He once picked the eight records he would most like to be cast away with on Desert Island Discs; now the world’s most famous scientist has chosen the three pieces of classical music that mean the most to him.

Professor Stephen Hawking has nominated his three favourite classical works for a special concert at this year’s Cambridge Music Festival, which is taking place throughout this month. The festival’s theme is “Mozart, Music and Maths”, making the University of Cambridge’s Lucasian Professor of Mathematics the obvious person to approach for his all-time favourite pieces.

The concert will take place at King’s College Chapel on November 11 and will feature Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony Of Psalms, Henryk Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No. 1 and Francis Poulenc’s Gloria.

Symphony Of Psalms was in fact the first piece of music Professor Hawking ever purchased. “I first became aware of classical music when I was 15,” he said. “LPs had recently appeared in Britain. I ripped out the mechanism of our old wind-up gramophone and put in a turntable and a three-valve amplifier. I made a speaker cabinet from an old book case, with a sheet of chip-board on the front. The whole system looked pretty crude, but it didn’t sound too bad.

“At the time LPs were very expensive so I couldn’t afford any of them on a schoolboy budget. But I bought Stravinsky’s Symphony Of Psalms because it was on sale as a 10” LP, which were being phased out. The record was rather scratched, but I fell in love with the third movement, which makes up more than half the symphony.”

Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No. 1 will be performed by the gifted young Cambridge undergraduate Charles Siem, currently studying music at Girton College, whose talents have already won him a contract with IMG Artists. Professor Hawking was actually inspired to buy a collection of Wieniawski’s music after hearing his second concerto on Radio 3 in the 1990s, but prefers the first in particular for its “haunting phrase in the first movement”.

Francis Poulenc’s Gloria is the final piece in Professor Hawking’s musical trilogy. Part of the work caused a “scandal” – in the French composer’s own words – when it was first performed in 1959 because of its unusual mixture of light-heartedness and spirituality. Poulenc later explained that he had been thinking of frescoes in which angels stick out their tongues and “serious Benedictines whom I saw playing soccer one day” when he wrote it.

Professor Hawking first heard the Poulenc Gloria in Aspen, Colorado, during the resort’s 1995 music festival. “You can sit in your office in the physics centre there and hear the music without ever buying a ticket,” he said. “But on this occasion I was actually in the tent to hear the Gloria. It is one of a small number of works I consider great music.”

Plenty of other University members are also making contributions to this year’s festival during a packed programme of more than 50 concerts, as well as a wide range of educational and community events. Leading undergraduate performers will be giving a series of lunchtime recitals and the Institute of Astronomy is helping composer Duncan Chapman and local sixth form college students create a “sound world” exhibition using radio waves from space.

A number of alumni are also returning to give performances, including the composer Giles Swayne, singer and multi-instrumentalist Ian de Massini, conductor Dominic Wheeler, soprano Lucy Taylor and violinist James Campbell.

The performance of the three pieces chosen by Professor Hawking will take place at 8pm on November 11 in King’s College Chapel. Tickets are available for £25, £20 or £15. Bookings for any of the events can be made through the Cambridge Corn Exchange on 01223 357851. For more information about the Festival, call 01223 350544 or visit the website by following the link on this page.

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