Flying high at Classic FM

Much as I have loved my years at Radio 3 – great colleagues, great music and the chance to engage with numerous enthusiastic listeners – I’m relishing the opportunity to spread the gospel of masterpieces, both familiar and unfamiliar, on Saturday nights at Classic FM, ie Cowan’s Classics at 7pm (first edition 6/1/2018). I’ve already planned the basis of my first programme and there are a couple of items I’ve certainly never heard played on the station before. This is going to be fun – especially the re-launch of the ‘Sure Shot’ idea that  Keith Shadwick and I launched back in 1992 (from CFM’s first Friday) and that Paul Gambaccini took up for his chart show the next day. The first Sure Shot is a Catalonian early-music ear-worm, noble and charismatic, and I can’t wait to scan listeners’ reactions. Please correspond

58 comments on “Flying high at Classic FM

  1. So disappointed, Rob (see email to you via Essential Classics yesterday) especially now I know you have deserted Radio 3 for Classic FM.

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  2. I will miss you profoundly!!! I work with R3 on all the time and it always enhances my day. I find the flow of my work broken by the adverts on Classic FM. On the other hand, where rucksack goes, so do I!!! Will you still do the occasional Building a Library?

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    • No Quentin. I had two regular old slots on CFM. Classic Verdict with the much-missed Keith Shadwick (who tragically died in 2008) was on Friday Nights and Classical Choice – my own CD review programme – was late on Sunday nights. Cowan’s Classics is on Saturday evening, at 7pm-9pm. Thanks for writing.

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  3. Good luck in your new enterprise, Rob. We shall miss listening to your authoritative programmes on the Beeb.

    Alastair Chapman

    Bramley House, Brandeston, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP13 7AD ~ 01728 685373 – 07785 398169

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  4. Thanks for the many years you’ve graced Radio 3 Rob. I remember an exchange of emails between us from your Breakfast years when you tried to get the original recording of Newman’s score for Wuthering Heights played. Your enthusiasm for music is matched by your kindness and warmth. You’re a much loved presenter.
    I hope Cowan’s Classics goes well and am glad it’s on at an accessible time. I shall be listening!

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    • Interesting Phil that you should mention Newman’s score. Scribendum have just released a 4-cd set of classic Leroy Anderson tracks and I intend to select one or two items from that collection for Cowan’s Classics. The standard of playing is truly fabulous and the music, top-notch ‘light’. Thanks for your kind and generous remarks.

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  5. I am sorry you are leaving BBCRadio3. As I am retired I really enjoy listening to you especially in the mornings – you will leave a big gap. However, I am tuned to Classic FM on my radios as well so will make a point and listen. I especially like your extensive knowledge of music from which I can always learn. A Catalonian early-music ear-worm? Yessss. I will tune in!

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  6. Rob, this came as a shock yesterday. You have introduced me to more music than anyone – I will miss you profoundly in those morning slots. No one – (no one) – knows as much. What the hell am I gonna do? Good luck at Classic FM – I will listen obviously, but it will never be the same. Look forward to hearing you 6-1-18 in Cowan ‘Living Presence’… Tot Taylor info@johnnightly.com

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    • ‘Living Presence’ – love it Tot. Well my intention is that it will be the same on CFM, or at the very least similar – the sharing I mean, and the choices. I look forward to you joining me. Very best. Rob

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  7. Good luck in the new venture! You will be sorely missed on Essential Classics, I always saw it as a rare oasis of sanity in the world, you have been such good company whilst at work in the mornings. I really trust your judgement and look forward to your recommendations, you have introduced me to so much great music I would otherwise not have heard. Let’s hope this can continue, I shall be tuning in to the new show of course, the Catalonian Early Music Ear Worm…sounds like we’re off to a flying start! Wishing you all the best

    M

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  8. Looking forward very much to the 6th Jan. Please play James McCarthy’s Codebreaker. It’s the sort of current, exciting, accessible contemporary classical music that Classic FM thrives on. I listen to CFM regularly, and I listen to BBC R3, Essential Classics obviously, In Tune, Free Thinking, Late Junction and Composer of the Week. I know new releases aren’t the theme of the new show, but how did Maxwell-Davies, Part, Gorescki and Gabarek ever get on Classic FM in the first place? I didn’t hear enough of Codebreaker on Essential Classics when you were very enthusiastic about it (was it only last week?) and I was hoping to hear more because it’s fabulous. I think you cracked the balance between educating and entertaining on BBC Radio 3, and I’m very pleased you’re back on CFM (although mornings won’t be the same without Sarah and Rob, sniff).

