Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thoughts from the Vienna woods

The Vienna Philharmonic New Year's Concert 2010 will be conducted for the second time by the French conductor Georges Prêtre. Due to the television and radio broadcasts in more than 70 countries, the New Year's Concert is in terms of its international coverage the largest classical music event in the world.
That quote comes from the Vienna Philharmonic's website. Big is the new beautiful in classical music, so the Vienna New Year's Day Concert - the largest classical music event in the world - joins the BBC Proms - the world's largest classical music festival.

Of course size matters. Or does it? From 1950 to 1982 a radio programme called Listen with Mother was broadcast by the BBC. The format of the fifteen minute programme of nursery rhymnes and stories for the under-fives and their mothers was desperately tired. But nobody at the BBC dared take it off air because the rudimentary research data of the day showed it reached a large audience. But then BBC research became more sophisticated and reported not only how many people were tuned to Listen with Mother, but also who the listeners were. This new data showed that a considerable number of the listeners were long-distance truck drivers. It was rapidly dropped from the schedules.

Yes, audience size is important. But so is the quality of engagement with that audience, as veteran BBC broadcaster Libby Purves so eloquently reminded us:
All that you can do is to make - and publicise - the best and most passionately well-crafted programmes you can think of. Ratings have to be watched, but calmly and with a sense of proportion. You have to believe that if even one person is swayed, or inspired, or changed, or comforted, by a programme, then that programme has been worthwhile.
It is my hope that in 2010 we will again start to measure classical music by its ability to sway, to inspire, to change and to comfort, as well as by its audience size.

A very happy and musical new year to all my readers.

* My header photo is, of course, not Georges Prêtre. It is Willi Boskovsky who conducted his last New Year's Day Concert on January 1st, 1979. Memories of Boskovsky here, and the story behind the recording of his final New Year's Day concert here.

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5 comments:

Billy said...

I know exactly how you feel. WQXR, New York's "premiere" (only) classical music radio station, has terrible, pandering programming. I wrote about it yesterday on my blog
http://seatedovation.blogspot.com/2009/12/wqxr.html
It's really remarkably bad sometimes--I would rather have nursery rhymes.

Pliable said...

'has terrible, pandering programming ... It's really remarkably bad sometimes--I would rather have nursery rhymes.'

Those words could equally apply to BBC Radio 3 today. The ratings led repositioning of Radio 3 from cultural to entertainment station and consequent ruination in the hands of network controllers Nicholas Kenyon and Roger Wright has been one of the great tragedies in the arts during the last ten years in the UK.

But not many commentators will say so. Because virtually every one is on the BBC Radio 3 payroll.

That is a nice post and interesting blog you have Billy -

http://seatedovation.blogspot.com/

Billy said...

Thanks!

Colin said...

I was educated by the BBC now I rarely put the radio on, unfortunately our alarm system switch this on for us, maybe "disgruntled of Bournemouth" needs it but what message is it sending to those who are under 80. Complacent music from a complacent country, broadcast by a complacent station. Maybe if we were not in the burglars would at least do a runner, thankfully we could turn it of after 10 minutes of disbelief.

Gavin Plumley said...

"It is my hope that in 2010 we will again start to measure classical music by its ability to sway, to inspire, to change and to comfort, as well as by its audience size."

It is an admirable hope, though I don't think that trying to reach the largest audience and your wish are mutually exclusive. Measuring its 'ability' is equally wrongheaded; there is nothing quantitive in music per se.