Thursday, July 10, 2008

Composers on the picket line


As oil prices soar the whole classical music infrastructure, from critics through record labels to whole orchestras, is at risk. But for some musicians there is a feeling of déjà vu . Back in 1979, after the Iranian Revolution oil prices were soaring from $15.85 to a record high of $39.50 a barrel and the BBC was complaining about the inadequacy of their license award in the face of rising costs - sound familiar?

As the economic situation worsened the BBC announced in 1980 that it would disband the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra as part of an ill-conceived package of cost savings. But eminent musicians ranging from Carlo Maria Giulini and Pierre Boulez to the composers seen above on the picket line, Bill Sweeney (and family), John Laughland, John Grant and Eddie McGuire, raised their voices in protest. Fortunately, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn famously said, 'In the struggle with falsehood art always did and it always does win' and the BBC management was forced to abandon plans to disband the orchestra, although it was reduced in size and other ensembles were axed.

Since those troubled times the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra has gone from strength to strength to become not only one of the world's top radio orchestras, but also a top orchestra - period, and they now appear each year at the Proms as the very model of a modern BBC orchestra. The BBCSO's commitment to contemporary music hads been outstanding and they featured here recently with their acclaimed premiere recording of Jonathan Harvey's Body Mandala.

As a complete contrast I would also highlight their fine CD of music by the Scottish composer Sir Alexander Mackenzie (1847-1935) on Hyperion. Mackenzie's nine minute Benedictus (Op 61), which is on the disc, deserves some outings as a more-than-adequate substitute for the ubiquitous Barber Adagio. And if your orchestra wants a new concert opener full of good tunes try the Overture to The Cricket on the Hearth (Op 62) which also on the Hyperion CD.

I'll be rooting for the BBC Scottish Symphony when they play Rachmaninov's Second Symphony at Snape on August 2. (If my memory is correct I haven't heard that marvellous work live since Previn with the LSO at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon in the 1970s). Read the full story of what happened to a top orchestras when oil prices soared here, before singing the first twelve-tone protest song here.

Read the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra blog here. My header photo is from the excellent Is the Red Light on? The story of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra by John Purser, publisher BBC Scotland (sadly out of print). Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

1 comment:

Pliable said...

And talking of cost pressures at the BBC -
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/bbc-chiefs-cash-in-after-year-of-turmoil-862950.html