Tell us about your musical life… you’ve enjoyed a celebrated career as both a performer and presenter?
Well, nowadays I should really be billed as ‘broadcaster and singer’, in that order because I’ve almost hung up my soprano frocks for good. But I enjoyed every minute of my eclectic solo career, performing and recording repertoire ranging from the original (medieval) Carmina Burana —even saucier in places than the modern choral work by Carl Orff —and a title role in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas to the world premiere of Errollyn Wallen’s cantata about Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton, broadcast live from Portsmouth Cathedral on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. By then I’d been lucky enough to sing just about everything I’d ever wanted to sing and to work with some wonderful colleagues all over the world. There’s only one gap in my CV — I never sang with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, except once, in the rain…
My second career in radio came about out of the blue almost 20 years ago —I presented an award at a big recording industry do, and word got back to BBC Radio 3 that I could talk in complete sentences as well as sing. Beginning as a regular presenter with The Early Music Show, I spread my wings over 10 years; presenting Proms, documentaries, evening concerts —and I’m proud to have been the first woman to present the musical analysis programme Discovering Music (now, sadly, a thing of the past). I’m often asked ‘who does your research and writes your scripts?’. To which the answer has always been: ‘I do!’
You have a regular show on Classic FM, what do you enjoy most about this role?
In 2013, another ‘out of the blue’ moment struck when Classic FM asked if I’d like to ‘cross over’ to a more informal kind of radio. I’ve been a Classic FM listener since its earliest days, it was time for a change — and it’s been a fascinating 7 years so far. I firmly believe that we’re blessed to have both Radio 3 and Classic FM available to complement each other, and that it’s not wrong to like, love and be inspired by any kind of music if it speaks to you. I’m especially touched that the listeners to my new Sunday lunchtime show — which is always live, by the way — really listen actively, getting in touch with texts, tweets and emails to tell me how much a piece of music means to them, or what they’re cooking as they listen. This year especially has shown the immense and benevolent power of music to unite us all.
Talk us through your relationship with the BSO… this isn’t the first concert that you’ve worked with the Orchestra is it? What are your fondest memories or anecdotes?
Whether wearing a BBC hat or a Classic FM one, it’s always a pleasure to spend a day with the BSO team. Something that never fails to impress me when reading their top-quality concert programmes is what a pioneering orchestra it’s always been —a clutch of great works were given their British premieres in Bournemouth (and between you and me, those lovely titbits of information that put pieces into historical context are very welcome to a presenter of a live broadcast, who finds herself with 30 seconds more ‘talk time’ than expected!)
Since joining Classic FM I’ve had the pleasure of introducing concerts on stage, then joining the audience to sit back and enjoy the music-making. Let’s hope those happy hours can return before too long.
Just once I performed a double role with the BSO, as compère and vocalist, for an outdoor concert — cue torrential rain until just before show time! But the massed singing of Rule Britannia was just as lusty as if the sun had been shining. And the playing was, as always, world-class (in its original, pre-covid meaning, of course). Nothing proves that more than the Orchestra’s current autumn season…
Which concerts have you enjoyed most in our autumn series?
I’m presenting two of this autumn’s livestreamed concerts for viewers and listeners at home, but I’m also enjoying this enterprising season in my own home. The Voices from the East theme has been a revelation — my favourite discovery was Theodore Akimenko’s Angel: Poem Nocturne. And this morning, with the London skies cloudy and grey and nothing much to feel cheerful about, I made everything better by treating myself to the Souvenirs of Florence concert featuring the chamber music of Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Glorious music, played by six of the Orchestra’s principals — thanks to the restrictions, I believe there were only two people in the hall to applaud yet somehow it felt as if these skilled and intuitive musicians were giving a private concert just for me.
I look forward to thanking them in person when I head back to Poole on 16 December to present a concert of baroque gems, music that says Christmas is coming, with soprano Anna Devin and violinist Alina Ibragimova, directed by conductor and demon harpsichordist Robert Howarth. And I see from the Orchestra’s website that there’ll also be some BSO Christmas Crackers to enjoy online during the festive season.
All power to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra for keeping our spirits up in these unsettling times.
Catherine Bott presents A Baroque Christmas on 16 Dec for our livestreamed audiences across the UK and the world. To read the full season press release click here. To see all updated season changes click here.