Music on radio

Yet more doom and gloom for Western tradition? "As Simon Rattle attacks government proposals to drop music from the national curriculum, and Julian Lloyd Webber lambasts cacophony, a special Kaleidoscope panel asks: classical music - who cares?" read the Radio Times trailer for last Monday's edition on Radio 4. Meanwhile, the previous day's Radio 3 Sunday Feature - the second of 20 monthly documentaries in the Settling the Score series for Sounding the Century - attempted to survey who has continued to care over the last 100 years, and why. Both programmes exemplified the current BBC vice (lest listeners should get bored?) of cramming far too many complex issues into far too little time, so that nothing ever gets properly followed through. But in the Kaleidoscope feature, in which Lynne Walker had to chart her chairpersonly course between interview clips, phoned-in comments and live remarks of a studio panel including such volatile spirits as Steve Martland and Sir John Drummond, the effect of perpetually flying off at tangents seemed less culpable - and it also made for far livelier listening. The Sunday Feature, by comparison, came over almost as a parody of middlebrow inconsequence - epitomised by Samuel West's mannered lassitude in narrating the commentary written for him by the programme's deviser, Graham Fawcett. Billed to explain why audiences have continued to go to concerts and opera over the last century, this passed, with no obvious logic, between the acoustics of old and new concert halls, the changing habits of audiences, whether solo playing has gained in proficiency over the decades but lost in character, whether orchestras should present themselves less formally and whether concert-going remains a celebration of bourgeois values. At the end, the question of whether live performance will survive on its uniqueness or gradually lose out to recording remained unanswered. Potentially fascinating facts and archival clips were strewn by the wayside, to say nothing of mordant sallies by John Drummond; and, as West portentously reminded us, "Times and tastes change". But not, it would seem, a certain style of BBC documentary.

The Kaleidoscope free-for-all began with Sir Simon Rattle reiterating his dire forebodings for classical music-making, if the subject really is to be ousted from the core curriculum. And when the Education Minister, David Blunkett, ventured that he hoped to compensate by restoring peripatetic music teaching, this was assailed by Drummond as a typical bit of backsliding by a government that seemed to have no interest in high culture. The programme then rambled by way of advocacy for music's potential in developing concentration, intelligence and social cohesion, to an attempt to determine whether the alleged crisis of classical music stemmed more from its promotion and marketing. And here, a surprising degree of unanimity began to emerge. Apart from Julian Lloyd Webber - whose diatribe against Birtwistle and Berio was dismissed by Nicholas Kenyon as utterly unhelpful - nobody seemed to feel that the music itself was primarily to blame. Indeed, as the pop pundit Simon Frith pointed out, the concerns of certain advanced classical composers and more esoteric, non-commercial pop musicians are not so far apart, while the harpsichordist Jane Chapman, who happily mixes Baroque and avant-garde in her recitals, roundly declared, "There isn't any crisis."

The problems of revitalising concert presentation and the current predicament of the record industry in pressing too many standard classics were more contentious, and, as ever in this sort of programme, there was The Daily Telegraph's manic Norman Lebrecht to proclaim that it will all end in apocalypse. But Drummond was ready for him too: "Norman Lebrecht talks rubbish all the time and he always gets his facts wrong." So that was that.

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