Tuesday, February 27, 2018

How many cock-ups can be squeezed into two hours of music?


A recent post explained how grovelling to 5% of your audience drives away 8%. Now if you think my criticism of the dumbed down BBC Radio 3 is extreme, try this one for size. On February 12th a Radio 3 broadcast of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius was introduced by presenter Kate Molleson as being conducted by "Sir Edward Davis". OK, we all make mistakes. But bear with me, because it gets worse. At the end of Andrew Davis' moving performance the final 'amen' died away to be followed seamlessly and without a linking announcement by another performance of the complete Prelude. OK, we all make mistakes, and perhaps the Radio 3 presenter was just having a bad Gerontius day and accidently let the music play on. But bear with me, because yet again it gets worse.

This could not have been a continuity error. Because the Gerontius complete with fore and aft Preludes fitted exactly into the allocated time slot: if it had been Ms Molleson's mistake the programme would have overrun by ten minutes. The duplication must have originated when the scheduling software was programmed. Music at the station is played in from a server and the Davis/BBC SO Gerontius would have been ripped from the Chandos double CD which includes as a final bonus track the concert version of the Prelude. So the complete Chandos CD including bonus track was ripped, and amazingly nobody at Radio 3 knew that Gerontius does not end with an orchestral postlude.

OK, we all make mistakes, and perhaps the programme editor was also having a bad Gerontius day. But bear with me, because, yet again, it gets worse. At the end of the second Prelude Kate Molleson back announced Gerontius referring to "that solemn amen", completely oblivious to the ten minutes of orchestral music between her back announcement and the solemn amen in question. Did this presenter for what was once the world's most respected classical station not know how Gerontius - a mainstream masterpiece - ends?

Yes, we all make mistakes. But I'm running out of excuses for this blatant incompetence, as still nobody at Radio 3 has realised that Gerontius does not end with an orchestral postlude. Because currently the uncorrected Gerontius broadcast is available on the BBC iPlayer* not only with the erroneous conductor attribution at 1:15:45 but also with the gratuitous Prelude starting at 2:49:45. To think BBC Radio 3's predecessor the Third Programme used to be the envy of the world. I could weep; particularly as the BBC has just announced an increase in the license fee for the second year in succession. But, as an earlier post lamented, classical music's biggest problem is that no one cares.

* The Radio 3 Afternoon Concert including The Dream of Gerontius is on BBC iPlayer until March 11th. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

5 comments:

David Hill said...

A few years ago now, the Early Music Show featured Bach's Art of Fugue, and played extracts from various different instrumental and ensemble recordings. Shortly after playing a performance of one particular Contrapuntus, Ms Skeaping announced the next fugue in the sequence, and proceded to play exactly the same fugue that had just been played, albeit from a different performance. Apparently nobody noticed that it was the same movement before broadcast, yet I expected that when the programme was repeated some while later, someone would by then have noticed, and perhaps responded to complaints from musicologist listeners, but the repeat also featured the repeated fugue, as it did the next time it reappeared. Presumably they think that all the fugues sound the same anyway.

Philip Amos said...

Is at least part of the problem that these programmes are pre-recorded, with the host going off for a chat, ciggie or tissue-restorer while the music is playing and never, one would suspect, listening to the finished product -- not that that means the likes of Pet Rock Trelawney would notice anything amiss. Such was the way even back in about 1970 when, on visit to Canada, I heard the host of a programme announce Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2. And in a sense, so it was, if you didn't mind hearing the movements in the order 3, 4, 1, 2. That was in LP days, of course, and plainly the master of the turntable had put on Side Two first. Equally plainly, no one was listening in the studio, and at that particular radio station, I guarantee no one would have been able to tell the difference. Now I'm not sure anyone at Radio 3 would. And now even less at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Radio 2, once akin to the BBC's Third Programme, now far worse than Radio 3 -- no mean achievement.

Pliable said...

Philip, I try to be as fair and methodical with these posts as possible, although that is very difficult.

After researching I discounted the pre-recorded explanation for the cock-ups as Kate Molleson actually acknowledged her 'Sir Edward Davis' error in the linking announcement between parts 1 & 2 of Gerontius. Examination of her Twitter feed for the day shows she was informed of her error on Twitter and acknowledged it - https://twitter.com/snowythepyro/status/963071145422540802

Which does raise the question of whether Radio 3 presenters should be checking their scheduled music is correct rather than hanging out on Twitter.

One of the reasons I try to be fair is that I once worked for BBC Radio and made mistakes. One memorable one was on Two-way Family Favourites - does anyone remember that? This linked London and British forces radio in Germany. As technology was very crude in those days the music was played from disc both in London and Germany due to the poor quality of the landlines.

Don McLean's American Pie was riding high in the charts at the time (it must have been 1971) and there were two versions of the song. The German end of the programme played the 8 minute LP version and I played the 4 minute single version. Meaning the London studio was left with 4 minutes of dead air to fill while the LP version played out in Germany.

David Hill said...

The announcer, Andrew Timothy once told me that he was introducing a live concert by the BBC SO in the 50s, where Sargent took the podium, bowed, raised his baton, and then put it back down and left the stage, to murmurings in the hall and band. He disappeared for a full five minutes, and Tim had to fill what would otherwise have been dead air by talking about the music, the band, the weather, anything, for what he described as the longest, agonising cold sweat of five minutes of his entire life. Sargent returned, with no explanation given, to more applause and began conducting. Tim later learned that he had forgotten to pee before the concert.

mathias broucek said...

I once listened in awe to an old-school R3 announcer deal with a stuck piano at the proms. All done seamlessly despite not knowing how long he'd need to "busk" for