Sunday, December 02, 2007


Virtuoso cellist Steven Isserlis (pictured) was charm itself during his appearance on BBC Radio 4's iconic Desert Island Discs this week. That was not just a personality thing, but a consequence of the fact that he has a real passion for music, which forms an essential part of his life. Well, he's a musician, of course. And I'm certainly not saying that the programme should be restricted to musos. That would miss the point entirely. But too many of the guests that get on to the show these days seem to be there simply because they are 'celebrities' or otherwise prominent in the Beeb's lexicon of 'public life'. The problem arises when it becomes evident that the choice of music is basically an incidental feature of what can easily become another PR interview. ("Ah yes, I need to stick in another record now, don't I? Well, let's try this one. Now, about that important career highlight of mine we were talking about...")

is the radio show many music-lovers would die to go on. For my licence-fee money, that ought to be a non-negotiable requirement for anyone appearing, famous or not. BBC Radio 3's Private Passions, with composer Michael Berkeley, is a counterpoint to DID, of course, and one I also love. It's more cerebral, more musically involved, and much less focused on the non-musical elements of its subjects' existence. By contrast, the joy of Desert Island Discs, when it works, is that it shows how good music of all genres can be an illuminating and enlivening part of the fabric of anyone's life, narrating its sorrows, joys and moments of sheer inspiration. But they've got to care about it, in whatever way, for that to be the case. [Pic (c) BBC]

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