'Too much chatter' at Radio 3 strikes wrong note, say classical music fans

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The Independent Online

They won't be taking to the streets - that is not their style - but there is no disguising the fact that there is discontent in some quarters.

The problem: changes at Radio 3. The complainers: the station's listeners, perhaps the most conservative audience in the land.

Roger Wright, the network's controller, has caused consternation by fiddling with the Radio 3 schedule. He has, as he knew he would, attracted the ire of listeners who feel remarkably possessive of Britain's only high-brow classical music network. So when he decided to turn Discovering Music, a studio-based discussion and music programme, into Charles Hazelwood Discovering Music, which features an audience chipping in, there was bound to be trouble.

Other changes include a weekly show presented by the cabaret duo Kit and The Widow, a Sunday morning programme presented by Rob Cowan, and the moving of Composer of the Week from 9am to noon. Critics say records played on weekday mornings are now chosen randomly rather than by theme.

Leading the crusade against the new Radio 3 is Gerald Kaufman, the chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. Mr Kaufman, a frequent critic of the BBC, has written to Mr Wright to object to some of the most recent changes, which took effect this month.

Mr Kaufman said: "I am very concerned about what appears to be a trivialisation of Radio 3. I was a great supporter of Roger Wright when he took over but over the years I feel that his good intentions have not survived.

"There appears to be less and less music and more talk. I do not want to listen to all that chatter. I do not want to hear the little anecdotes and thoughts of Radio 3 presenters." He added that too much non-classical music had crept on to the network, "that ought to be on Radio 2".

Bayan Northcott, the classical music critic of The Independent, also criticised the network. "With three or four exceptions, the general level of presenting is terrible. The attitude is to jolly along the audience and tell them, 'Don't worry, this music isn't so frightening'."

Mr Northcott also complained about what he said was an increasing reliance on "undemanding composers.

"They have lost any nerve to challenge their listeners and lead them. They are always trying not to offend so that people keep their sets switched on," he said.

Radio 3 has about 2 million listeners a week. Radio 2 garners 13 million.

A spokeswoman for Radio 3 denied that presenters were chatterers. "They are authorities on the subjects they present. A lot of them are performers, so their engagement with the music is incredibly deep."

Radio 3 has, in the past week, decided to play complete piano concertos by composers such as Mozart and Schumann as well as contemporary works by, among others, Kevin Volans and Erkki-Sven Tuur.