Maida Vale Carols


Now that the BBC have made it official that they’ll be moving out of Maida Vale Studios within the next few years, I’ve been enthusiastically taking pictures whenever I visit its stately vaults. So many decades of musical memories are stored here, but even I have to admit that future technical progress won’t be made in this building which was built as a roller skating rink in 1909.

A recent Maida Vale tradition I’ve come to look forward to has just happened; a low-profile afternoon concert featuring the six finalists in the Radio 3 Breakfast carol competition, plus a few other interesting Xmas odds and ends, sung by the Santa-sweatered BBC Singers. Such is the good cheer of this pleasant occasion that we all, audience, singers and composers, repair afterwards to the canteen (smartly redecorated ) for a friendly tea and mince pie party.

I've been a judge for the carol competition for all five years of its existence. This year’s task was to set The Bee Carol by Carol Ann Duffy; tricky, we judges thought, but this atmospheric poem seems to have attracted even more entries than ever. The day of the (broadcast) concert is a particular pleasure for me as I finally get to match names to the numbers on the shortlisted scores, which have been read in extreme conditions of anonymity. The composers always turn out to be admirable people, often with a music degree but pursuing other professional fields; an encouragement for those of us who talk up the many transferable skills gained during a musical education.

The competition itself, I’ve come to think, is a model for other such contests. Because 1) The key step is getting on the shortlist of six, which conveys a recording and several broadcasts – being the winner is not vital. 2) The final vote comes from radio/online listeners who, as I know from actual discussions ‘on the street’, compare and contrast very carefully. But above all 3) there is no upper age limit for entry. Please copy.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer