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: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201516/ldhansrd/text/150910-0002.htm#15091035000320. 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 – http://lordsoftheblog.net/2015/07/03/out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire-the-bbc-to-ofcom/. 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: http://lordsoftheblog.net/2015/03/22/a-paean-for-a-pianist-dame-fanny-is-95/), 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.