Playing favourites wins ears

By William Dart

Concert Radio's Kate Mead believes listeners' views have expanded the range of music played on her programme. Photo / Esther Bunning
Concert Radio's Kate Mead believes listeners' views have expanded the range of music played on her programme. Photo / Esther Bunning

Kate Mead is known for recommending cosy eggnogs on her Tuesday night Sound Lounge programme, although her voice and manner remind me more of a deliciously cool and tangy elderberry wine that added sparkle to a summer lunch in Chester back in the 1980s.

Mead is a woman who likes to settle scores and she instigated Radio New Zealand Concert's popular listeners' poll, Settling the Score, soon after she came to this country in 1997.

She had been involved with a similar venture, titled The Hall of Fame, on Classic FM back in Britain and feels it is important to give loyal listeners the opportunity to have their say.

"We hear from them every day and try to respond to each of them individually," she says. "If we didn't have our listeners, we'd be completely irrelevant."

The secret of Radio NZ Concert's success is, she suggests, that "over the years, we have been encompassing more and more styles of music".

The absolute essential is that what is played must be "powerful and have something to say", she adds, pointing out that the passing of centuries has not stopped Bach, Mozart and Beethoven from "speaking to us over all that time".

Mead feels that Settling the Score, which Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra presents live on Thursday, streamed through the country on Radio NZ Concert, gives audiences "the chance to feel they have had a hand in choosing what's being played".

"It may not hang together as a well-curated programme, but the beauty of it is that everything in it has a relevance for someone listening. Over the years a work may move up or down in popularity and a listener's vote may have played a part in that."

Last year, some sort of history was made with Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending toppled off its winner's perch. Mead is quick to speak up for this most English of works.

"The Lark Ascending is a 16-minute piece for soloist and orchestra that doesn't have the sort of argumentative structure you get in a symphony," she explains. "However, as with a novel, it does have a protagonist. Listeners feel they can identify with the bird as it soars above the day-to-day grind of this planet. Perhaps soaring heavenwards is something we can aspire to and which may happen to us in good time if we behave ourselves," she adds whimsically.

The full countdown, including non-orchestral scores, will be broadcast as usual on New Year's Day but, next week, taking this orchestral selection to the concert hall has been "massive for us", Meads says. "It was a suggestion from the APO and this kind of event makes it even more inclusive than we can be over the air. The wonderful personality of Jim Mora will draw people in and enthuse them."

In the meantime, there are also radio duties, with another session of Sound Lounge coming up on Tuesday. This will feature rare archival recordings of New Zealand composers Dorothy Ker, John Elmsly and Dorothy Buchanan, along with a 75th birthday concert for expat Kit Powell, held in Zurich earlier this year.

Mead started the four-hour programme nine years ago "to stretch boundaries and offer some suggestions for where art music might be going in the future".

Having just said this, she laughs at the sheer impossibility of such a task, given the vagaries of public taste, but there is no doubt she is immersed in some sort of musical Wonderland. "It's like an Aladdin's Cave in which you can discover so many miracles and gems. We want to entice people to come in and give it a listen."


Performance

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra - Settling the Score

Where and when: Auckland Town Hall, Thursday at 8pm

What: Listen to Sound Lounge on Radio New Zealand Concert

Where and when: Tuesday at 7pm

- NZ Herald

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