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    • Yes, Cy, I was thinking of putting Codebreaker on Cowan’s Classics – although my CD hasn’t been returned to me. I’ll get CFM to sort one out. It’s a marvellous piece; I reviewed it for Classical Ear and received a good deal of positive feedback. As it happens Gorécki, Bryars and Garbareck got onto CFM back in 1992 because of Classic Verdict (me and Keith Shadwick, with ‘the great Gambo’ picking up the material for the Chart Show). In spite of CFM’s current strengths, those were glory days and I have every intention of bringing them back.

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  9. Hi Rob,

    I can understand your wishing to do fewer hours – up to 18 in a week on air plus Gramophone, one wondered how on earth you did it and keep everything both so considered and so fresh – but for us greedy listeners there is going to be a huge RC-shaped hole on Radio 3. You proved that you don’t have to have studied music at Cambridge or got Grade 8 piano at 14 to have sharp and unbiased ears, or more knowledge and enthusiasm than many with those enviable achievements in their CV.

    The little I have caught of the ‘new’ Essential Classics this autumn (when first Prussia Cove and then work in France keep me away from daytime radio) had me lamenting a certain Classic FM-ization (the ‘slow moment’ – yuck! – or just playing a single movement of a work for example) so I suppose it’s normal that you are setting off to drag CFM (of which I do not have a favourable impression – at all – I have to admit) in the opposite direction. Many many pairs of Radio 3 ears are going to be on (somewhat guilty) loan to the top end of the dial at 19:00 on Jan 6th – after that it will be up to you!

    Good timing by the way, making it easier for those who aren’t opera nuts to follow you.

    I fear R3 management are going to rue letting you go. Now if they could persuade Kate Molleson and Tom Service to join the Essential Classics roster we might get back a bit more of that special mix of knowledge, enthusiasm and authenticity…

    Best wishes in this new adventure,
    David

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    • Thanks so much David. Yes, there is an element of wanting to do fewer hours … especially as I’m studying John Ruskin and would like to launch some sort of bicentenary initiative for 2019, if only here on this blog. I have the Library Edition of his work and have been busy reading – and annotating – not only his own work but the best studies and biographies. As for the music, I want to return to programmes where the majority of the choices are mine, and that means a mixture of old and new, early and modern repertoire, then the full stretch from baroque to Romantic and of course a wide roster of performers, which you’ll know is something I especially love doing. People sometimes say to me – and this is particularly relevant in the context of CFM – ‘if listeners don’t know much does it really matter which recording you play them?’ And my answer is, yes, it’s crucial because they more than anyone else will assume that the lack of impact is due not to the performance but to the music. And that would be a crying shame. If the first Wagner I heard had been routine rather than conducted by Toscanini I doubt whether you or anyone would ever have heard of me – it was that electrifying teenage experience that set me off on my musical journey. And so here I am. All the best.

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      • Amen to all that – it sounds marvellous!: if that’s how it’s going to be I’ll be regularly straying into unfamiliar MHz (and accessing you on the net from France, assuming the feed’s not limited to the UK). There are certainly not enough hours in the day for me either, so I understand the desire to rebalance. Maybe I’ll get to listen to some more of the CDs that decorate the walls too, now R3 won’t seem quite so unmissable. ‘Always look on the bright side of dearth’ after all!

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      • Rob – just on the subject of Ruskin I often visit Brantwood when in the Lakes and was suprised to find on the piano some sheet music of a song apparently composed by Ruskin. I didn’t know he wrote music. I played it through and it was excellent. The house was empty at the time and it was a magical moment to play Ruskin’s music on his own piano, at Brantwood. Have you ever come across his compositions? Just curious

        M

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  10. I’m really sorry to hear that you’re leaving Radio 3 Rob. In your 17 years there, your enthusiasm and knowledge of the music and particularly, different performances have more than influenced my own acquiring of recordings, both modern and historical(it was through you on CD masters for example, that I discovered the Russian conductor Nicolai Golovanov, a rare 1939 live recording of Smetana’s Ma Vlast conducted by Vaclav Talich and many many others). Having a bit more knowledge made sifting through the masses of random CD’s at Roger Hewland’s Gramex a somewhat less daunting task!!
    It was a privilege to meet you a couple of times at the Royal Festival Hall following your programme when Radio 3 was “camped out” there for 2 weeks for their broadcasts. I think the group of us there chatted to you about performances , conductors and many other things for well over an hour- I seem to remember, we finally wound the conversation up when they wanted to shift the tables and chairs around ready for the next event in the afternoon!!
    As everyone above has said, Radio 3 will not be the same without you. I used to listen occasionally to classic FM, mainly David Mellor’s programmes, but I will now certainly listen in to your new one starting in January.
    I wish you all the very best for the future

