Today [Friday 10 September] BBC Radio 3 reveals highlights of its schedule for Autumn 2021, with broadcasts of the best live music from across the UK at its heart.

Alan Davey, Controller BBC Radio 3, says: “As the Proms 2021 draw to a close this weekend, and we have witnessed the return of live audiences to concerts, now is the time to embrace a rich new season of outstanding music, features and drama.  On Radio 3 we share great performances day after day of live music from across the UK, as well as documentaries and theatre reflecting contemporary and classical culture from all around the world.  We have been connecting audiences at home with performers on stages through the restricted months of the pandemic, and can now rejoice in collaborating again with wonderful performers at venues, studios and festivals around the country, bringing live music and drama to an ever increasing number of listeners. Everything we do is a celebration of what it is to be human. We hope you can join us in this celebration!”

Highlights include:

  • Live concert broadcasts by some of the UK’s foremost ensembles and world-leading artists including Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at 75 with Vasily Petrenko, Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Bryn Terfel; The Hallé with Sir Mark Elder and Boris Giltburg; City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra led by Gergely Madaras with Raphael Wallfisch and Simon Keenlyside; Ulster Orchestra with Daniele Rustioni and Alena Beava; and recitals byAlisa Weilerstein, Anastasia Kobekina, and Kirill Gerstein among others, as well as the performances by the BBC Orchestras and Choirs from around the UK;
  • Partnerships with UK venues and festivals including Southbank Centre residency,with broadcasts of  live concerts by Philharmonia Orchestra and London Philharmonic Orchestras with new principal conductors Santtu-Matias Rouvali and Edward Gardner; Víkingur Ólafsson and Manchester Collective; Leeds International Piano Competition; a New Generation Artists weekend at Snape Maltings; Contains Strong Language Festival from Coventry, UK’s City of Culture; Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival; exclusive broadcasts of the RPS Awards and The Ivors Composer Awards ceremonies; and the EFG London Jazz Festival;
  • Other broadcasts of the best music-making from across the country and beyond, including London Symphony Orchestra’s season opening concert with Sir Simon Rattle; new productions from the Royal Opera and New York Met; Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra with Andrew Manze and violist Lawrence Power; and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra with conductor Andrew Litton;
  • Brand new audio productions of classic plays and new writing in Drama on 3 including Christopher Marlowe’s sixteenth century Doctor Faustus; a five-part adaptation of The Saga of Burnt Njal, Iceland’s most famous and powerful family saga; Lord Byron’s Romantic epic Don Juan in a new adaptation for radio. New writing includes Karla Marie Sweet’s This Little Relicabout the nineteenth-century Black actor Ira Aldridgeand Rex Obano’s latest play, set amongst the debates about academic and race, City College.
  • Black History Month celebrated with actress Adjoa Andoh reciting specially-chosen poetry for Radio 3 Breakfast and performances of music by diverse composers on Afternoon Concert
  • A celebration of Coventry as the 2021 UK City of Culture, including The Verb live from the BBC’s poetry festival Contains Strong Language; and specially-commissioned Coventry-based episodes of Music Matters; The Essay; Words and Music; Free Thinking; Sunday Feature and the premiere of a new drama recorded live in the Belgrade Theatre for Drama on 3



Highlighting its continued commitment to broadcasting live music, connecting listeners to performers as COVID-related restrictions continue to lift in the UK, BBC Radio 3’s Autumn schedule includes many opportunities to enjoy concerts from home as they happen all over the country.

