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The Radio 3 Documentary


In-depth documentaries which explore a different aspect of history, science, philosophy, film, visual arts and literature. The Sunday Feature is broadcast every Sunday at 6.45pm on BBC Radio 3.


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In-depth documentaries which explore a different aspect of history, science, philosophy, film, visual arts and literature. The Sunday Feature is broadcast every Sunday at 6.45pm on BBC Radio 3.



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Time Canvasses - Morton Feldman and Abstract Expressionism

In a remarkable moment after WWII New York became the centre of the art world, simultaneously seeing the development of new ways of hearing music, and new ways of seeing art. It was here that the American experimental composer Morton Feldman said, “What was great about the fifties is that for one brief moment - maybe, say, six weeks - nobody understood art. That’s why it all happened”. The composer Samuel Andreyev shows how composers and artists in New York in this period went about the difficult business of wrestling with a new abstract language, often at great cost to themselves, to produce some of the masterpieces of post war American art. Samuel focuses on the powerfully productive relationships that Feldman had with the abstract expressionists, Philip Guston, and Mark Rothko, who showed him by example how to set his sounds free, in the same way their paintings set colours free. Feldman even called his own compositions, ‘Time Canvasses’, where he said, he more or less primed the canvas with an overall hue of music. This is a clue to the unorthodox way Feldman’s music - which can be both very long, and almost always very quiet - remarkably blurs what we imagine to be the boundary between music and painting. A Soundscape Production, produced by Andrew Carter.


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Tuner of the World

"For the next hour, I need your ears". It's 1974 and someone is trying to recruit you for a listening experiment on public radio in Canada. Pioneering Canadian composer and soundscape maestro, R Murray Schafer really wants you to commit: "if you're just listening to this programme casually, you'd better turn it off right now". This audio experiment was part of a series on the CBC - the Canadian Broadcasting Company, called Soundscapes of Canada, consisting of ten hours of soundscape montage, field recordings and lessons in listening. From Church bells, to birdsong, to car horns and an entire episode made up of people across Canada giving the sound recordist directions: this was 'slow radio' years ahead of its time. The series was recorded and produced by The World Soundscape Project, a group Schafer set up to raise the importance of the soundscape in what he saw as a world of increasing noise, which had reached "an apex of vulgarity". The group went on to publish Soundscape: The Tuning of the World - a vast anthology documenting just about every kind of sound you could imagine - natural, human-made and technological. R Murray Schafer was many things – Canada’s preeminent experimental composer of the 20th Century, an artist, novelist, educator, musicologist, historian, and environmental activist. Schafer was also a romantic, with a strong sense of Canadian identity, who preferred rural life with an uncluttered sense of place. Critics, and he had many, accused him of being abrasive, a luddite, and prone to cultural appropriation. Above all though, Murray was a passionate listener, constantly pushing his message of an "ecologically balanced soundscape" by asking "which sounds do we want to preserve, encourage, multiply?" In this sound-rich documentary (best enjoyed with headphones) John Drever, Professor of Acoustic Ecology and Sound Art at Goldsmiths, University of London explores Schafer’s life and legacy, as the soundscape now has an ISO framework for consideration in urban design and planning in the UK and beyond. Contributors: Hildegard Westerkamp, Barry Truax, Ellen Waterman, Claude Schryer, Lisa Lavia, Tin Oberman, Andrew Mitchell and Francesco Aletta. Soundscapes of Canada and Vancouver Soundscape material used with kind permission of the World Soundscape Project, Sonic Research Lab, School of Communication, Simon Fraser University, Canada. Use of 'Crescendo' courtesy of Martyn Ware Presented by John Drever Produced by Rami Tzabar A TellTale Industries production for BBC Radio 3


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Supply Lines

Via ports and truck-stops, fulfilment centres and ring roads, Aidan Tulloch follows the supply chain and reimagines the journey an item goes on in the age of 24/7 delivery.


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New Generation Thinkers: The Perfect Balance

Dr Anindya Raychaudhuri searches for different perspectives on the idea of balance.


