Singer rides to the rescue of Radio 3 anniversary concert

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The Independent Online

When Radio 3 first went on air 60 years ago today, Alfred Deller, one of the most famous counter-tenors of the 20th century, performed Purcell and Benjamin Britten wrote a new piece for the occasion.

So when the station was planning its 60th birthday celebrations, it decided to echo the inaugural broadcast by commissioning a new piece of music for one of the outstanding counter-tenors of the moment, the American David Daniels.

But in a nail-biting blow to the festivities, it will not be Daniels taking to the stage of the Barbican in London tonight for the premiere of Hojoki (An Account of My Hut) by Jonathan Dove.

Instead, Lawrence Zazzo is to undertake the task of performing the world premiere, which will be broadcast live on radio and recorded for future transmission on BBC4 after Daniels went down with 'flu.

Zazzo, an American who came to Britain to study at Cambridge and stayed, was performing in Handel's opera Agrippina in Frankfurt on Monday when he got the frantic call asking him to stand in.

He read the score and called his wife, Giselle Allan, an opera singer whom he has scarcely seen all summer because of work commitments. And when she told him he should take the job - even though it meant missing her birthday - he flew to London on Tuesday to start rehearsals.

Paul Hughes, general manager of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, which is launching its season with tonight's concert, said: "He's the hero of the hour, for sure. This man has risen to the occasion and will shine."

For Zazzo, 35, who starred in Jonathan Dove's opera Flight, at Glyndebourne two years ago, it was an opportunity not to be missed. His only concern was whether he could do the half-hour piece justice.

"I would have vastly preferred months to look at it. I'm usually very careful with my preparations. I pore over the scores and rehearse for months beforehand," he said.

"But it's really a dream come true for me. I absolutely love Jonathan's music and I had talked to David about this piece over the summer and had hoped it was a piece that could be added to the repertoire.

"My only concern was whether I could do justice to it. I think I'm aware of the frailty of any new piece of music and the sense it has to be given as strong a premiere as possible in order for it to have legs." Many new commissions never receive a second performance.

Speaking from rehearsal studios yesterday, he added: "Things went wrong today that went perfectly right yesterday and probably some things will go wrong in the performance.

"I'm always nervous for performances but you release yourself to the performance and just ride the wave of the music and communicate something to the audience. I don't think I will be facing a hostile audience."

Jonathan Dove said he was very sad for David Daniels because the commission had been his idea.

"The BBC wanted to commission a work for him and he asked for me to be the composer. It wouldn't have happened except for him," he said.

The piece is based upon an 800-year-old essay by a Japanese poet and monk, Kamo no Chomei - who wrote about the turbulence of a great fire, a whirlwind and an earthquake hitting his home city of Kyoto - because Daniels wanted something based on a true historical character.

"I tailored it very much for David's voice," he said. "But I'm incredibly grateful to Larry. I have to say I think it suits him terribly but that's just lucky. Their voices are quite individual and very different colours."

In addition to marking 60 years of Radio 3, then known as The Third Programme, the concert launches Listen Up!, a five-week festival of British orchestras.