  • Autumn 2021 marks the return of BBC Radio 3 to London’s Southbank Centre for a residency, following the week-long series of events broadcast live in 2020 which took place without audiences in attendance. Over six days from Thursday 25 September to Sunday 2 October, with audiences back, live broadcasts include: Edward Gardner opening the Residency with his first concert as Principal Conductor with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, leading the ensemble in Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage with a star-studded cast including tenors Robert Murray and Toby Spence; mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley; and contralto Claire Barnett-Jones  among others; Gardner and the LPO returning to the Royal Festival Hall stage in a programme of music by Berlioz and Lutosławski, with cellist Nicolas Altstaedt; Philharmonia Orchestra and Principal Conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali in an all-Strauss programme and, on a later date, presenting the UK premiere of Bryce Dessner’s Violin Concerto with soloist Pekka Kuusisto; a recital by Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson; and trailblazing ensemble Manchester Collective in concert from the Purcell Room (also part of New Music Show);
  • Radio 3 In Concert is live from the Leeds International Piano Competition, with the Finals of the prestigious event broadcast on Friday 17 and Saturday 18 September. Presented by Andrew McGregor and former Leeds prize-winner, Katya Apekisheva from Leeds Town Hall, coverage includes the five finalists in major concertos with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrew Manze, alongside comment, highlights and stories from this year’s competition;
  • Radio 3 In Concert also celebrates the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s 75th birthday with a concert broadcast live from London’s Royal Albert Hall, where Vasily Petrenko marks the start of his tenure as Music Director of the ensemble leading it in Delius’ Over the hills and far away; Elgar’s Cello Concerto with soloist Sheku Kanneh-Mason; and Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, featuring Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel and the Philharmonia Chorus (Tuesday 21 September);
  • Also broadcast live as part of Radio 3 In Concert are, among others: Ulster Orchestra led by Daniele Rustioni in a programme of music by Liadov and Rachmaninov, with violinist Alena Beava joining the ensemble for Korngold’s Violin Concerto (Friday 29 October); Sir Mark Elder leading The Hallé in Suk’s Fantastic Scherzo, Dukas’ The Scorcerer’s Apprentice, Janáček’s Sinfonietta, and Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with soloist Boris Giltburg (Thursday 25 November); the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and conductor Gergely Madaras presenting Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World”, and the world premiere of Jonathan Dove’s Exile with cellist Raphael Wallfisch and baritone Simon Keenlyside (Thursday 9 December);  
  • A new season of Lunchtime Concerts is live from London’s Wigmore Hall every Monday (opening recital on Monday 13 September), with performances by some of the most sought-after recitalists including: cellist Alisa Weilerstein; cellist Anastasia Kobekina; and pianist Kirill Gerstein among others;
  • This year BBC Radio 3 is once more the official broadcast partner for the EFG London Jazz Festival. The Festival’s opening event Jazz Voice is broadcast live from Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, with further programming around it including a J to Z late night special on the opening night (Friday 12 November);


  • Radio 3 In Concert presents highlights from the Edinburgh International Festival (Monday 13 to Thursday 16 September); and the opening concert of the London Symphony Orchestra season, led by Sir Simon Rattle at the Barbican Hall in a programme with the London Symphony Chorus including  music by Purcell, Vaughan Williams, Peter Maxwell Davies, Michael Tippett; and soprano Lucy Crowe joining the ensemble for Judith Weir’s Natural History, and for the world premiere of two movements from Julian Anderson’s new choral work Exiles (Friday 24 September);
  • New Generation Artists’ Big Chamber Weekend at Snape Maltings, featuring tenor Alessandro Fisher with pianist Ashok Gupta; Consone Quartet; and pianist Alexander Gadjiev (Sat 30 and Sun 31 October);
  • Opera on 3 presents key performances from two of the world’s leading opera houses: from the Royal Opera House, Verdi’s Rigoletto (Saturday 9 October) and Janáčeck’s Jenůfa (Saturday 23 October) in new productions by Oliver Mears and Claus Guth respectively, with star casts including Karita Mattila, Carlos Álvarez, and Nicky Spence; and the opening performance of the New York Metropolitan Opera season with the premiere of Matthew Aurin’s Eurydice featuring soprano Erin Morley in the title role (Saturday 4 December);
  • New Music Show teams up with Sound Festival in Aberdeen (October) and the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (November)to bring audiences some of the newest music written by contemporary experimental composers; and with The Ivors Composer Awards to celebratecreative excellence in UK classical and jazz composition and sound arts with the exclusive annual broadcast of  the awards ceremony (Saturday 11 December);
  • Afternoon Concert presents a rich season of great music making from across Europe, with specially-recorded music from all of the BBC Orchestras and Choirs alongside performances from this year’s Salzburg Festival; the Bavarian Radio Orchestra in specially-recorded symphonies by Haydn and Schubert; and five Beethoven Symphonies and six of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos from the Academy of Ancient Music Berlin;
  • In Unclassified Live, the BBC Concert Orchestrabrings Radio 3’s contemporary ambient and neo-classical show, Unclassified to the stage with presenter Elizabeth Alker and conductor André de Ridder. They collaborate with composers and DJs who blur genre lines, including Daniel Avery, Afrodeutsche and Aisha Devi.(Thursday 25 November);
  • Drama on 3 recorded live at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre with the specially-commissioned premiere of This Little Relic by Karla Marie Sweet – a play with songs about Ira Aldridge, who became Britain’s first Black theatre manager when he took over Coventry Theatre in 1828.


BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra presents a season of performances live from Glasgow City Halls, opening the series with Joana Carneiro conducting Sibelius’s single-movement Seventh Symphony and Pekka Kuusisto playing Magnus Lindberg’s First Violin Concerto, marking  the first public concert the  ensemble has given in its “home” since March 2020 (Thursday 23 September). Other highlights of the season include a spotlight on composer, conductor and clarinettist Jörg Widmann (Thursday 28 October); Hannu Lintu conducting Grieg’s Piano Concerto with soloist Garrick Ohlsson (Thursday 18 November); and Associate Conductor Alpesh Chauhan directing Tchaikovsky’s  Pathétique (Thursday 2 December).

BBC Symphony Orchestra is live from London’s Barbican Hall throughout the season, with concerts including a new ‘devised concerto’ Sermon by African American bass-baritone Davóne Tines, which combines music and poetry in a unique examination of racial justice. This work sits alongside Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 and Anna Thorsvaldottir’s Dreaming in a concert conducted by Principal Guest Conductor Dalia Stasevska (Thursday 7 October). And in November, the BBC SO performs the world premiere of Up For Grabs by composer and Arsenal fanatic Mark-Anthony Turnage, in which highlights of the Gunners iconic 1989 title-winning match will be projected onto a big screen, with a star-studded rhythm section comprising John Parricelli (Loose Tubes), Peter Erskine (Weather Report) and Laurence Cottle (Earthworks). After the music, Arsenal legend Lee Dixon leads a discussion about the game and its cultural impact (Friday 5 November).

At Cardiff’s St David’s Hall, BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Principal Conductor Ryan Bancroft open the Orchestra’s season with Gavin Higgins’ Rough Voices and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with Radio 3 New Generation Artist Eric Lu (Tuesday 5 October); at Hoddinott Hall, Jonathan Bermann Conducts Schmidt Symphony No. 4 as part of his ongoing collaboration with the Orchestra to record the whole Schmidt symphony cycle. The concert opens with the 3rd Viennese School composer Kurt Schwertsik’s Epilogue to Rosamunde (Tuesday 19 October); recorded in Aberystwyth Arts Centre on the opening night of BBC NOWs first North Wales Tour after a two-year hiatus, Jamie Phillips conducts Grace Williams’ Violin Concerto with Madeleine Mitchell as soloist and Britten’s Prelude and fugue for 18 part string orchestra  (Tuesday 9 November); and the BBC National Chorus of Wales make their triumphant return, alongside the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and conductor Ryan Bancroft, in Elgar’s epic The Dream of Gerontius (Tuesday 16 November).

BBC Philharmonic is live from MediacityUK in Salford as part of BBC Radio 3’s Afternoon Concert led by Mark Wigglesworth in a programme of Mozart and Haydn (Friday 8 October). On the same day, a concert recorded in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall features the ensemble with conductor John Stogårds in music by Shostakovich and Sibelius, including Cello Concerto No. 1 with Jakob Kullberg (Friday 8 October). Conductor Elena Schwartz and violinist Daniele Pioro present  music by Weill,  Ravel, and the world premiere of Pleasure Garden by Tom Coult, the orchestra’s new Composer in Association  (Wednesday 10 November).