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The Pleasures and Pains of Denton Welch

Denton Welch lived the last years of his short life in Kent during the Second World War. His writing career took off in 1943 and in the same year he met his companion, Eric Oliver. His writing is mostly autobiographical and carries his readers from a childhood in Shanghai, boarding school in 1930s England, a near-fatal bicycle accident while he was in art college, a slow convalescence and, finally, to his years travelling about the Kent countryside, picnicking, exploring churches and observing rural life with an artist's eye. And a queer eye. His subtle and gently subversive descriptions of same-sex desire and sexual identity has thrilled and challenged his readers for eighty years. His preoccupations include art and beauty as well as pain and death. His great ability as a writer is to draw characters - often based entirely on himself and those closest to him - with tiny details which spring to life on the page. These can be very funny, cruel, poignant or erotic. He wrote novels, stories and journals as well as working with art and poetry. Regan Hutchins has always been a fan of Denton's writing and he travels to the village of Hadlow in Kent, where Denton lived during the Second World War. There he meets Denton's would-be neighbours who show him the landscape that inspired the writer. Biographers, academics, film-makers and writers help to build a picture of a writer who has, for too long, been out of sight. Producer Regan Hutchins Reader Rob Vesty With thanks to the Hadlow Historical Society. Sound supervision by Tinpot Productions. A New Normal Culture production for BBC Radio 3


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The Black Cantor

Known in Yiddish as Der Schvartze Khazn--the Black Cantor--Thomas LaRue Jones was an African American tenor who sang Jewish music in the early decades of the twentieth century. Famed for his soulful voice and perfect Yiddish pronunciation, he performed in synagogues and theatres across the Eastern United States and toured Germany, Poland and Palestine. But after his death in 1954, LaRue Jones disappeared from memory, leaving behind only one recording, made in 1923. Drawing on research by the veteran musician and producer Henry Sapoznik, Maria Margaronis unpacks the mystery of LaRue Jones' career. What drew him to this music? What does his life tell us about race, faith and identity in America a hundred years ago? And why was he so quickly and utterly forgotten? LaRue Jones' story is entwined with the history of Newark, New Jersey, where he spent most of his life. Once known as the City of Opportunity, old Newark drew migrants from Europe and the American South in flight from persecution and searching for a new life. Blacks and Jews lived side by side in the city's poorer districts, absorbing each other's culture and musical traditions. But by mid-century, Newark's Jews were moving out in search of the suburban dream. Black people, hemmed in by racism and housing segregation, were left behind in an increasingly impoverished city. Thirteen years after LaRue Jones' death, the Newark riots, or rebellion, sealed the division of the two communities. LaRue Jones, like the world that made him, was consigned to oblivion--until zealous research by Henry Sapoznik tracked down that one recording and LaRue Jones' unmarked grave, and raised the curtain on the Black Cantor once more. Presenter: Maria Margaronis Producer: David Goren


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Sunday Feature - Shakespeare's Brum Ting

Over a century ago, in 1881, the city of Birmingham purchased a copy of Shakespeare's first folio. It was to be the crown jewel of their new Shakespeare library, the brainchild of the first librarian George Dawson. From the outset it was to be the People's Folio, the property of the city's Free library. You can find the evidence stamped in red ink on many of the pages. That might seem like a defacement to some, but to Shakespeare scholar Islam Issa and members of the city's 'Everything to Everybody' project, it shows a profound commitment. In this feature Islam draws together the passion and belief of George Dawson and his fellow city fathers - Birmingham became a city in 1889 - with the voices and opinions of Birmingham today as expressed by people like the internationally acclaimed street artist Mohammed Ali. He's produced two school murals that have the Folio at the heart of the city's sense of itself. In the afterglow of the Commonwealth Games and the realisation that Birmingham's strength lies in its multi-cultural population, Islam points out that rather than some distant evidence of an elite and unfamiliar past, the time has come for the Folio to be celebrated from Sparkbrook to the Bullring and beyond. Producer: Tom Alban


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X-Ray Vision: Rudolph Fisher in Harlem

Lindsay Johns makes the case for writer Rudolph Fisher's portraits of Black American life


