Media: Classic FM: what the experts say

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The Independent Online
This week has seen a milestone in British broadcasting: the launch of the first national commercial radio station. With its format of snatches from the classics interspersed with advertisements and free offers, it is challenging Radio 3 and other easy-listening stations. Two more channels are set to follow in Classic's wake in the next 12 months. Robert Hanks asks professionals in the music world what they make of the newcomer

Antony Hopkins, conductor and broadcaster

I WAS expecting about what I got: short bursts of music divided one from another with adverts that were completely out of the tone of the music preceding: the 'Pie Jesu' from the Faure Requiem, immediately followed by an ad for Tropicana orange juice - which, to add to the injury, also had a mishmash of music behind it. There was no thought for continuity: following the Hummel Trumpet Concerto with the Widmung transcription by Liszt (which is from a song by Schumann). There seemed to be no logical reason for that; and then the extraordinary frustration of having only single movements - of which I would mention the very interesting recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto in the arrangement for viola, which one hardly ever hears. There was a great shout of triumph when they actually played the whole Albinoni Oboe Concerto. It's just so insanely restless. The general assumption seemed to be that nobody could tolerate listening to anything for longer than five minutes.

Odaline De La Martinez, composer, conductor

THEY had a lot of good tunes, but everything's short-

lived, and everything's bits from larger things. There are commercials with classical music in the background, and I find that offensive. It's all very popular classical music; there's nothing wrong with that, but sometimes you need meat, not just sugar. Radio 3, that gives you a full meal: a starter, a main course and a sweet, and wonderful coffee and liqueurs. Classic FM is dabbling, with superficial information. Radio 3 is an educational experience. And there's a lot of good women composers - Clara Schumann, the Piano Concerto's wonderful; why don't they put just one movement on? There's Fanny Mendelssohn - the Songs without Words. Why can't we hear that, why the same old pops we've heard for hundreds of years? I don't think I'll be listening much; or only if I have a headache.

Peter Donohoe pianist

IT'S wonderful to have more exposure of music to people who would be put off by Radio 3. But there are dangers. One is that they play movements instead of whole works - letting people think they know about classical music when they don't. It is not being faithful to that art to let people take the nice bits only. The most avant- garde moment was an advert for orange juice. The second thing was the constant jingles; and there was a catchphrase they kept using - 'The World's Most Beautiful Music' - please, could they eliminate that? If I was an Indian and I played the sitar, I'd be a bit brassed off about that. And I'd like to feel that the people who presented it knew what they were talking about, and were not representing the Reader's Digest. But these are dangers rather than realities - I don't think anyone can say whether they are that significant at this point.

Judith Weir, composer

I STARTED off with an open mind, because I have fond memories of commercial stations in the United States. I can think of quite a few that are small but they're presented by enthusiasts - I don't mean people with a vast academic knowledge, but with a desire to put across the music to a wide public, and that can be very enjoyable. But this really was a lot worse than I thought. With one exception - the guy who did a programme about Carlos Kleiber in the evening - nobody seemed to speak with any love for the music. The most bizarre feature was that they played single movements out of bigger pieces, and I found that most disorientating, to leap into the second movement of a Brandenburg Concerto after an aria from Don Giovanni. I felt what I heard was being flung at me in terribly small morsels. Musicians were willing to give this lot a chance, and I was disappointed.

James Jolly, editor of 'Gramophone'

I QUITE liked it. It was difficult to know what to expect, because we've had no experience of this sort of commercial classical station over here, but I found the tone quite like Radio 2 - it's a strange sort of classlessness that's relaxing, there's something very direct about it. I found the pace rather invigorating first thing in the morning; however, I wonder whether one might get bored of so many fast and loud bits of music. But I don't think there's anything wrong with playing lollipops - I suspect that's what quite a lot of people do anyway - pick out little bits. The reception I get is much better than Radio 3. It's very close-miked, which gives it that frisson of excitement that you get on commercial stations. It does make Radio 3's morning stuff seem rather creaky. If you could get Classic FM's presenters and Radio 3's music together, that would be ideal.

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