The Chopin Experience, Radio 3

Music can be hazardous to your health
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The Independent Culture

I had an epiphany in a minicab the other night. I got in, and discovered the radio was tuned to Classic FM. "Nice to have a bit of classical music in a cab," I told the driver, a Mozambiquean who could not have been more than 30 years old. And it was nice: it was late; I was tired, and the piece – it was Brahms-ish – seemed appropriate for the time of night. But the driver told me that most of his customers hated it. The other night, one of them had punched him in the back of the head, refuting, with one blow, CFM's claims to be an endless source of balm to a troubled nation.

But I thought: how pleasing that there is a station that caters for this young man, who will stick with classical music despite the rage and contumely of his more cretinous passengers. How, I wonder, would he have coped with Radio 3's The Chopin Experience last weekend? I think he might have liked it, although at some point he may have craved for some variety. And more than just the variety you get between a polonaise and a mazurka.

They did try to break it up (and on Sunday evening, Chopin was interrupted by Choral Evensong); at one point on Sunday Sarah Walker, the rather over-bubbly presenter, urged us to go to the piano and play our favourite Chopin work. "Dig out your party piece," she said.

(I think she overestimates her audience. My party piece is a cramped and hesitant rendition of "Let It Be", which can clear a room in 12 seconds flat.)

In conversation with the pianist Nikolai Demidenko, the latter revealed that Chopin knew his limitations as a composer, but said that he knew that his work appealed particularly to women. "A short, direct line straight to the heart," he said, and Walker said "Mmm", and I was reminded of a friend of mine who said that the only time he really "got" Chopin was when he was in love. So, if you were in love during the weekend of 17-18 May, then you will have enjoyed The Chopin Experience immensely.

Which leaves one to wonder: what is Radio 3's next stunt going to be? Haydn seems an obvious choice, or Debussy and some other Frenchies, but we wonder whether this is going to be enough to stop the station's audience figures from sliding down any more. As long as people punch cab drivers for listening to the music, there is always going to be a problem.

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