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Heinrich Heine: The First Modern European

One day, three decades after the event, the German poet and man of letters, Heinrich Heine, stood on the site of the battle of Marengo, one of Napoleon's earliest and most important victories and had an epiphany - or he invented one for his readers: ""Gradually, day by day, foolish national prejudices are disappearing; all harsh differentiations are lost in the generality of European civilization. There are no more nations in Europe, only parties; and it is marvellous to see how these parties, for all their varying colouration recognize one another and how they understand one another, despite many differences in language." This move past national differences would be a force for unalloyed good because, if Europeans could see themselves as a unified "civilisation" then their example would be a force that "could" lead to the liberation of the world from prejudice. Well, he was a child of the romantic age, you can forgive his enthusiastic language but his vision anticipates the principles that created and still guide the EU. The writer produced astounding amounts of work: poetry, verse dramas, and essays and letters while conducting love affairs and just generally being in the public eye. His poetry became the lyrical basis for lieder by Schubert, Schumann and many others. He had huge appeal in the middle of the 19th century. George Eliot wrote four monographs about him including one on his wit - bitterly ironic ,very Jewish. Today he is remembered in the English speaking world for this quote, "Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too." When the Nazis held their book burnings outside the Berlin Opera House, Heine's were among those immolated. And when the Nazis initiated the war that would burn down a significant portion of the Europe Heine dreamed of, the connection to much of 19th century German culture was cut including the life and work of Heinrich Heine. Michael Goldfarb tells the story of Heine's life and the Europe in which he lived through interviews and using the musical settings of his poetry in lieder, readings from his poetry and plays, and George Eliot's perceptive comments. Heine's was a tremendous life - he endured censorship and was harassed by the police spies of the Federated German speaking nations. He lived as a celebrity - albeit an impecunious one - despite the fact his uncle was one of the German-speaking world's richest men. All the drama created a truly contemporary, 21st century sensibility Producer: Julia Hayball Readers: Jonathan Keeble, Robbie Stevens, Clare Corbett and Pavel Douglas Sound design: Chris Maclean A Certain Height production for BBC Radio 3


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Government Song Woman

American musician Rhiannon Giddens investigates the fascinating life and recordings of the folk song collector Sidney Robertson Cowell. Travelling thousands of miles all over the US in the depression era, Cowell was willing to track down songs in unlikely places, once writing "I don't scare easily." She spent a night riding in a hearse in Wisconsin just to question the driver and hear his songs, walked up mountains to record lumberjacks and traditional Appalachian singers and poled three miles downriver after dark on a makeshift raft to find a famed fiddler in his goldmine in California. Listening to her recordings is like travelling back in time; they capture the voices of so many different nationalities that emigrated to the US, but she also made recordings on the Aran Islands in Ireland. During her lifetime Cowell was marginalised like so many women collectors of that period, but in this celebration of her recordings and observations, Giddens finally gives her work the attention it deserves. With indebted thanks to the American Folklife Center archive in the Library of Congress who hold the collection of Sidney Robertson Cowell's recordings and to the following contributors who have done so much to bring her work to light: Cathy Hiebert Kerst, folklorist and archivist who catalogued Sidney's recordings of the WPA California Folk Project. Sheryl Kaskowitz, scholar of American music and author of forthcoming book: The Music Unit: FDR's Hidden New Deal Program that Tried to Save America from the Great Depression—One Song at a Time. Jim P Leary, a folklorist and scholar of Scandinavian studies, and a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, author of Folksongs of Another America. Dr. Deirdre Ní Chonghaile writer, researcher and musician (she plays fiddle with Rhiannon at the end of the programme) who has written about the collecting work of Sidney Robertson Cowell on the Aran Islands in the 1950s. Robert Cochrane, Professor of English and folklore specialist at the University of Arkansas. Peggy Seeger, folksinger. California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell: Producer: Clare Walker


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Carol And Muriel

Carol Morley follows the trail of Britain's most prolific female director, Muriel Box. She directed 13 films in 14 years and was the first woman ever to receive the Oscar for best original screenplay, for The Seventh Veil. Yet, she is barely known in her own country. She has never had a retrospective of her work here and her films are hard to get hold of, even box office hits like The Truth About Women, Simon And Laura and The Passionate Stranger. Carol made an appeal on Radio 4 for anyone...


