'The trouble is not that we want entertainment, but that we don't. If audiences truly insisted on nothing but entertainment, the world's theatres would: (a) be completely emptied, once and for all; (b) start delivering much more serious work.'That observation from theatre and film director Peter Brook is relevant to the RAJAR audience data for UK classical radio stations released today. In the last quarter of 2011 BBC Radio 3's audience decreased by 5.4% against the previous year and continued the downward trend for the station. Everyone, with the exception of the BBC Trust, knows that Radio 3 is broken; so there is no point in going down that path yet again. But it is worth looking at the trend for the total audience for classical radio.
There is now virtually no difference between BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM - they both put entertainment before art, employ the same presenters and sound the same. If the audiences for the two stations are added together we find that the UK audience for classical radio declined year on year by almost half a million, a drop of 6.0%. Which means one of two things: either classical music is declining in popularity or the version of classical music served up by Radio 3/Classic FM is not what listeners want.
Views will differ as to which explanation is correct, but I opt for the latter for two reasons. First there is anecdotal evidence that audiences are flocking to 'difficult' contemporary classical music. Secondly there is factual evidence that audiences want more than entertainment: the same RAJAR data shows that news, speech and drama channel BBC Radio 4, the least dumbed-down UK station, added half a million listeners. Which means the Radio 4 audience grew by 4.8% in the same period that Radio 3/Classic FM's dropped by 6.0% - in fact Radio 4 gained almost exactly the same numbers of listeners as Radio 3/Classic FM lost.
Fortunately it appears that BBC director general Mark Thompson, on whose watch one of the biggest cultural genocides of recent years has taken place, is on the way out. Let's hope his successor reads Peter Brook's The Shifting Point from which my opening quote is taken. Header graphic is Salvador Dali's Queen Salome (1937) and Dali designed Brook's 1949 Covent Garden Salome. A little later Dalí created an opera titled Être Dieu with a score by the avant-garde French composer Igor Wakhévitch. Read about that forgotten opera here.
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