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    • Thank you so much Dennis. The idea is merely to switch the place on the dial and trails for ads – the meat and bones of what I do should remain much the same, and CFM have already said that they are not averse to some really special ‘vintage/archive’ stuff, which pleases me greatly. They’re a great bunch and I’m already gearing up. Best. Rob

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    • This for Mark –

      Thanks for that Mark. No I haven’t been to Brantwood yet Mark but I intend to go hopefully this year. Fascinating that you played through the music. There are three songs in Volume 36 of the Library Edition of his works and not being a pianist myself I’d love to know how they sound like (the vocal line alone doesn’t tell you too much). I have a book of his writings on music recently purchased via Amazon, some interesting stuff if less than wholly perceptive in detail, some of it just plain weird, ie

      ‘I thought to have collected into this place the passages about the demoralising effect of sad music (Verdi’s, for instance, the most corrupting type hitherto known ,,,,0’

      this from Fors Clavigera

      Best

      Rob

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      • The song I played through was very much in the mid 19th century german style (schumann etc) but not a bad effort. Certainly no influence of that “corrupting” Verdi!

        Brantwood visit highly recommended, beautiful in spring, They occasionally have musical evenings in the house, and rather wonderfully it’s possible to arrive by victorian steam yacht from Coniston village, with the 21st (and even 20th) Century nowhere to be seen. Heaven!

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    • I’ll definitely need to go Mark … local friends have urged me too. Have you read Tim Hilton’s biography? Wonderful (it’s available as a single-volume paperback). And if you want to scan what’s out there in depth there’s an amazing online complete bibliography 2017 compiled by Stephen Wildman, Ruskin Library and Research Centre, Lancaster University. I’ve only just discovered it myself. And Derrick Leon ‘Ruskin: the Great Victorian’. I’ve read others – Robert Hewison is always very good – but those are the ones I found most useful and insightful. Also Green Victorians by Vicky Albritton and Fredrik Albritton Jonsson (I could go on boring you!). I’m hoping to prepare something for the bicentenary in 2019, maybe on this blog … so please get thinking! I’d love you to contribute (other posters too). JR was in many key respects way ahead of his time. Very best. Rob

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      • Definitely a “forgotten figure” of the 19th Century, his influence was enormous. I even have a book of his photography, which again I didn’t know was one of his interests. Will look out for the Tim Hilton biography. Perhaps one day we could hear a Rob Cowan radio program on Ruskin, who knows!

        M

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      • I’d love to do a programme on Ruskin Mark … and I’m working on the idea with a couple of producers. In fact before I left Radio 3 I was down to do a week of ‘Essays’ on him but alas that will no longer be possible. But yes there are alternative ways. I could even record something and put it on this blog – but there are other stations that might bite the bate. I’m hoping so – and thanks for your encouragement.

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  11. Dear Rob, I don’t usually listen to the radio on Saturday evenings, so I do hope you will also be broadcasting at other times of the day. I have hugely enjoyed your broadcasts, as much for the range and depth of choice, as for the friendly tone of your voice. Radio 3 won’t feel quite the same again, but will continue to be my station of choice in the mornings and at lunchtime. I hope that one day you will see fit to include some of my own music in your programme. Best wishes and Happy Holidays, Laurence

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    • And to you Laurence. For it’s worth – and it’s worth a good deal – Ian Skelly (who I actually suggested as I replacement for me) is a first-rate presenter, witty, erudite and who wears his knowledge (on a good many subjects) lightly. The combination of Ian and Suzy Klein will, I’m sure, work extremely well. Best for the holidays to you too.

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  12. Dear Rob

    I shall miss you on Radio 3. In fact i shall miss you very much.

    Although I like working for Classic FM, I only listen to the channel late night when R 3 is not for me. But I will try to reorganise my listening habits to join you on Saturday evenings.

