Lend us your ears – BBC Sounds is off to a high-flying start

As the BBC launches its latest music platform atop a particularly tall London landmark, Claire Jackson asks whether it will be illuminating enough to get us through the darkest days of winter

In what might just be the world’s most fleeting rebrand, for one day only the London Eye was recently repositioned as the ‘London Ear’, with accompanying flashy lights and press releases. No, this wasn’t the latest plotline in a mockumentary, it was the launch of BBC Sounds, a new platform that brings together music, radio and podcasts into a single and personalised app.

As we rode the wheel, absorbing the capital’s unyielding grey skies, a number of BBC radio shows were broadcast live from the Eye. Sorry, Ear.

When harpist Olivia Jageurs and oud player Khyam Allami got the call to go on Radio 3’s flagship afternoon slot, no doubt they weren’t expecting to perform in the wheel’s pods. Elsewhere, Scottish composer Anna Meredith was interviewed by saxophonist Jess Gillam for her BBC Young Musician podcast, discussing – appropriately, as the pods began swaying in the wind – the topic of fear.

Many tourists (the Eye remained open to the public during the launch) looked thoroughly confused to see various instruments and recording equipment positioned to capture it all, and appeared thrilled at the odd sighting of a Radio 1 celebrity presenter.

The eccentric promotional activity reflected the broad range of content available via BBC Sounds. The growth of podcasts has allowed our listening tastes to diversify. But it also means that we rely less on live radio. One of the most successful podcasts out there is comedian Deborah Frances-White’s The Guilty Feminist which has notched up 50 million downloads and counting. In the show, Frances-White and guests discuss the pitfalls of being a 21st century feminist (“I’m a feminist, but I detagged myself from a picture at a women’s conference where we were all standing in front of a sign which said ‘Empowered Not Coward’, because my ankles looked fat”). As part of the podcast’s current UK tour, Frances-White will be joined by soprano and English National Opera (ENO) Harewood Artist Nadine Benjamin for a special instalment held at the ENO’s home, London Coliseum (November 27). Expect a no-holds barred discussion of opera and oppression.

The Light Programme

As the days grow shorter we’re all in need of a little extra light. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BBC Now) has put together a special ‘Illumination’ afternoon concert (November 30) at its home turf, in Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff. Under the baton of Geoffrey Patterson, the orchestra will perform works inspired by themes of light and power.

Paul Mealor’s Symphony No. 3 Illumination takes its starting point from Dante’s Paradiso – featuring tuned wine glasses. This premiere will be accompanied by a ‘virtual visual landscape’ created for VR headsets.

Mealor decribes the piece as “a meditation upon the images and spirit of Dante’s timeless, deeply moving and wondrous words”, characterising the second section as “overtly and unashamedly romantic,” before wrapping up the dramatic final section with a positive declaration from the brass and tubular bells. “The final section is, in many ways, a fractal for the whole work,” he opines.

“As the three circles of the harmonic, melodic and dramatic cycle of the symphony come to a close, one last vision of Paradise – in all its grand perfection, power and majesty – is revealed.”

If that wasn’t enough enlightenment to fill an afternoon, the programme also includes Jonathan Dove’s Sunshine – a UK premiere – the sun-themed Mathias’ Helios, Per Nørgård’s Iris and Sibelius’ Night Ride and Sunrise.