The Spin Doctor Europadisc's Weekly Column

Accessible Music?

  28th February 2024

28th February 2024

The news that changes are afoot at BBC Radio 3 under its new Controller, Sam Jackson, has raised alarm in some quarters. The official announcement declares – in language that W1A’s Ian Fletcher would be proud of – that ‘Distinctiveness and ambition are at the heart of the new Radio 3 schedule’, but for those who can bear to read further, it’s clear that magazine-style programmes featuring interviews interspersed with music have received a boost. Two 2024 centenaries are to be celebrated: conductor Neville Marriner and cellist Beatrice Harrison, but there’s no mention at all of Luigi Nono (see our feature of 31 January). Was he too modernist, or simply not British enough?

Perhaps most worryingly, longstanding favourites Music Matters, Composer of the Week and Record Review are all to be moved. Music Matters will move to a later time, on Saturdays from 1pm to 2pm, when many of its listeners will be having lunch. This is the beginning of the ‘graveyard slot’, by which time most people will either be eating or out and about. Perhaps the message is, Music Matters, but not that much… Composer of the Week moves to late afternoon (weekdays 4pm to 5pm), which is bound to upset its many enthusiastic fans. Record Review, cut to just two hours, moves to Saturday afternoons, 2pm to 4pm. For more than sixty years this programme has occupied a prime Saturday morning slot. Moving it to the less high-profile afternoon may be a consequence of Radio 3’s much-trumpeted ‘commitment to live music’, but at a time when classical music in all its forms is feeling increasingly vulnerable, shunting this staple of the schedules into the sidings will be regretted by many.

While nothing can replace the thrill of live musicmaking, recorded music has, over the past century, been a crucial medium not just for entertainment but for education and broadening of the mind. It raises the profiles of individual artists, but also of composers and ensembles. Even though it is no longer the money-spinner it was in its postwar heyday, its rich legacy and continued development deserve continued serious consideration. Although Record Review has for some years embraced a more magazine-like format, it now feels like it is being squeezed into the background by even more hyperbolic competitors.

A revealing interview with Sam Jackson has been published in The Guardian. Interviewer Charlotte Higgins highlights the increased focus on jazz as well as the move to Radio 3 (from sister station Radio 2) of Friday Night is Music Night. And then she tackles Jackson on one of next year’s big musical centenaries: Pierre Boulez (b. 26 March 1925). ‘Would you, I ask, do a Pierre Boulez weekend to mark his centenary in 2025?’, to which Jackson – with a shrewd use of words that perhaps reflects his commercial background – replies, ‘Of course we could’. But will they? Half a century ago, Boulez was the great feather in the cap of classical music at Radio 3, and – whether or not you like his music – he was a figure of enormous consequence for the genre well into his ninth decade.

In recent years, the modernism of which Boulez was a leading representative has become something of a dirty word. Much contemporary music today is increasingly being marketed as ‘accessible’, and diversity is another of its watchwords. None of this is a bad thing, and we’d be the first to support further efforts towards diversification across the arts. But making music more accessible shouldn’t be equated making it less demanding, or embracing easy listening at the cost of works that require more of both the performer and the listener. Increasing the accessibility of music means giving exposure to all genres and periods – including those we might not normally choose for ourselves.

Now is not the time to be passing judgement. We hope that the changes at Radio 3 are a success, because Radio 3’s reach impacts widely across audiences, performers and the classical music business. Any changes to long-established programming are guaranteed to upset some people. But perhaps, with the increase in catch-up services like BBC Sounds, such rejiggling matters less than it did in the past. All classical music – live and recorded, professional and amateur, practitioners young and old – needs our support at a time of increased funding cuts and commercial pressures.

*            *            *            *            *

Thank you to those who responded to our feature on the later Seiji Ozawa (14 February). One correspondent was keen to share a recommendation for Ozawa’s 1980 Boston recording of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony (the ‘Symphony of a Thousand’). First released on LP in 1981, and last available as part of the now-deleted 2014 set Seiji Ozawa: The Philips Years, ‘it still gives me goosebumps everytime I play it!’ In a similar vein, it’s still worth seeking out Ozawa’s 1979 account of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, similarly unavailable at present, but not (we hope) for long.

External links:

Latest Posts

Return to Finland: Rautavaara, Saariaho & Beyond

17th April 2024

Our previous visits to the music of Finland took us up to those composers born in the first decades of the 20th century, including Uuno Klami and Joonas Kokkonen. That generation brought Finnish music further away from its nationalist roots and the shadow of Sibelius, and closer to the modernism of the mid- and late 20th century. Now, on our final visit (at least for the time being), we look at two figures in particular who tackled some of modernism’s most advanced trends, and went beyond them to create outputs of... read more

read more

Classical Music: The Endgame?

10th April 2024

A recent visit to the London Coliseum brought home the scale of the challenge facing opera, not just at the home of the troubled English National Opera, but more generally – and, indeed, classical music more widely. What seemed to be a fairly respectable attandance was revealed – on a glance upwards to the upper circle and balcony – to be only half a house: the upper levels were completely empty, having been effectively closed from sale. And this on a Saturday evening! There was a time (in the 1970s and 80s) when... read more

read more

Artists in Focus: Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan

3rd April 2024

Over the past three decades, the record catalogues have welcomed three landmark cycles of the complete Bach cantatas. John Eliot Gardiner’s survey of the complete sacred cantatas, made in a single year during his 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, grabbed most of the headlines. But the more long-term projects of Ton Koopman and Masaaki Suzuki (the latter with his Bach Collegium Japan) have their devotees, particularly among those who appreciate a more considered, patient approach in this music. Suzuki’s cycle in particular – the... read more

read more

Valete: Pollini, Eötvös & Janis

27th March 2024

The past fortnight has brought news of the deaths of three major figures from the post-war musical scene: two pianists and a composer-conductor.

Anyone who follows the classical music headlines even slightly will have learned of the death at the age of 82 of Maurizio Pollini. He was simply one of the greatest pianists of the post-war era. Born on 5 January 1942 in Milan, he was raised in a home environment rich in culture. His father Gino was a leading modern architect, his mother Renata Melotti a pianist, and her... read more

read more

The Resurrection of Stainer’s ‘Crucifixion’

20th March 2024

Widely vilified as the epitome of mawkish late-Victorian religious sentimentality, John Stainer’s The Crucifixion was first performed in St Marylebone Parish Church on 24 February 1887 at the beginning of Lent. Composed as a Passion-themed work within the capabilities of parish choirs as part of the Anglo-Catholic revival, its publication by Novello led to its phenomenal success as churches throughout England quickly took it up. It also spawned many imitations – such as John Henry Maunder’s Olivet to Calvary – which lacked... read more

read more
View Full Archive