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Tutu - A Portrait of Nigeria

Chibundu Onuzo tells the fascinating story of ‘Africa’s Mona Lisa’ and artist Ben Enwonwu


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O Sole Mio

“All Neapolitans were born to be musicians, to be singers,” says musicologist Dr Dinko Fabris, referring to the foundation myth of Naples, according to which the city was created by the siren Partenope. Song has been woven into Neapolitan life ever since, giving the city an extraordinary musical culture and heritage. Joanna Robertson travels to Naples to find out what makes this city so full of song. Walking around Naples, she hears singing in the least expected places: in the street, on the seafront, protesters at a demonstration singing rather than shouting their slogans. Song has permeated the culture of Naples for centuries. In the sixteenth century, when Neapolitans felt oppressed by their Spanish king, they created the villanella style of song as a form of protest. Its San Carlo opera theatre is the oldest in the world that's still in operation. Its brilliant nineteenth century impresario Domenico Barbaja attracted the likes of composers Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini to Naples. Poets – from the amateur to the famous – wrote poems that composers set to music, creating much-loved songs like O Sole Mio. Some were advertising jingles, like Funiculi Funicula which was written to promote the new funicular railway that ran up the slope of Vesuvius. Local-born baritone Ernesto Petti, a rising international opera star, says that “Neapolitan songs should be sung with complete abandonment. You put your whole heart in it." That's what the audience end up doing at a "Napulitanata" performance, taking over the singing of “O Sole Mio” from the artists. They know it all by heart. Presenter: Joanna Robertson Producer: Arlene Gregorius Sound engineer: James Beard Production coordinator: Iona Hammond Editor: Penny Murphy Recording of 'Santa Lucia Luntana' performed by Teresa Iervolino courtesy of Fondazione Pieta dei Turchini in Naples


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Metal City

Metalworking has been central to the rise and success of Birmingham over hundreds of years. But how has this industry affected the culture of the city? Did the experience of working with metal and hearing the continuous clang of metal-on-metal seep into the personality and creativity of Birmingham’s inhabitants? Gregory Leadbetter’s poem traces this story from the discovery of ore in the Staffordshire hills, through the Staffordshire Hoard, the Birmingham Pieces from the Knights Templar, the establishment and development of Birmingham as a great metalworking centre becoming the Toyshop of the World, the development of steam power by Matthew Boulton, being the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and the City of a Thousand Trades, all the way to the birth of Heavy Metal Music. Metal City is a co-commission between BBC Radio 3 and The Space with funding from Arts Council England. It’s a collaboration with Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. And special thanks to Birmingham City University’s School of Jewellery for metal facilities. Producer Melvin Rickarby, grandson of a metal worker and whose dad moved from the metal factory to the steel strings of the bass guitar. Producer Rosie Boulton, great great granddaughter of a brass maker. A Must Try Softer Production


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Rebel Sounds: Musical Resistance in Barbados

From 1627-1807, nearly 400,000 human beings were kidnapped, sold and shipped in horrific conditions across the Atlantic Ocean from West Africa to the tiny island of Barbados. There, they were enslaved by British landowners and forced to work the sugar plantations that covered the island. Uprooted from their homelands, separated from their families and denied their humanity, they nevertheless managed to hold on to aspects of the culture that formed them - and to pass them on through generations of their enslaved descendants. Opera singer Peter Brathwaite is fascinated with his Barbadian heritage and ancestry. It's a complicated story; he's descended from both black enslaved people and their enslaving white plantation owners. In this programme Peter travels to Barbados to discover the music made by enslaved people - the cultural glue that bound them to Africa - and the attempts made by the British enslavers to deny, deride or override this music. From plantation dances to Christian hymns and the discovery of some remarkable pro-enslavement propaganda songs, Peter talks to Barbadian historians and musicians to build up a picture of what the enslaved people's musical lives might have been. Visiting significant sites on the island, catching up with relatives, and drawing on his own significant research, Peter also uncovers the story of his great, great, great, great grandparents Addo and Margaret, both of whom began their lives in Barbados enslaved but who were eventually freed by the white Brathwaites who 'owned' them. Their lives offer a window into the layered social hierarchies that developed on the island in the early years of the 19th Century, as the rising abolitionist movement in Britain gave birth to a new chapter in Barbados's complicated history. Recorded on location on the beautiful island of Barbados, this programme examines the cultural and social legacy of enslavement, which continues to shape the nation of Barbados, and the identity of its people, today.


