One Man’s Musical Mission

As conductor of some of the world's great orchestras, Charles Hazlewood's career regularly takes him all over the globe. But when it came to finding a home for the family, Charles and his wife, Henrietta, chose Somerset and they live in a Victoria...

It's from here - in a wonderful old cider barn - that Charles Hazlewood presents his popular BBC Radio 2 show. Unsurprisingly, his guest musicians seem more than happy to make the trip to this beautiful part of the world for the recordings.

Recently Charles was joined by Billy Bragg and friends to talk about their English folk project. At Christmas it was the turn of GCSE music students from Castle Cary's Ansford School to star in a two-hour concert show alongside Welsh band Super Furry Animals and classical performers.

Charles believes his show might be the most eclectic on radio - playing everything from Bach to Bjork and from punk to polka. "Anyone who is interested in music at all will have a catholic collection of music and my work and life suggests that," says Charles.

"When Radio 2 first asked me five years ago to take on 'Your Hundred Best Tunes' I said I was not interested in that, but give me an opportunity to do a show from the farm playing anything from Motorhead one minute to Mozart the next. They thought it was a bit radical but they gave it a go and it has gathered momentum. I present the programme as if I was sitting across the farmhouse table playing music to my best friend."

Charles and Henrietta, who have four children, both have roots in the Westcountry and moved to Somerset about 10 years ago. "We wanted to move out of London and felt that Somerset is the first proper country county that you come to which is not a satellite to the capital. It's full of interesting people and we love it here."

Charles spent the first seven years of his life living in Yeovil, where his father was a parish priest. The youngster became a chorister and learned to play the piano and organ. But when his voice broke at 14, Charles temporarily abandoned classical music to become a drummer in a punk band.

He rejoined a choir at 16 and recalls the amazing moment he realised what he wanted to do with his life. "The choir director didn't show up for rehearsal one day. I got bored waiting and thought 'I'm going to take this rehearsal myself' and I just never looked back.

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"As a choirboy I learned about the electrical energy generated by a group of people making music together. A conductor has to create an environment where everyone can shine but also work collectively."

"I present the programme as if I was sitting across the farmhouse table playing music to my best friend"

After studying at Oxford, Charles won first prize in a European conducting competition and his career took off. Today he is principal guest conductor of the BBC Orchestra and has conducted more than 50 world premieres. He guest conducts orchestras in the UK and abroad and has worked with some of the most celebrated contemporary composers.

Charles also has a Radio 3 programme, which goes out on a Sunday afternoon. It's called 'Discovering Music',, and in front of an audience he and the orchestra deconstruct some of the great works.

For his recent BBC4 TV programme 'How Pop Songs Work' , he looked at what it takes to create a hit song. For Charles, 'Imagine' by John Lennon, is the perfect pop melody.

Charles calls himself an evangelist, eagerly encouraging people to get more out of music and go further than they ever thought they were capable of. But he fears there are not enough opportunities in this part of the world and laments the scrapping of the Bristol Arena scheme, which would have helped the city attract top music performers.

"Bristol has an amazing band scene but there is nowhere for them to play... and there is no dance company or opera group in the city.

"There are a few isolated wonderful things - and a few stellar individuals like Michael Eavis. But it has been a growing realisation for me that Somerset and the whole of the Westcountry is something of a cultural desert, possibly because of lack of provision or funding. I am on a one-man mission to say we must be able to change that because the West is full of creative people and it deserves more."

Charles's future plans include a fully staged version of Handel's 'Messiah', which he hopes to bring to Bristol, and he has been talking to the City Fathers about the possibility of setting up a new orchestra.

"Somerset has an amazingly rich tradition of music, which is not reflected by what is happening now. I might start an acoustic festival on the farm and I am going to continue to work with schools in the area and involve them in bigger projects for radio and TV.

"I have a dream to fill a large field here with every single child musician in Somerset - to create the largest-ever children's orchestra!" BY SARAH FORD

Catch Charles on Radio 3 on Sundays from 5pm-6.30pm. His Radio 2 show will return in May.

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