    I have a bid in with Sam Jackson to do a Bernstein centenary series next year but I’m not banking on it…

    All the very best for the new chapter in your long and much treasured life as a broadcaster, collector and enthusiast

    X Humphrey

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  13. Thank you so much Humphrey. Actually, re LB, I’d like to play Harris 3 for my first show if possible, or at least some choice LB recording. Good luck with the LB bid – they certainly couldn’t do better than you!

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  14. Hello Robsie!
    Like everyone else, I’m gutted you’re leaving Radio 3 but not remotely surprised by the reasons. I can only echo many others by saying that your enthusiasm, deep knowledge and humour will be really missed on a network that desperately needs more of all those qualities at the moment!
    I’m honoured to say I used to be a colleague and we always had so much fun – I miss seeing you but always love listening to you.

    I have no doubt you’ll flourish once again at CFM with the editorial freedoms that will allow your passions to shine through; can’t wait to hear it!

    Got time for a festive beer?

    Sending love and best,

    Tommy X

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    • Will make time for a …. New Year? …. beer. Lovely of you to write, and what encouraging words! I’m already getting excited about my first couple of programmes – I’ve put a second ‘Sure Shot’ in place (contemporary this time) that’s as good as the first! Yes, we always had fun – and your absence from R3 was, and still is, a blow. Be in touch! x

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  15. I always love to hear your voice on the radio, Rob. Best of luck at Classic FM! I tend to listen on iPlayer as I’m based in Thailand, so won’t be tuning in to your new show 😦

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  16. Dear Rob,
    I started to listen your show when I moved to Switzerland from Hungary (where I was born).I listened all your programs, though most often a couple days after the original broadcast.
    I enjoyed every minutes of them. Your music selection, your comments deepened my love for classical music. I also learn a lot. Many, many thanks.
    I have two questions.
    The first one I planned to ask a long time ago. Once in the double taker a vibrato sang the Pie Jesu of Fauré’s Requiem. Can you please write me the name of the singer, and some details of the record?
    Second, can I listen the podcast of your new show the same way as I did on BBC3?

    Best wishes,
    Robert

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    • Thanks so much Robert. I think the Pie Jesu must have been on one of Sarah Walker’s programmes – you can contact the programme at essentialclassics@bbc.co.uk and they should be able to locate the recording for you. And yes, hopefully you’ll be able to access Cowan’s Classics via a Classic FM ‘listen again’ facility … details of all that and more will be posted on CFM’s website presently. Best wishes to you too. Rob

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  17. Hello Rob ! I wonder what your favourite recordings of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin are? I particularly love the music of this opera.

    Happy holidays to you and your family !

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  18. Rob! I’m often not in – or not compos mentis on Saturday evenings. I wanted to catch up with the show and haven’t been able to find a link. (am I the hundredth person to ask this? Sorry if so.) Can you tell me where to find it?? Miss your weekday mornings! Best, Sarah

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    • So sorry about this Sarah. I too have had problems, many others too. I’m assured it’s being sorted but I’ll be back on this board as soon as it is, definitively. Best wishes and thanks for writing. Rob.

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  19. Hello Rob,

    May I thank you for your years of wonderful and enlightening broadcasting on Radio 3. You opened up many listening avenues for me.

    Whatever the reasons for your departure and Sarah’s rescheduling (and I imagine we can sort of read between the lines) it feels as if a lot of pleasure has been removed from my mornings.

    I am listening to your second show on CFM through the app as I type and it is so good to hear you there and the interesting choice of music.

    Keep up the good work!

    Best wishes,

    Chris

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    • Thanks Chris. So kind of you to write. I must say I’m having a ball and I’ve some great recordings planned for future programmes. I miss my palls at Radio 3 but Ian Skelly is doing a splendid job (as is Sarah on Sundays) so hopefully things will settle down. The CFM team is great, too – so no complaints on any score! Very best wishes. Rob

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  20. Is this something about a napkin in a Spanish restaurant? You have taken your Catalonian earworms elsewhere… Good luck and many thanks. I shall continue to enjoy your contributions to the Gramophone.

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  21. Dear Rob,
    I fully understand that you have new ambitions and maybe you take some rest after broadcasting long hours on a daily basis at BBC 3. Still it is a real pity and a great loss for us to hear you only 2 hours a week. Do you have plans of future shows?
    Robert

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  22. Actually Robert, I do have plans – or at least I’m hoping there’ll be more occasional spaces for me on Classic. I’ll keep you posted via this site. Thanks so much for writing.

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