became Isabel’s godfather. But when Allende was deposed by the right-wing government of General Pinochet in 1973, Isabel – by then married, with children – became caught up in the violent revolution and had to flee the country. She now lives with her third husband in California.

    In conversation with Michael Berkeley, Isabel Allende reflects on her extraordinary life, and reveals how she has found happiness now in her seventies. Music choices include Vivaldi, Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 1, Albinoni, the Chilean singer Victor Jara, a moving song from the Spanish Civil War, and a Mexican love song from the 1940s, “Kiss Me Lots”.

    A Loftus production for BBC Radio 3
    Produced by Elizabeth Burke

    • 33 min
    Women Composers Compilation

    Women Composers Compilation

    As part of Radio 3’s celebration of female composers, Michael Berkeley draws together some of his guests who have championed works by women.

    Turner Prize-winner Helen Cammock introduces the 17th-century Venetian composer Barbara Strozzi, and actor Greta Scacchi tells the story of her discovery of the 18th-century musician and composer Maria Cosway. There is music too by Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th-century writer, abbess and mystic, who is a role model for scientist Uta Frith; and a discussion of Clara Schumann and her complex relationship with husband Robert from biographer Lucasta Miller.

    Architect Daniel Libeskind champions the work of the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, whose work for him conjures up the glittering beauty of modern glass buildings. And Michael Berkeley reveals the answer to the question he’s frequently asked about this programme: which composer gets chosen most often? And the answer is that, apart from Bach, probably the most popular choice of all at the moment – from men, women, young, old, artists, scientists, writers – is Nina Simone.

    A Loftus production for BBC Radio 3
    Produced by Elizabeth Burke

    • 33 min
    Piers Gough

    Piers Gough

    Piers Gough co-founded his own architectural practice while he was still at college, at the age of only twenty-two. He made his name during the redevelopment of London’s Docklands, though you can also see his work in Liverpool (the golden “bling bling” building), in Nottingham, where he built a centre for Maggie’s cancer charity, and in Glasgow, where he designed the masterplan for the redevelopment of the Gorbals. He’s won numerous awards for his buildings, not least for his bright-green triangular public lavatory in London’s Westbourne Grove. And six of his buildings have been listed by English Heritage, protected for posterity. He’s been president of the Architectural Association, he’s a Royal Academician... which all sounds steady enough, but trying to sum up his style, the Architects Journal said: “One’s never certain whether one is in a town house, a country house, a castle, or a gigantic piece of sculpture.”

    In conversation with Michael Berkeley, Piers Gough reflects on the challenges of designing for the modern city, and on the influence of the accident that broke his spine and which at one point made him doubtful that he would ever walk again. He shares, too, the surprise and fun of becoming a father in his sixties.

    Music choices include William Walton’s “Belshazzar’s Feast”; Monteverdi’s haunting love duet “Pur ti miro”; Handel’s “Semele”; and Piers's favourite country-music track, “Truckstop Honeymoon”.

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

    • 31 min
    Chibundu Onuzo

    Chibundu Onuzo

    Michael Berkeley talks to author Chibundu Onuzo about the challenge of writing novels while studying for her A-levels, and the role of music and faith in her life.

    At the age of nineteen Chibundu became the youngest female writer ever to be signed by Faber and Faber. She started writing aged ten while growing up in Lagos, Nigeria and was working on her first novel, ‘The Spider King’s Daughter’, while doing her A levels at boarding school in England. It was published while she was still at university and was shortlisted for a host of prizes – winning a 2013 Betty Trask Award. Her second novel, ‘Welcome to Lagos’, was published in 2017 to great acclaim.

    Chibundu talks to Michael Berkeley about growing up in Lagos, and the challenge of adapting to life at boarding school in Britain. She chooses a carol, ‘I Wonder as I Wander’, that she sang with her school choir in Winchester Cathedral. The soundtrack to a Nigerian television advert from the 1990s speaks to her about the tensions between Western and traditional values in Nigeria. We hear a miniature by Christian Petzold that will be familiar to anyone who has ever learned the piano, alongside music from Handel and from Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, ‘From the New World’.

    And, in a special moment for Private Passions, Chibundu is joined in the studio by members of her family to sing a setting of Psalm 23 by her uncle, Bishop Ken Okeke.

    Produced by Jane Greenwood.
    A Loftus production for BBC Radio 3.

    • 36 min
    Jonathan Aitken

    Jonathan Aitken

    In a frank and moving interview the priest and former politician Jonathan Aitken talks to Michael Berkeley about the music that has accompanied his rollercoaster life.

    At one time Jonathan Aitken was widely tipped to be a future Conservative Prime Minister, but his glittering political career came crashing down just over twenty years ago, when he stood in the dock of the Old Bailey to plead guilty to perjury, after a lie he told about the payment of a hotel bill caused the collapse of his libel case against the Guardian and Granada Television. He left the court in a prison van with an 18-month sentence. Last December, he was back at the Old Bailey – this time leading the annual carol service, having recently been ordained as a priest.

    Jonathan chooses pieces which bring back childhood memories of singing for Benjamin Britten and performing Messiah as a chorister in Norwich, and we hear a song John McCormack sang to him during the three years Jonathan spent on a Dublin TB ward as a very young child.

    He talks frankly to Michael about the mistakes and pride that led to his downfall from public life, and how he survived disgrace, divorce, bankruptcy and prison. He chooses, with a smile, the Prisoners’ Chorus from Fidelio, and a setting of Psalm 24 that was a crucial part of his spiritual journey in prison.

    Jonathan tells a funny musical story about when Nixon met Wilson, and he reveals the piece of music that best captures his sense of redemption and renewal as he embarks on his new life as a prison chaplain.

    Producer: Jane Greenwood
    A Loftus production for BBC Radio 3

    • 42 min

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