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Yiddish Glory

During World War II, approximately 1.6 million Soviet, Polish and Romanian Jews survived the Holocaust by escaping to Soviet Central Asia and Siberia, avoiding imminent death in ghettos, firing squads and killing centres. Many of them wrote music about these horrors as the Holocaust was unfolding before their eyes. A miraculous discovery in the Vernadsky National Library in Kyiv revealed a collection of Yiddish music created during the 1940s that documented their numerous traumas: dangerous train journeys, often in cattle cars; prison sentences, disease, and deep anxieties about family members left behind in Europe. During World War II, these songs were collected by amateur and professional poets, and then organised by the Ukrainian folklorist Moisei Beregovsky. However, the archive was confiscated by the KGB soon after the end of the war. The songs were never performed since, in public or in private. Singer Alice Zawadzki, whose own family found themselves on a similar journey to Central Asia, and historian Anna Shternshis (University of Toronto), who led the project to bring these songs back to life, travel to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to retrace the journeys of those Jewish refugees who became music composers. From Tashkent and Samarkand to Bukhara and Almaty, they found abandoned factories where refugees worked, saw huts where they slept, met with the descendants of families who welcomed them and children of those survivors themselves who stayed in Central Asia. For the first time in 80 years, the songs created by Jewish refugees during the war were performed in these lands, by local musicians and composers, by children of refugees themselves, and by Alice Zawadzki. Producer: Michael Rossi.


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Scott Ross - Harpsichord Rebel

In 1984, an American harpsichord player called Scott Ross quit a teaching job in Canada and returned to France, the country that since he was a teenager had been his adopted home. It was the year that Frankie Goes to Hollywood had a Europe-wide hit with Two Tribes and Steve Jobs launched the Macintosh personal computer. But Ross had an idea with more of a baroque feel. In Paris, he met a producer at Radio France, Nicolas Bomsel, and suggested a project that most musicians would consider absurd: recording all 555 keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. By 1989, Ross was dead, aged just 38. Did he know he was ill when he pitched the project? Was it a test of human endurance against the odds? Did he succeed? And who was Scott Ross, a man who has been called ‘early music’s bad boy’ and ‘the John McEnroe of the harpsichord’? Also, how is it that a musician who’s widely considered to be the best harpsichord player of his generation remains little known in the UK? These are questions posed by music journalist Phil Hebblethwaite in this Sunday Feature. To find answers, Hebblethwaite travels to France (Montpellier, Assas and Paris), speaking to those who knew and loved Ross, and tracks down two former students of Ross’s from his decade in Canada. A portrait of a complex, contradictory musician emerges – a man with a tragic early life who, Hebblethwaite finds, seems to slip further away the better he gets to know him. With contributions from Nicolas Bomsel, Michel Proulx, Marie-Claire Demangel, Henri Prunières, Jocelyne Chaptal, Catherine Perrin, Mario Raskin, and Didier Lestrade. Written and presented by Phil Hebblethwaite Produced by Tom Woolfenden A Loftus Media production


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Unlocking Anne

Anne Lock, a woman living in 16th-century England, wrote the first ever sonnet sequence in the English language? Impossible, thought Clare Pollard. As a celebrated playwright and poet, with much of her work focused on giving a voice to forgotten women, how could she not have known about Anne Lock? In this Sunday Feature, Pollard takes listeners into Anne's world and time, as she pieces together the fascinating life and work of a forgotten female sonneteer.


