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  BBC & New Music  Misuc at 10:40 on 12 February 2009

There isn't any.

Well,that 's an exaggeration. But there has been a lot of controversy on these pages about which clique, 'modernist' or 'tonalist', is most favoured by the BBC (i.e. the clique around Roger Wright, controller of BBC Radio Three).
Each imagines it is uniquely discriminated against.

Let's put this in context. I have been looking through the week's programme guide. I see that in the 120 hours broadcasting since last Sunday there has been no more than one broadcast of one single piece of music by a living composer, and it dates from 1947! (I've got to admit it's an outstanding [quasi-'tonalist' composition by a composer usually thought of as 'modernist' [have a listen <>]

This means that during the course of the last five days, the BBC has given over barely 0.4% of its 'classical' music broadcasting time to works by living composers.

I've got to concede that if you take the whole week the picture changes somewhat. I missed a two hour concert last Saturday night devoted to the music of Tristan Murail, a composer I shamefully know little about (but see the informative Composer's Database here on CT) and there are three little pieces by what I take to be living composers to be played tomorrow, lasting perhaps a total of 30 minutes. Let us call it one hour and this gives us a total of 3 hours 30 minutes in a full week of broadcasting. This raises the percentage to about 0.5%.

Although this survey is purely random and in no way representative, it does seem to suggest that both factions are right: they are both discriminated against. Composition Today is not a subject which is of much practical interest to the BBC (still less of other institutions/orchestras in these times of collapsing commercial sponsorship etc.)

Since Roger Wright took over as controller of Radio Three, its entire programming is divided up into a patchwork of chat-shows ('The .... Show', 'Breakfast' etc.) with a host for each who feels it is a part of his/her image to make silly personal remarks about the private love-lives of long-dead human beings or the supposed mercenary motivations which gave rise to the greatest masterpieces, or ill-informed casual comments about the musical significance of the snippet or complete pieces they play. I have never heard one of these shows which has not been filled with elementary factual errors, e.g. the wrong recording being played - without comment or correction.

The supercilious ignorant arrogant commercialism and snobbery that is required of broadcasters nowadays has little room for anybody else's.


That link doesn't seem to work. Let's see if this copy will work better:

  Re: BBC & New Music  MartinY at 20:38 on 12 February 2009

Misusc is clearly right. I thought there was much more on average because I look for it and ignore lots of other stuff which gives you a false impression that it is about 2 per cent. Sadly I spotted the Murail broadcast and completely forgot about it a hour later.

I was thinking BBC 4 (digital TV) had some things broadcast but come to think of it the last contempory piece was probably right back in August 2008........... (No there has been a broadcast of the Birtwistle Minotaur from the ROH since then, but that was probably the only other broadcast)...... Sorry can't be more precise as I have to get ready for yet another long journey.

  Re: BBC & New Music  MartinY at 09:57 on 10 March 2009

Misuc calculated in one week earlier this year that the BBC broadcast slice for contemporary classical music was 0.4 percent. As we have said in other forums BBC Radio 3 is doing a bit better this week, especially helped by Ligeti being this week's composer.

I was looking at some 6 year old figures for the total income taken at box office and CD sales etc. and came up with the rough figure of 0.04 percent for contemporary classical music. On reflection this might be right as the figures extracted from Radio 3 could easily be biased by a factor of 10 against lots of big ticket popular music. There will be proper figures somewhere and I might look for them......

  Re: BBC & New Music  Misuc at 11:52 on 10 March 2009

That's interesting research, Martin.

Re the BBC vs the box-office etc. of course we know that commerce - and what could be more commercial than your average symphony orchestra? - is never going to give any priority to living composers [except as an occasional gimmick]. The point about dead composers - especially the immortal ones - is that the investment is minimal [the performers know it all] and the returns never-ending. I believe classical music is reckoned to be more profitable than pop.

Is the existence of non-commercial music compatible with the 'free market'? [we could equally ask whether the car-industry or the steel industry or banking is compatible with the 'free market'?] But that is why we have supposedly non-commercial institutions like the BBC. That is what they are there for: to ensure that not everything is drowned in the deluge of profit-maximising ploys: that some vital sparks of creative intelligence are preserved for future generations....

Anyway, what I wanted to ask Martin, if he has the time or the resources, is: can he estimate were things different - and how - in the days of Glock and Boulez?

  Re: BBC & New Music  MartinY at 15:11 on 10 March 2009

I will try and find whether the figures are accessible in any meaningful way as a function of time. Even if it is not complete it might be possible to extrapolate but unless the figures are available for the period when Boulez was in London it would not be possible to see any clear effect.

The minimal investment point is very relevant. One of the sources I was reading pointed out that American educational publishers were very fond of Kabelevsky. Because the Soviet Union was not a signatory to copyright treaties all Soviet composers were fair game unless they had works published through Western intermediaries.