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TV newsman getting set to host major classical event

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: August 22, 2014

By Nigel Powlson

  • Nicholas Owen Classic FM

  • Darley Park Concert featuring Sinfonia Viva

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AS two of Nicholas Owen's great loves are classical music and vintage railways, he couldn't possibly miss out on a chance to combine the two.

The TV newsman turned radio presenter will be the Classic FM host at this year's Darley Park concert – one of the biggest, free outdoor events of its kind in the country, which regularly attracts more than 30,000 people to Derby.

The city's orchestra, Sinfonia Viva, will be playing a programme of light classics with a railway theme running through it, much to Nicholas's delight.

He says: "It's the 175th anniversary of the railways coming to Derby and that is the inspiration for the programme, which is perfect for me. What a wonderful evening.

"Most of the music has a railway connection. I have been involved in railways all my life and you cannot see a steam engine and not smile. I have spent some of my time as an enthusiast as a fireman on the footplate of locomotives and you lean out the cab and you look at the people and everyone is grinning. Trainspotters don't get a very good press but I think we are all railway enthusiasts really.

"This concert is a tribute to the wonderful history of the railways and I couldn't be more pleased."

The Darley Park concert has become a major event on the classical music calendar and Nicholas says he can't wait to take the stage in front of the enthusiastic audience.

"It's an amazing thought, the biggest concert of its kind in the country – terrific fun and I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it. If we get 30,000 people that is six times the capacity of the Royal Albert Hall – where I have hosted concerts before – so that puts the scale of it into perspective.

"I have played Sinfonia Viva's music on Classic FM but I haven't met them before, so it will be great to put faces to the name and to hear the music live."

The Darley Park concert, like Classic FM, has helped bring the music to a wider audience, so it makes sense for the two to link up for this event.

Nicholas says: "The station's remit has always been the same - to bring classical music to the widest possible audience in a way that will ensure they enjoy it. All the stuff we play we do because we know people like it."

Nicholas is best known as a TV newsman. He joined ITN as Channel Four's business and economics correspondent 30 years ago. During the first Gulf War he presented the highly-acclaimed Midnight Special Programmes and, for well over a decade, hosted all ITN's major news bulletins, including Channel Four News and News at Ten. From 1994 to 2000 he was royal correspondent for ITV News and played a major role in reporting on the death and funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.

He joined Classic FM in 2011 and currently presents the Saturday lunchtime show.

He says: "They knew I liked classical music, choral music, opera and especially the work of Mozart and they rang me up and asked me to do a radio programme. That was much more frightening than being on the TV. Things do go wrong on TV but you have your whole body language to help you and you can get over it. On the radio it's just the microphone and your voice. I find that intimidating but I still love it. I hope to carry on doing it as long as they have me.

"I have said to younger people coming into TV, 'remember you are broadcasting to one person not millions'. But radio is much more personal, it has to be a real conversation. You can always tell on radio when someone is reading out prepared scripts. The trick is to have the facts in front of you but to do it in a conversational style.

"Radio is an intimate thing, especially when you are playing music you know people love."

Presenting on Classic FM has been a voyage of discovery for Nicholas, playing many pieces he didn't know previously.

He says: "It's brilliant when you hear pieces that are knew and you are discovering them along with the audience.

"When I do live concerts, like at Darley Park, you discover the station is part of people's lives. And, for someone like me, to be known for my voice is such a compliment."

Nicholas urges even those who think they don't like classical music to give the Darley Park concert a go.

He says: "People who shy away from classical music and opera shouldn't. There are some beltingly good tunes out there and, on the night, we will be hearing some great stuff."

All we need to complete the picture is some sunshine.

"Now look here," says Nicholas, "I have organised it. I have put in a strict request in with the weather presenters - and they never let me down!"

The Derby LIVE Darley Park Concert featuring Sinfonia Viva and in association with Classic FM is at Darley Park, on Sunday, August 31, from 6pm onwards. It's free admission and ends with a firework display.

The concert will take the audience on a musical journey across British and

foreign railways, from Denmark with Hans Christian Lumbye's Copenhagen

Steam Railway Galop, to New York City for George Bernstein's Subway Ride

and Imaginary Coney Island. Steam mixes with more modern trains through the magnificent Coronation Scot by Ellis and several tributes from Strauss including Bahn Frei ('clear the track') and Mit Dampf, which translates to 'at full steam'.

Other works within the programme include the jolly Runaway Train by Warren, Murder on the Orient Express from Rodney Bennett, and, bringing us back to the present, The Day We Caught The Train from Ocean Colour Scene.

James Holmes will conduct the orchestra and the award-winning

baritone Grant Doyle leads the vocal numbers. These include Strayhorn's swinging jazz-standard Take The A Train, Denza's Funiculi, Funicula (which celebrated the first cablecar service on Mount Versuvius – since destroyed by a volcanic eruption) and two numbers with music penned by Andrew Lloyd-Webber for which Doyle will be joined by members of Big Adventures Youth Theatre Company, who will form the chorus. The evening will be rounded off with the classic 1812 Overture from Tchaikovsky.

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