Perhaps not quite. But. Not so long ago, I wrote some rather grumpy things about Concert FM, and more particularly, its presenters. In truth, everything I said still stands - the same things still annoy me to the same degree (although I'm trying harder to be tolerant).
But whether or not my own criticisms are justified, there's one thing of which I'm growing ever more certain - they're just not a very big deal. A post by Alex Ross last week about the decision by WETA, Washington DC's public radio station, to drop classical music programming in favour of an all-talk format because "We're in the business of trying to create a larger audience and have more people join our station" (read more here) was a genuine shock to me: I didn't really realise things were in that sort of state. But then I remembered something Lisa Hirsch of Iron Tongue of Midnight wrote a couple of months ago, about the equally desperate plight of classical radio in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was just as stunned then, too. The existence of multiple opera houses and real-deal concert halls, and legions of renowned orchestras in the States has, I suppose, caused me to assume that the radio situation was likewise more robust than here. But it seems not. Five minutes' research throws up this post by the frightening A.C. Douglas, which includes the following:
National Public Radio -- that thirty-years-old bastion of high-grade programming presumed free from the strictures and pressures of ratings and money-grubbing commerce -- has, for the express purpose of attracting more listeners and thereby increasing donations, recently made the decision to dump a major portion of its cultural programming in favor of more news, news-talk, and expanded coverage of the pop culture scene
This is scary. And then here there's more:
The number of classical music radio stations in the US has shrunk to 30-some commercial outlets and a little more than 100 public channels, and new casualties are added with each year. Longtime Chicago classical station WNIB was recently sold and no longer plays classical, and Washington station WETA is eroding its music schedule in favor of more news/talk. Many mid-size American cities no longer have radio stations that play classical. Those that do (and are successful at it) are accused of dumbing-down their play-lists, till they are little more than a background pacifier. [The original post contains relevant links and is worth a look.]
Call me naïve, but I had no idea. Not just no idea that things were getting so dire - I had no idea we were so lucky. Irritating presenters are nothing, given the absolutely outstanding programming we get from Concert FM. Personally speaking, there's a good deal of music played which is not my cup of tea - but I think this is an excellent thing. This is not a station which caters to the 'World's Best Relaxing Adagios'-buying crowd. In fact, I've heard the blush in the announcer's voice as he told us that 'Best Relaxing Classics' was included in one night's overnight programme.
Era-wise, the programming goes right through from the medieval to the 21st century. There's some jazz and world music (complained about recently in letters to the editor of the Listener) but not a whole lot, and what there is - although not my thing - is intelligently handled. There's a healthy proportion of New Zealand music, and good number of excellent locally-produced documentaries, as well as the crème de la crème of imported programming. Every Sunday at 3pm, there's an opera. Right now it's the current Met broadcast season, but we've had all sorts of things: a good dose of core repertoire, including New Zealand productions of Falstaff and L'elisir d'amore, but also plenty of unusual, unexpected pieces too. All in all, it's a very balanced diet, with no dumbing down, no crossover and some genuine challenges. I, of course, wouldn't say no to an utterly unbalanced diet of sopranos, but objectively speaking, it's very good indeed. And unlike KDFC, which Lisa Hirsch talks about (no vocal music, basically) there's definitely a fair share of everything: enough singing to keep me happy, plus plenty of string quartets, oboists, brass bands, baroque ensembles and everything else you could name (I'm told there was someone on the glass harp this morning!). There's always a 'Composer of the Week', often not an individual composer but a uniting theme which makes for some interesting daily programmes: 20th century French organists, musical settings of Faust, 'Songs without words' (not just Mendelssohn) and contemporaries of Mozart, to name just a very few. And did I mention it's 100% government funded? No ads - unless (ha ha) you count promos for classical music events.
I think I've taken this station for granted for too long. To think that I've complained because there weren't enough sopranos programmed that week, or because Lucia Popp would only appear twice during the month. True, the live opera situation here could do with some help, but it seems we've a lot to be grateful for in our radio station. Long may it continue.
Now listening to: Ruth Ann Swenson: Positively Golden. 'O beau pays de la Touraine'. Les Huguenots. Giacomo Meyerbeer.