Much trumpeting in the just published 2005/6 BBC Annual Report and Accounts about the success of the BBC Beethoven MP3 file downloads. But sadly the BBC has the wrong orchestra doing the trumpeting as the following extract shows:
'Remit - BBC Radio 3 is centred on classical music, and also aims to provide a broad spectrum of jazz, world music, drama and arts programmes. It focuses on presenting live and specially recorded music from across the UK and beyond, including contributions from the BBC performing groups. Radio 3’s audience is broadly stable: average 15-minute weekly reach to adults aged 15+ was 2 million people or 4.1% in 2005/2006 (2 million/4.2% in 2004/2005).
Editorially, Radio 3 has had a year full of innovation, ambition and achievement.Two of the highlights of its year – indeed two of the highlights of the BBC’s year – were The Beethoven Experience (all the music over seven days) and the Bach Christmas (all the surviving music over ten days).
The Beethoven Experience caused some controversy.The nine symphonies, played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, were made available for free downloading for a limited period and resulted in 1.4 million downloads – far more than had been predicted. As a result, some in the record industry complained that the BBC was unfairly damaging their business by giving away what they were in business to sell. Management accepted that while some stakeholders in the industry had been told of the plan and had not expressed any reservations, there had been no formal consultation – which there would have been had the scale of take-up been correctly anticipated.The download experiment was not repeated during Bach Christmas.'
The Annual Report describes the Beethoven Experience as one of the highlights of the whole BBC year, and states that it 'was played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra'. Unfortunately it wasn't. The BBC Symphony Orchestra is based in London, and the Beethoven symphonies were played by the totally different Manchester based BBC Philharmonic conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. The northern band is very sensitive about being overshadowed by the higher profile London orchestra, and I don't think this error will go down at all well in Manchester.
If we leave aside the small matter of wrong facts the Annual Report just confirms the current BBC classical music mindset. This was described succintly last week by Proms director Nicholas Kenyon as 'taking the audience with us'. And that means increasingly focusing on attention grabbing gimmicks such as MP3s downloads and saturation programming of popular repertoire. In this culture is it surprising that the BBC chiefs don't know one of their orchestras from another?
There are just four lines in the report devoted to the 2005 Proms season, and not a single mention of the wonderful BBC Scottish Orchestra and their marvellous new Glasgow concert hall, or of the Elliott Carter and Xenakis festivals (surely the Carter festival attended by the composer [left] was the highlight of the BBC's classical music year rather than those ill-judged and misattributed Beethoven downloads?), or of the £350,000 ($630,000) new music commissioning budget. My fear is if the BBC doesn't think these worth mentioning in this year's Annual report, they won't think them worth funding next year. And as for that 'broad spectrum' where were Malcolm Arnold (who last had a Proms performance for his symphonies in 1994), Edmund Rubbra, William Alwyn, and the others on Nicholas Kenyon's list of proscribed composers? Presumably they were pushed aside for the wall to wall Bach and Beethoven?
I also couldn't find a mention in the report of another highlight of the BBC's year - BBC Radio 1 DJs taking it in turn to deface their Wikipedia entries while on air in January. As The Register said at the time - collective intelligence at its finest. That collective intelligence costs every UK household (including students with a TV in rented accomodation) a non-negotiable £131.50 ($242) a year, and generates total annual income for the BBC of of nearly £3 billion ($5.5 billion). You would think with that kind of funding they could at least get their facts right.
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