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April 2023 - Sharon Crawford

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Second alto Sharon Crawford shares her choices for the BCC Desert Island Discs, inspired by her rich range of musical experiences.

Read on to learn which famous flautist's autograph she has and which choral piece she sang at the Proms!

Symphony No. 2 - Jean Sibelius

My first choice is Sibelius Symphony No. 2. This will bring back a wealth of memories for me of my early music making with many friends and professional musicians.

I was brought up in Belfast during “The Troubles”. Although I didn’t live in any of the areas that were deeply affected, I suppose the troubles were always there in the background. I was privileged however, to be part of the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra (CBYO) which was fabulous and I remember well how exciting it was to play to a full audience at the Ulster Hall twice a year (I think) – even if the majority of supporters were doting parents? All members of the CBYO had their music lessons at the Belfast School of Music supported/subsidised by the then Belfast Education and Library Board so that it was open to all regardless of income, religion or any other barriers to learning music. Friendships crossed the traditional Belfast barriers of religion of course.

We had a wealth of professionals from the 2 orchestras in the city (BBC Northern Ireland and Ulster) to teach us and to support the CBYO. Our conductor during my time, was the then conductor of the Ulster Orchestra, Alun Francis. We all adored him.

I’ve chosen this symphony as it used to make me hugely emotional during playing. Being a string player, the opening sweeps are just amazing. And then I can remember each individual woodwind , horn and timpanist as they joined in – several went on to be professionals themselves. The string euphoria continues, if you have time to keep listening.

And the actual disc chosen, conducted by Jan Pascal Tortelier, is because it is at the tempo that I recall and because he too did a stint with the Ulster Orchestra. Enjoy.

Flute Concerto No. 1 in G - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Still in Belfast, James Galway was up and coming and I went to several of his flute recitals as a young admirer. I even found an autograph from him in a book recently – didn’t know it was there - although I can remember when I first met him and probably got that signature? He went on to become the principal flautist for the Berlin Symphony Orchestra – so we followed him there. The full CBYO went on a week long course there and gave 2 concerts with Galway as our guest artist performing Mozart, Flute Concerto No 1 in G. Needless to say, we had full audiences again – he was quite the draw. I continued to hero worship him, had just about every record (LP’s then) he produced and I played them endlessly during my student years. Actually I still have them all!

I even took up the flute in my 20’s – but only performed in public once. Oh well.

He was famous as “The Man with the Golden Flute” as you probably know. His tone is remarkable. The introduction to the concerto is quite long – but reminds me of our playing, and it is worth waiting through it just to hear his first few notes.

Cello Concerto - Dmitri Shostakovich

At University (Bristol) I found another hero to follow. I remember going back for coffee after an orchestra rehearsal, and the “host” putting on a record that just blew me away. Paul Tortelier playing the Shostakovich Cello Concerto. I hadn’t heard of either Tortelier or Shostakovich before. I then chased down both for several years and as you can imagine, I have loads of Tortelier recordings in my collection. I did meet Tortelier once and I will always remember his passion for music as we chatted. So more interesting memories for me on my Desert Island as I play this.

(By the way, I didn’t pursue music as a career. Not good enough! I was a Biochemist and then had a career in Business Software.)

A Child of our Time - Michael Tippett

What about singing? Well, like many choral singers, I was introduced to singing in a choir through the church. As Methodists, the services were simple, Methodism is a “low” church so it is only in the last few years that I have been introduced to singing psalms and responses. I was a member of the Belfast Youth Chorale as a teenager under the lovely Douglas Armstrong, Chorus Master of Northern Ireland Opera and had a brief stint with Bristol University Chamber Choir. But then life took over and I stopped singing until just a few years ago.

My choice to remember one of the highlights of my time with Bristol Choral Society under Adrian Partington, is Tippett’s “ A Child of our Time” which we performed, together with the Welsh National Chorus and Orchestra, as part of the London Proms series. An incredibly moving piece of music that highlights social injustices (“a protest against persecution and tyranny with an overriding message of peace” BBC) and an incredible experience to sing at the Albert Hall (2016) under Mark Wigglesworth.

This is the start of our performance.

I’ll take the whole piece, or maybe the BBC programme that was made to support this performance, narrated by Roderick Williams. But I will leave you with the last movement - I was almost in tears as we sang this.

“Oh, deep River, Lord, I want to cross over into campground.”

Sadly, I can’t get to the end of the Wigglesworth recording, so this is another performance at the Proms.

Cosi fan Tutti - Wolfgand Amadeus Mozart

Not that I want to any time soon, but when I do, I will want to go out to something that reflects how important listening to singers and singing has been to me. My choice, as I go on that journey which I like to think of as crossing an ocean, was actually one of Gordon’s (our past musical director’s) choices but as that was on a DID some time ago, I’m going to choose it again. Opera has always been a love of mine. This piece from Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte is, as so often is the case, beautifully moving and yet an aria in a comic opera. Two women are wishing their lovers a safe journey across a sea.

May the winds be gentle

May the waves be calm

Desert Island Discs is a radio show first broadcast first broadcast on the BBC Forces Programme on 29 January 1942. It's now broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and hosted by Lauren Laverne. You can find more information here.

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