Core values

If you thought the Radio 4 changes were drastic, wait till you hear what's being planned for Radio 3. If, that is, Nicholas Kenyon ever gets round to telling us.

No doubt the usually dynamic Arnold Schoenberg was in one of his more depressed moods when he mused that "things will always find a way of getting worse somehow". As well he might be, having lived to see two world wars, his own exile and the deaths of some of his most gifted pupils. Matters are not quite so bad as yet chez BBC Radio 3, but judging from rumours of music staff morale, plus the warnings of those journalists - including our own David Benedict in the Media section on 21 July - who have seen the internal directives that are doing all the damage, there is a pervasive apprehension that the network is about to take an irreversible lurch in the direction of that most question-begging of euphemisms: "accessibility".

The salient document, issued to staff on 3 July, is entitled innocuously enough Guide to Available Commissions and Offers Process 1998/1999. But since even a cursory glance shows it to be fraught with implications not just for programme-makers but for listeners, the failure of Radio 3's usually forthright Controller, Nicholas Kenyon, to announce the proposed changes directly to the public (as James Boyle, his opposite number on Radio 4, has just done) - instead, responding piecemeal to journalists working from the many leaked copies of the Guide that now seem to be circulation - could be construed as ominous in itself. (Perish the thought that the whole process may be a managerial ploy in the hope of diffusing protest by the time the changes actually come in.)

After scanning the introductions by Kenyon, his managing editor Brian Barfield and head of presentation Cathy Wearing, any ordinary listener laying hands on the Guide would doubtless skip the ensuing pages devoted to the internal-market nonsense of "Producer Choice", turning directly to the three pages of schedule changes. The first of these, planned for mid-September, are relatively minor, including the welcome assigning of three weekday afternoons from 2pm to 4pm to the BBC orchestras and the not-so-welcome extension of In Tune by moving the Music Machine 15 minutes forward.

The second set of changes, starting next January, mainly concern weekday mornings. Out of the virtually unbroken sequence of middle-of-the-road disc programmes that already runs from the 5.00am Sequence to the arrival of Composer of the Week at midday, the two-hour Musical Encounters - into which more enterprising presenters still manage to insinuate some quite enlivening choices from the less familiar - is to be dropped. This will allow for a half-hour extension of the more formulaic Morning Collection, a 30-minute Artist of the Week slot and a new "strand", yet to be assigned, for which the Guide's invitation to tender reads: "We are seeking a 60- minute disc-based programme featuring central repertory in an engaging and entertaining mix, interspersed with personable and informative links."

But it is in the third set of changes, applicable from April 1998, that this "philosophy" really looks like taking hold; for Andrew McGregor's On Air, which currently fills weekday mornings from 7am to 9am, will then be extended to Saturday and Sunday as well. To those, like myself, who have more or less given up regularly tuning in to anything else much on Radio 3 before midday, the loss of Sacred and Profane on Sundays, with its unfailingly curious juxtapositions of music and beautiful presentations by Paul Guinery, will be especially sad. Yet the proposed fate of the Saturday-morning Record Review seems odder still, given that the Guide itself acknowledges the programme as "one of the highest radio listening periods of the week". Not only is Record Review's two-hour update of new releases to be lost, but the last hour of the programme itself is to be cut, leaving a mere two hours to pack in Building a Library, discussions of latest releases and reissues, plus a new Starter Collection feature. This will enable Private Passions to be pushed forward to 11am, allowing, in turn, for a new hour-long and provisionally designated Access/Request Programme "to pick up the audience from Private Passions, an important Entry Point programme, and to hold them with Radio 3 to the lunchtime recital".

Must one indeed conclude the worst from such rubrics: that top management, market-fixated and frightened for the licence fee, has warned Radio 3 it is costing too much, and that the scramble for ratings has become all? Such a supposition would seem grossly to undervalue the many vital functions Radio 3 continues to fulfil, as funder of orchestras and commissioner of new works, as major focus and patron of the musical life of this country and upholder of Western tradition in all its 1,000-year diversity (not least, against chauvinist calls for a concentration on "nice" British music like that of George Lloyd, or vociferous pressure groups which, under the pretext of multiculturalism, would wish the network given over to bhangra and Chinese drummers).

Yet the forthcoming programme changes, still more their rationale in the Guide, tell a sufficiently ambiguous tale. If one adds the 19 planned hours of On Air to the seven and a half of Morning Collection, the five hours of whatever the successor to Musical Encounters is going to be called, the 12 and a half hours of In Tune, plus the new Saturday Access hour and two hours of Brian Kay's Sunday Morning, one discovers it is going to come to some 50 hours of miscellaneous disc programmes per week.

No doubt these will continue to be stuffed with dearly loved classics of light and serious music which, the blase should never forget, a proportion of the audience will always be hearing for the first time. But there is nothing in the new changes to guarantee that the programming of such items will be any more cogent, any less random than it often is now. The Guide seems to suggest that these "strands" will be fulfilling their briefs simply in achieving "greater consistency through the week" and improved Radio 3 "branding" through sticking to the same (if doubtless "personable") presenters day in day out, and by cleaving to "core repertoire". Although Brian Barfield writes, "We still want programme-makers to come up with the most imaginative offers (eg Themed Evenings or Bi-Media programmes) even if they fall outside the pro forma plan", the overall impression is of a drive towards conformity, towards the notion that, whenever listeners happen to switch on, they will already know what "brand" of music programme to expect. What else is one to make of the assertion by the head of presentation that "it is clear that editorial presentation and marketing aims need to be more closely integrated"?

Marketing again! And one had naively supposed that Radio 3 was a public service. No doubt Kenyon would reasonably reiterate his aim to "attract more listeners for longer periods" to his network's many excellencies. All the same, one senses a certain equivocation, not to say anxiety, behind the Guide's recurrent return to the need for new, younger, broader audiences, audiences "probably seeking music on radio as an accompaniment to home activities", as one tender puts it. Indeed, another warns, "Producers should be cautious of using more than 25 per cent non-core in a single transmission." What is "core repertoire" anyway? Fifty years ago, few BBC planners would have included Bruckner and Mahler symphonies in the "core" Western canon; yet, switching on Classic FM at random, it is hard not to conclude that its current "core repertoire" consists of almost anything by Vivaldi, no matter how predictable or perfunctory, a handful of Strauss waltzes and Sousa marches, Khachaturian's filthy Sabre Dance and Shostakovich's rip-off of Tea for Two. Of course, as long as the "core" concept remains, as now, a kind of unwritten, flexible but informed consensus, constantly supplemented by enthusiastic rediscoveries or exceptional new works, it will retain some usefulness. It is if, and when, as some are speculating, Radio 3 commits itself to a tabulated, computerised list of what is, or is not, core repertoire, that the aesthetic questions, not to say the market pressures, will really multiply. Where the battle between musical values and market manipulation is concerned, one hopes to be persuaded that the Guide's evangelism is not just a cover for a pretty drastic retreatn

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week