Sunday, August 31, 2008

Farewell to Radio Two

We lost. For the past five months, the Canadian classical music community has been united in denouncing the ill-planned and foolish decision to remake CBC Radio Two as an "adult contemporary" station. We signed petitions, staged protests, and wrote letters to newspapers, politicians, and members of the CBC administration. The CBC's response was to stop its ears and to send out infuriating form letters ("Thank you for your interest in CBC Radio Two. Enclosed please find a brochure detailing the exciting new changes to our programming next September!")

The old programming had been watered down over the course of several years, and was severely flawed. But I kept listening, because it was the best option available on commercial radio, and because so many of the hosts displayed such immense knowledge and enthusiasm about the music they played. Often, the CBC hosts came out with interesting music I would otherwise never have listened to - a symphony by Edgar Bainton, or a concerto by C. P. E. Bach. Starting Tuesday, that era is over, and the CBC will have lost me as a listener.

The CBC, as an independent broadcaster, is of course free to play whatever they want on their airwaves. And my musical life will go on - I can listen to my own recordings, to Internet radio, or attend live performances. But the affair has left a bad taste in my mouth because of the bull-headed, ideological stance of the CBC administration. They seem to have ignored every opportunity for public consultation on their programming change, while taking every possible chance to portray its classical audience as a bunch of aging, conservative reactionaries. As exhibit A, compare these blurbs for the CBC's new Internet radio channels - one dedicated to classical music, another to Canadian singer-songwriters, and a third to contemporary compositions:
Classical: CBC Classical is the online home of all the great classical music from across the centuries uninterrupted 24 hours a day. You'll hear the music of the great classical composers performed by the best Canadian and international orchestras, chamber ensembles and soloists. CBC Classical is the perfect at home or in the office companion for those who love wall to wall classical music.

Canadian Songwriters: CBC Canadian Songwriters is a celebration of the Canadian Song. From Gordon Lightfoot, to Bruce Cockburn to Alex Cuba, to Feist to Basia Bulat to Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor. CBC Canadian Songwriters - Canadian songs and songwriters at their best 24 hours a day.

Canadian Composers: CBC Canadian Composers features the entire range of music composed by Canada's great composers and performed by our premiere ensembles. From John Weinzweig to Christos Hatzis, CBC Canadian Composers presents the best from Canada’s rich homegrown music community.
The "Canadian Songwriters" blurb informs the reader concisely what sort of music one can expect to hear on the channel. The "Classical" blurb compensates for its total vagueness about the actual content of the new channel (orchestral? opera? chamber music? Messiaen organ works?) with appeals to our snobbery ("the great classical composers", "the best . . . orchestras. . .and soloists") and potshots at our supposed conservatism and intolerance of other musical styles ("uninterrupted . . . wall to wall classical music").

Meanwhile, the ghettoization of all contemporary composition into a separate channel confirms my worst fears: the CBC's "classical" programming is to consist entirely of the sort of vapid eighteenth- and nineteenth-century music you hear in hotel lobbies. The previews for Julie Nesrallah's new classical show confirm this impression - she seems like a nice enough person, but the choice of music for her preview is hardly encouraging (one of the Brandenburg concerti, a bit of the exposition of Beethoven's Fifth, and "Nessun Dorma"). To me, the whole point of listening to radio is to hear the host make those unexpected connections between different pieces: familiar and unknown, ancient and contemporary. If the CBC's classical programming is to stick to repertoire we know backwards and forwards, why not just put on a CD?

At the end of the day, it seems obvious that CBC has no interest in maintaining classical music programming. Between its unencouraging choices of programming (does Richard Stursberg really think that I would like to hear Tom Allen play Jully Black first thing in the morning?) and its obvious disdain for its listeners, I will no longer be listening to CBC Radio Two. It remains to be seen whether the CBC will have any success in attracting new audiences, but it has certainly succeeded in driving away its old one.


Boy, that was depressing.


diplomatizer said...

I really wish that I could lay blame for this whole debacle with the current government (given their unforgivable actions against arts & culture in recent weeks), but the saddest part of all is that the CBC acted completely independently. Even some Tory MPs and senators were willing to step in and stop this foolishness, which goes to show how wrong-minded Stursburg & co. are.

Anonymous said...

I left a comment on the Radio Two blog yesterday, but I will also be writing a formal letter explaining exactly why the CBC has lost me as a listener. We've tried listening to Tom Allan's new schtick, but the radio's always gone off within ten minutes of being turned on.

I think I will be trying BBC Radio 3, at least while I'm on the interweb. I'll let you know how that goes.