Music in the air

Baroness Deech

There was a debate on the future of the BBC, led by Baroness (Joan) Bakewell, on Thursday.  Nearly every speaker defended the BBC and the need for it to continue ungagged by government under the renewed Charter.  Yes, there have been mistakes, but compared to those made by other institutions, including government itself, they are minor.  Here is the link to the debate:  I spoke about the complaints system and how it could be improved, although definitely not by handing it over to OFCOM – see my earlier post on this – So many of us signed up to speak that we were given only 4 minutes each, and there was not time to discuss one of the most important and precious tasks of the BBC – its support for classical music.

This is very much on my mind, as not only have I been to two marvellous Proms this summer (the BBC Proms, note) but I have also just returned from the finals concerts at the Leeds International Piano Festival (partnered and broadcast by the BBC). It is arguably the greatest such festival in the world (see here:, and the display of talent by the six finalists was breathtaking.  Average age about 24, they played for us concerti by Schumann, Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Brahms, entirely up to world concert hall standard.  Sadly none of the 6 finalists was British, and only 3 of the 70 competitors were British. The finalists were from Korea, Russia, the US, Japan and China.  The others were overwhelmingly from Eastern Europe and the Far East. Congratulations to our Ashley Fripp, who made it to the semi finals and received an award.

So why the dearth of young British pianists? Luckily we have the wonderful Benjamin Grosvenor, a finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2004, who performed at the Last Night of the Proms this year. And charismatic Martin James Bartlett, winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year 2014, who plays Gershwin to perfection. Since 1978 the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition has given us, amongst many other well known names, Nicola Benedetti and Natalie Clein, and that competition is another tremendous effort by the BBC to promote young musicians and bring music to the public.  They also run the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition which started in 1978 (Bryn Terfel was there in the early days). They also promote their own orchestras and choirs of international fame, and give pleasure through for example Gareth Malone’s The Choir. Not to mention Radio 3.

If all that alone is not worth the £145.50 licence, then consider this situation. As Dame Fanny says: “One of the greatest challenges faced by the music profession today is the increasing age of audiences and the difficulty in attracting younger audiences to become involved in and passionate about classical music . . .There is much to be said for taking music into schools but . . .more can be achieved by releasing the young from behind the school gates and by bringing them into the magical environment of the concert hall.” You have only to study the demographics of the prommers to see how true this is.  Given the strain on schools’ resources, it is only the BBC that can be relied on to bring music to school children (CBBC and School Radio) and provide concerts for them to go to locally. That’s one more very strong reason for preserving the licence fee, giving the BBC its autonomy in providing content, and singing its praises to the rooftops.



4 comments for “Music in the air

  1. mause elwes
    15/09/2015 at 3:44 pm

    Baroness, you are so right. Unless the BBC takes the duck tape off its mouth and begins to tell it as it is, instead of being led by the political correctness of those who are its true mouthpiece, there is no future for it as a respected and leading broadcaster. No matter how much money they bung there.

    The person chosen to be the head, since Patton jumped ship, is a disaster. She is incoherant most of the time. Not the type of person or ability to be leading this kind of organisation. Privatisation and adverts are not the answer to the problems they have there.

    It’s run with a kind of stunted chum hierarchy from top to bottom who have a fear of new thought or serious change. It ios so obvious they feel threatened by anyone or anything that shows its face there. And until that is rooted out and swept away it will continue in its downward spiral.

    Do you really believe Russians are going to suck up the kind of propaganda the British have become accustomed to? Their government, although hiding a lot of their own confusion, do at least give a realistic view of what is important news. What we currently have to put up with is a farce.

    They do classical music well and yes, it should continue to grow not shrink. As they do the young musician. But for the BBC to keep trying to compete with the lowest common denominator is ridiculous. Question Time is fixed and is openly so. In fact most political shows are shameful and cringe making.

    There is some good stuff, but, the way they are produced has become unbearable to watch. Suposedly serious programmesf presented by with drums, stilted, flitting camera work, and a pretense at hollywood or US style ‘excitement’ kills the credibility from the offset. And the way presenters want to be in the frame more frequently than what is being discussed is purely irritating. Watching a programme about medieval buidling practices where you only see the face of the gurning guy or girl trying to remember their script, rather than dwell on showing the subject matter, is an insult to the brain.

    To give a simple example, and it goes through the entire spectrum, is, Crufts. The hourly time spent on the ugly mush of those who feel the more time they have with face on screen means they have made it, rather than what all those who watch it to see, the animals, makes you switch it off. We want to see the prize winning animal in every frame not the face of mundane conversation spouting out of those you wouldn’t consider asking to a coffee morning.

  2. MilesJSD
    02/10/2015 at 7:52 am

    This topic “the future of the BBC2 should be openly seen under its overarcher “the future of the British People’s Body-Mind-Spirit Self-Move-ability”.

    Tell tale phrases reveal why your Music, BBC, and indeed entire “new educated Society” [Maggie having outlawed previous Society] continue falling short, in effect failing:

    “need for the BBC to be ungagged” – but no mention of our need for the BBC to be further enabled, e.g. in ‘ease of body self-movement” from the bottom up, rather than the sufficiently established from the Top down (alas! non-emulable concert hall miracles).’

    “dearth of young pianists” – but total absence of People’s Progressive Arts Appreciation participative education.

    “schools, excluding music as they do, need to have music taken into them”
    (In 1935 co-ed grammars, we started the day by singing, even “Early One Morning”, “Thou Whose Almighty Word”, “The Minstrel Boy”, “Men of Harlech”, and of course “Jerusalem”; as well as the movement “Miller of Dee” making his grab; Musical Chairs, “O-Leary Says Do this” (including to music); and “Oranges and Lemons”; and the singing of .rounds and of “social history warnings” such as “London’d Burning”.

    Tantamountly you’re also saying (“) Our young are being trapped behind school gates when they should be filed into rows of (even more movement-suppressing) seats in concert halls(“)

    “the Complaints system needs to be improved” –
    you need to start proactively further-educating all people who on Earth do dwell,from Square-One or Pre-Square-One, that the primary and both natural and civilisational human need is for Wholesome Body Self-Movement and the continuous further-enabling thereof.
    which Music then needs to Serve, not usurp.

    Get that sort of foundational Factorium across to all of the People first,
    then you Governors, the BBC Charter updaters, the educating and Arts-Performing professions, and all and sundry, could become adequately able to meet every-one’s need both affordably and sustainworthily.
    comprehend and follow the people’s better informed submissions of what they find their-selves needing.

    • MilesJSD
      02/10/2015 at 7:58 am

      correction please: “”the future of the BBC” [erase the mistaken lower-case 2]

  3. MilesJSD
    18/10/2015 at 4:51 pm

    Civilisationally, and maybe evolutionarily too, “music” was majorly preceded by “movement”
    [check: music has to have more than one ‘movement’ within it] –

    – which thought brings us to the realisation of musicians having to be almost as stationarily-sedentary as Be-Seated-Parliamentarians and a very wide range of other Professional-Performers (to be brief);
    which ‘constitutes’ some considerably significant sacrificing of natural, and of civilisationally-wholistic, movement.

    Another ‘hidden’ factor might be a PhD thesis task:
    “Discuss the universal pre-Life and the ‘post-Life’ human Movement ‘orderings’ for their common and respective ‘musical’ content.”

    The BBC could make a public-generic-participation series out of that:

    {shouldn’t it ?}

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