BBC Concert Orchestra is at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall for a concert as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival (Tuesday 23 November), joined by trumpeter Yazz Ahmed and conductor Bramwell Tovey, who also leads the ensemble in composer Dobrinka Tabanova’s farewell concert, also at the QEH (Tuesday 7 December).

Performances from the BBC Singers this autumn include two concerts with Chief Conductor Sofi Jeannin: Betsy Jolas’s Concert-Fantasie “O Night, Oh…” and Roderick Williams’ A New England Symphony in St Paul’s Knightsbridge with pianist Nicolas Hodges (October) and a concert of solace and sustenance featuring Faure’s Requiem alongside music by J. S. Bach and his pioneering Italian contemporary Isabella Leonarda and a piece from 2020 by Reena Esmaila, When the Violin, which uses Thomás Luis de Victoria’s 16th-century motet O Vos Omnes as the focal point. (Friday 15 October).


Throughout the Autumn, BBC Radio 3 marks special events in the calendar with strands encompassing various music and speech programmes.


The celebration of  Black History Month 2021 include the results of BBC Radio 3  and  UKRI’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)’s project to explore seven ethnically diverse classical music composers from across the centuries, launched in September 2020, with Afternoon Concert presenting performances of works by often overlooked figures such as Margaret Bonds; Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges; and Julia Perry among others.

The collaboration with AHRC on researching and presenting diverse composers is also the focus of a series of New Thinking podcastspresented by Radio 3/AHRC’s joint mentoring scheme for early career academics, the New Generation Thinkers. Featuring the latest research into humanities, the programmes in October alsolook at widening the canon of writers for theatre.

A new series of Classical Fix podcast hosted by Linton Stephens, starting on Sunday 19 September with Californian musician and activist Cola Boyy, includes a special for Black History Month in October with a celebration of ethnically diverse composers and performers. On Sunday 10 October, Linton’s guest is British fitness instructor Derrick Errol Evans a.k.a. Mr Motivator.

Radio 3 Breakfast – Friday Poem, on airevery Friday at 7.55am,in October features British actress Adjoa Andoh reciting specially-chosen poetry, including major American voices Yona Harvey and Margaret Walker.

Sunday Feature: Dear Phillis explores the life, work and legacy of poet Phillis Wheatley – the African-American slave who was feted for her poetry in nineteenth century America and Britain. (Sunday 3 October).

In Composer of the Week from Monday 4 to Friday 8 October,  Donald Macleod traces the life and music of the uncompromising avant-garde composer and gay activist, Julius Eastman.


Marking Coventry’s tenure as the UK’s 2021 City of Culture, BBC’s four-day poetry and spoken word festival Contains Strong Language Festival takes place in venues across the city – in a partnership between the BBC, Coventry City of Culture Trust, Writing West Midlands and Nine Arches Press, supported by Arts Council England, the British Council, Creative Lives and Jerwood Arts.

As part of the festival: The Verb is live from the Belgrade Theatre, where Ian McMillan is joined by festival guests to explore how language plays a role and shapes the music we hear (Saturday 25 September); and Drama on 3 presents the premiere of Karla Marie Sweet’s audio drama with songs This Little Relic – recorded live in front of an audience at Belgrade Theatre for the festival – where the hopes and dreams of five characters collide as one of them plans the perfect version of Ira Aldridge’s play The Black Doctor (Sunday 26 September).

