Music on radio: Stand and deliver

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Indy Lifestyle Online
If recent trends in BBC management-speak are anything to go by, it would seem programmes are no longer to be scheduled primarily for their intrinsic interest, but to "hold" audiences from previous programmes and "deliver" them to those following. In last weekend's Feedback, the current Controller of Radio 4, James Boyle, more or less conceded as much when challenged over the recent insertion of a daily quiz between The World at One and The Archers (though he did not add that compelling news-hungry Archers fans to stay tuned for 15 minutes longer each weekday would nicely bump up the listening statistics for when the government might try to rescind the BBC licence).

Actually, the new Tuesday quiz, entitled Full Orchestra and confronting teams from a variety of British ensembles under the bouncy direction of The Music Machine's Tommy Pearson, has proved quite fun; nor are his questions entirely obvious - particularly a round inviting teams to recognise passages of the classics from their most inconspicuous inner parts. But the series is already into its semi-finals - with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic just pipping the Starlight Express Orchestra last Tuesday - and its brief run only highlights the extent to which, Desert Island Discs aside, music- based programmes have been eliminated from Radio 4.

With Kaleidoscope proving not the least of the losses. Dated though its 25-year-old format may have been deemed, a number of its presenters - Paul Vaughan, for instance, and Lynne Walker - evidently retained a genuine concern for serious music and opera, and saw to it that a fair range of musical events and issues, books and recordings, were covered in the programme's 40-minute afternoon slot. No doubt Mr Boyle feels he is doing the arts a favour by "delivering" the audience of The Archers to Kaleidoscope's half-hour replacement Front Row at 7.15 each weekday evening. But, for more musical listeners, this means the programme's second half now clashes with the beginning of Radio 3's evening concerts. In any case, compared with the other arts, Front Row's treatment of music has so far proved tokenistic.

Over on Radio 3, Night Waves at least does a little better than that for three nights a week, though there are times when the real aim of its participants seems to be to say "sort of" and "absolutely!" as often as possible. Which leaves Music Matters valiantly striving Sunday after Sunday to survey the musical world in 45 minutes. Last weekend's edition somehow encompassed no less than six topics, any of which would have profited from development to programme length. When American pianist Richard Goode was asked about cadenzas, he not only drew some telling distinctions between the practices of Mozart and Beethoven, but raised the issue of the written out improvisation, and one longed for further discussion on the Romantic and Modern repertoire.

But time had to be found for computerising the improvisation techniques of Charlie Parker, considering of the hearing problems of orchestral players as music has got steadily louder, tantalisingly short tasters of the folk music of Georgia, and the dance music of Rameau, and thoughts on the sources of cartoon film music. Yet it is difficult to see how such hassles and frustrations are to be avoided, given the programme's magazine-style brief is, of course, to "hold" the audience of the preceding Artist of the Week series (and doubtless to "deliver" it to the ensuing Lunchtime Concert)