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Commissioner Q&A: Jan Younghusband

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05 June 2013

The BBC’s commissioner for music and events, Jan Younghusband, talks televising the Proms and Glastonbury, explains what kind of music works well on TV and sets out the shows that she is looking to commission

What’s the biggest challenge in televising a Proms concert? Ensuring we’re making the best possible choices for the TV audience and capturing the experience of being at the concerts for the audience at home.  Doing what we have always done isn’t enough. We discuss for months in advance which concerts we can cover, and how best to do them. 

How do you make Proms concerts work best for a TV audience? Our TV audience loves to know that little bit extra about the music we show, so we concentrate on telling the stories behind the works and bringing in expert historians and musicians to unravel how it’s done best.

Glastonbury is back after a two year break this year. How’s the BBC covering it? Our plan this year is to deliver as much access as possible through streaming content from all six stages for the first time. Again the task is to deliver the atmosphere of Glastonbury to the audience at home, so a great deal of work goes into figuring out camera and presentation positions.
 
How many hours of music and events do you air on the BBC a year? We create over 250 hours of original music programmes for television alone.

Which recent commissions have worked well for you?
Our audience expects good journalism, opinion, a new angle on something familiar, unique access, original story-telling, expert opinion and great performance.  Our recent David Bowie: Five Years documentary for BBC Two is a great example of how this comes together. It’s great to hear musicians explaining how new songs come to life. Recently we’ve had terrific feedback on programmes such as:  Howard Goodall’s Story of Music, The Sound and the Fury; Rolando Villazon on Verdi and Antonio Pappano explaining Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Coming up we will have David Starkey’s Music and Monarchy with over 40 pieces of specially filmed performance in the venues where it would have been originally heard years ago. And we have just announced next year’s Young Musician with a new jazz Award. Supporting young talent is also a crucial part of our work.  The BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury is a favourite hang-out of mine.
 
What kind of music is not working so well anymore on TV?  How has the genre moved on? Classical performance is not an appointment to view in the way it used to be.  I think this is because the audience prefers to choose when they have time to sit down to an opera or concert.  They catch it up over time, not when it’s first scheduled. It’s really important that the BBC continues to deliver access to great performance, not just for our audiences now but for the future – so we create a rich archive to draw back on.  BBC Four is reaching up to 1m viewers now for its archive films.

What shows are you looking for? On BBC Two we are looking for the next landmark series.  Howard Goodall’s Story of Music was so original, we are trying to find the next thing which will take music out of its box and shake it up a bit. I look back on iconic series such as Lenny Bernstein on Music or Wynton Marsalis on Music, which break free from the norm and show us music in a whole new way. More like this would be great, but it’s not easy to find them. The BBC Four audience loves the archive, and reliving their past musical life.  So we are constantly looking for new ways to unlock the archive. Rock and Roll Britannia recently on BBC Four, for example, was a great story with delicious archive. BBC Three tends to focus on special events and festivals. We are leading up to Bollywood Carmen Live, a Bollywood music drama based on the Carmen story which is a live public event in Bradford on June 9th.

Which arts/music shows on rival channels have you admired recently?
Grayson Perry on Taste (Channel 4). He is a truly original storyteller. I would listen to him talking about anything. Fresh insight is so important to great TV.  I can’t wait to see what he will do next.

Tell us about what you’ve been watching, reading and listening to outside work?
The Royal Philharmonic Society awards – I was inspired to see the work of the Kinshasa Orchestra and the Sphinx Organisation Detroit, and others who enable young people to make music in impossible circumstances. My guilty pleasure includes spending a weekend watching the complete series of House of Cards back-to-back.  I also can’t wait for The Paradise to come back on BBC Two.  I just read Toni Morrison’s book Home.  I love the way she maps the day-to-day lives of her characters with such lyrical precision.  I have also discovered a brilliant Indian poet, Tishani Doshi. I went to see Blue at their comeback concert at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. It was packed out with fans just having a great night out. I love their acoustic songs.



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