During the weekend of the festival, Sunday Feature: How to Re-Build A City with Lisa Mullen tells the story of how blitzed, post-war  Coventry became a testbed for architectural ideas,  uncovering the choices that made it a symbol of post-war recovery (Sunday 26 September); and following the festival, The Essay: Postcards from Coventry  celebrates the many faces of Coventry past, present, and future, from tales of life as a migrant in the city, to the story of the exiled Sky Blues football club, and the cities unsung artists – car designers (Monday 27 to Friday 1 October); and  episodes of Words and Music, recorded at Contains Strong Language, look at the idea of translation (Sunday 26 September) and link the history of car and bicycle building in Coventry and the city’s transport museum, with live readings and music (Sunday 3 October).

Radio 3 In Concert features a recital by David Briggs on the organ of Coventry Cathedral (Tuesday 30 November).

BBC Radio 3 will also be collaborating with The Space on a digital community engagement project in Coventry for Slow Radio.


Drama on 3 is a stage for international contemporary and classic theatre performance. New productions include:

Emma Harding’s innovative new version of Christopher Marlowe’s Elizabethan tragedy Doctor Faustusinspired by the German story of Faustus and Mephistopheles and a source of drama across the centuries. John Heffernan is Faustus/Mephistopheles and Pearl Mackie is Wagner (Sunday 19 September).

Rex Obano’s new play City College, directed by Femi Elufowoju, jr. tells the story of Rashaan Tilley (played by Cyril Nri), a university professor of Black history who faces career and personal reprisals for suggesting slavery might never have happened (Sunday 10 October).

Hattie Naylor’s five-part adaptation of The Saga of Burnt Njal – Iceland’s most famous and powerful family saga and one of the cornerstones of world literature – reflects the bleak but savage beauty of Medieval Iceland and contains universal truths about human behaviour and how forces outside individuals’ control can lead to overwhelming tragedy (starts on Sunday 24 October).

A new radio version of Lord Byron’s epic poem of the Romantic age Don Juan, which charts Young Juan’s amazing adventures, from the bedroom of a lady of Seville, to shipwreck, a Love Island in the Cyclades, and the harem of the Sultan, in a headlong whirl of sexual intrigue, romance, slavery, and war. Adapted by Robin Brooks (Sunday 19 December).


The Many Diagnoses of Robert Schumann in which journalist PhilHebblethwaite traces a history of psychiatry since the 1850s through the many researches and diagnoses for the illness and death of composer Robert Schumann  (Sunday 19 September);  An Orkney Tapestry, as Scottish composer Erland Cooper and violinist Daniel Pioro visit iron age brochs and neolithic caves in an evocative musical tribute to the Orkney Islands’s famous poet and novelist George Mackay Brown, who would have turned 100 this year (Sunday 10 October); and Malcolm Arnold, the Tortured Composer, marking the centenary year of the composer, as Simon Heffer explores the reasons why one of Britain’s greatest 20th century symphonists has been largely forgotten, in favour of his film music, dances and works for brass band – with contributions from daughter Katherine Arnold, Joseph Horovitz, Julian Lloyd Webber, and Sakari Oramo (Sunday 17 October). In A Tree Story,Radio 3 presenter Martin Handley charts the journey of wood as it is turned into a musical instrument, exploring specific qualities, skills of the builders involved, varnishes, and the effect these have on the final sound of an instrument (Sunday 7 November).

Afterwords, the Sunday Feature series that uses archive interviews and contemporary commentary to revisit culture figures of the past century, has three programmes which explore in turn writer Simone de Beauvoir, poet Adrienne Rich and thinker and academic Stuart Hall. The series is led by the archive of each writer, putting their words and ideas in conversation with contemporary artists, academics and authors inspired by their work (Sunday 14,21 and 28 November).


Walk with Amal: Five writers from across Europe respond to the journey of Little Amal, a 3.5metre high puppet of a little girl who in July this summer began a 8000km walk across Europe from Turkey to the UK, to represent the journeys of thousands of refugee children. The writers in this Essay series all live in countries through which Little Amal passes and create a series of unusual, moving short stories about loss, hope and the meaning of family (starts on Monday 18 October).