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What Walls Hold

London. Tavistock House. 1851. It shaped Charles Dickens’ life and career. Home to The Smallest Theatre in the World, Mrs Weldon’s Orphanage and an alluring French lodger called Charles Gounod, Tavistock House is reputable for having been the home of three eccentric creatives - the Mancunian painter Frank Stone, the world’s most famous writer and actor Charles Dickens, and Victorian England’s notorious amateur soprano and litigant, Georgina Weldon. Within its walls lies a story of personal passion and chaos colliding with extraordinary creativity. Until it was destroyed in 1901. With the staircase creaking after dark and smog pouring in through every chink and keyhole, Ben Gernon guides us through this remarkable house, revealing what the walls hold and uncovering its unusual tenants. Alex Jennings leads a cast in this docudrama as we join the Dickens theatre company at rehearsals for their festive production of Wilkie Collins’ The Frozen Deep. We eavesdrop on Mr and Mrs Weldon’s crumbling marriage; witness Charles Gounod furiously composing in the upstairs bedroom with welcome interruptions from Georgina Weldon; and Catherine Dickens shares her story from the other side of that wall. From extra-marital affairs, screaming street children, kidnap attempts and madness to amateur dramatics and shattered dreams, this is the story of one of Victorian England’s most famous houses. Joining Ben around the house are Lucinda Hawksley, Professor Joanne Begiato and conductor Charles Peebles. Cast Alex Jennings as Charles Dickens Katherine Kingsley as Georgina Weldon Ben Onwukwe as Frank Stone and Charles Gounod Ben Crowe as Wilkie Collins and William ‘Harry’ Weldon Jane Whittenshaw as Mary and Catherine Dickens With thanks to Year 6 students at St Peter's Church of England (Aided) Primary School, Henfield, and Year 1 students at Underwood Church of England Primary School, Nottinghamshire, for ensemble roles. Presented by Ben Gernon Produced by Alexandra Quinn Sound Design by Jon Calver Drama scenes written by Rob Valentine Drama scenes directed by Cherry Cookson A Loftus Media and Wireless Theatre Production for BBC Radio 3


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Sunday Feature: Shostakovich and the Battle for Babi Yar

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Thirteenth Symphony was inspired by an unflinching poem about the ‘Holocaust of Bullets’ at Babi Yar in Ukraine, one of the biggest massacres of World War Two. Lucy Ash pieces together the events leading up to the controversial first performance by speaking to people who witnessed it in a Moscow concert hall 60 years ago: the composer’s son Maxim Shostakovich, the poet’s sister, Elena Yevtushenko and the music critic Iosif Raiskin. One March day in 1962, the young Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko got an unexpected phone call. Dmitri Shostakovich was on the line asking if he had permission to set one of his verses to music. The poem, Babi Yar, denounces the massacre of 34,000 Jews in a ravine near the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. It condemned not only Nazi atrocities, but also the Soviet Union’s state-sanctioned anti-Semitism. Officials responded by launching a vicious campaign against the poet and banning readings or new publications of his work. So, Yevtushenko was delighted by the famous composer’s moral and artistic support. According to his sister Elena, he felt the music had “made the poem ten times stronger”. But, as Maxim Shostakovich explains, the Soviet authorities tried to prevent the symphony from ever reaching an audience. The composer’s son recalls how his father was consumed with anxiety ahead of the premiere, still haunted by his narrow escape, decades earlier, from Stalin’s secret police. Pauline Fairclough, author of a recent Shostakovich biography, says that, despite all the pressures, the composer never stopped experimenting with musical forms. Concert pianist Benjamin Goodman describes Shostakovich’s ‘word painting’ technique and the ways in which he conveys Yevtushenko’s verse in music to create a sombre, chilling, but ultimately consoling choral symphony. At the Babyn Yar Memorial site in Kyiv, Lucy is shown fragments of a Russian rocket which hit a nearby apartment building last spring. In the midst of a new, 21st-century war, she reflects on the nature of artistic and political courage and parallels between the Khrushchev era and Russia under Putin today. Producer Tatyana Movshevich