Sounds of IsolationRenowned sound recordist Chris Watson recalls five quests to the South Pole, Skellig Michael, Finland, Northumberland and Iceland in search of isolation and wild sounds. Each essay combines a compelling narrative in which Chris recalls his quest, alongside the extraordinary sounds he recorded en route. For many people, the isolation felt during the COVID 19 lockdowns has been challenging and disconcerting. But for Chris Watson, isolation is something he seeks. From the “great white silence of the south pole” to the terrifying screeching calls of storm petrels which like banshees circle in the darkness around  a pinnacle of a rock emerging out of the sea (starts on Monday 1 November).

Our Fathers’ War: Dec 7, 2021 marks the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and with it America’s entry into World War II. The generation who fought this war is virtually gone now. Writer Michael Goldfarb’s father was among them. In this series of Essays he retells the stories he heard from those who lived through those years (starts on Monday 29 November).


Music Matters

The topical programme begins its new season with a State of the Nation show: with contributions from artists, venues and groups from across the country, the discussion explores what is  going to be different about classical music in the UK while COVID restrictions ease. The programme also gets the latest on the plight of musicians in Afghanistan (Saturday 11 September).  
Music Matters also celebrates the masters of minimalism Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley and La Monte Young and their legacy as they all hit their mid-80s (Saturday 16 October); and marks 60 years since the film release of the film West Side Story, and the debut of Steven Spielberg’s remake, with discussions featuring the teams involved  in the making of the original and new versions (Saturday 4 December).

Words and Music & Free Thinking

The programmes mark anniversaries of crucial figures in the world of music and culture: Alighieri; Hannah Arendt; Dirk Bogarde; Caravaggio; Dante; Dostoevsky; Keats; and Flaubert; .

Composer of the Week

Composers explored this Autumn include traditional repertoire figures as well as  contemporary trailblazers, such as Malcolm Arnold, Carla Bley, J S Bach,  Cherubini, Sofia Gubaidulina, Sibelius, Mark-Anthony Turnage and George Walker. Saint-Saëns is also celebrated in the 100th anniversary of his death.

The Listening Service

Autumn highlights including special programmes on composers Arvo Pärt and Charles Ives, and discussions on the themes of ‘In and Out of Tune’, and ‘Music and food’.

Night Tracks (Wednesday 15 September)

As part of BBC Radio 3’s late-night programme, providing adventurous, immersive soundtracks featuring classical and contemporary repertoire, and in collaboration with London’s Wellcome Collection, Sara Mohr-Pietsch takes listeners on a musical journey through joy and tranquillity, inspired by On Happiness – a season of exhibitions, events and activities exploring the complexity of positive emotions, running until February 2022 at Wellcome’s Gallery. Tonight’s episode includes sounds of ancient forests captured in Washington State and the Japanese island of Yakushima, as featured in a multisensory installation by French photographer Chrystel Lebas. We also hear part of a sound work by sound designer Xana, which is used in Harold Offeh’s installation exploring the restorative power of dance.

Northern Drift – NEW SERIES from Monday 25 October

Northern Drift, a new night-time series presented by Elizabeth Alker explores northern themes of arts, culture and music, recorded in front of an audience at the Trades Club, Hebden Bridge in the heart of Calderdale, West Yorkshire.  Each week Elizabeth talks to a northern musician and a writer with live music and poetry readings.

Music’s Inner Vision (two programmes in November)

Singer Victoria Oruwari uncovers how blindness impacts learning, composing and performing music. Her own experience as a blind musician will give the audience a fresh understanding of what it is like to discover, create and perform music as somebody who cannot see what others can. Featuring music by Rodrigo, Antonio de Cabezon and Vierne, with performances by Ray Charles, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Nobuyuki Tsujii and Baluji Shrivastav.

Free the Music (three programmes in December)

Presented by the Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto, this series focusses on the power of improvisation, and its potential to unlock creativity. Pekka explores the many facets of improvisation to be found in classical (from medieval and baroque to contemporary), jazz, folk, electronic, Indian classical and pop.  A musical maverick, he grew up in a family geared around jazz and improvising, and so much of the music he creates and is intrigued by has such an improvisatory approach.