From Rob Teehan in Canada comes the following, posted as a comment to another post, but worth attention on its own. Thanks for this, Rob:
Up here in Canada there have been a lot of developments at the CBC, our flagship public broadcaster, that I’m sure you’d be interested in, if you’re not already aware of them. First off, the CBC announced recently that it would be scaling back its classical programming on CBC Radio 2 in favour of other genres.
Second, the CBC recently announced that it would disband the CBC Radio Orchestra in favour of more geographically-diverse broadcasting of orchestra concerts. Based in Vancouver, it was the last Radio Orchestra in North America and has been important to the Canadian classical scene, producing many recordings and, especially, commissioning and performing Canadian compositions. But recent budget cutbacks had reduced all of these activities drastically.
Chris Foley has some comprehensive coverage, especially of the latter development, on his Collaborative Piano Blog:
These two developments have caused a wail of outcry from the Canadian classical community, and, more tellingly, a wail of silence from the rest of the country. I would be very interested in your opinion on this, as I’m sure would many others.
Yes, an outcry from classical music people, and silence from everyone else — we’ve seen that before. Certainly that happened in New York when WNYC, our public radio station, cut back on classical programming. (Though they didn’t abandon classical music. Just look where they’ve taken it.)
So what explains this? Lack of interest in classical music from the world at large (surely no surprise, given the directions current culture goes in). And yelps of pain from classical music people, who get genuinely hurt when they see this lack of interest forcing classical music cutbacks.
Because those cutbacks really are necessary. Yes, any organization has a little wiggle room, in deciding what to present, and yes, an organization really committed to classical music might settle for fewer listeners, lower income, fewer people buying tickets, or whatever the applicable hit to their bottom line might be. But there have to be limits. If the CBC finds that the expense of maintaining an orchestra just isn’t worth it, given (let’s say) the number of people who listen when the orchestra plays, who can blame them? They have a large operation to run, and can’t keep pouring resources into classical music if most of their listeners don’t pay attention. (Some stats from WNYC, when it cut back on classical broadcasting: 80% of their listeners turned the dial to another station when classical music came on, and the listeners who did care about classical music — and angrily threatened boycotts when the cutbacks came — gave less money to the station, in proportion to their numbers, than listeners who didn’t care about classical music.)
So the CBC cutbacks shouldn’t be a surprise. My only question might be whether they’ve considered alternative classical programming, like WNYC’s. And instead of an orchestra, what would happen if they supported a much smaller ensemble, playing much more varied classical music, much of it new? Or else replaced the orchestra with live broadcasts of groups they bring in from outside? We shouldn’t think there’s only one classical audience, or just one kind of classical music. As I’ve said here before (see the links above), there’s a new classical music world emerging, complete with new programming and a new audience. Wouldn’t this audience be found in Canada as well as the U.S.? (Though I do understand that the CBC broadcasts nationally, and might not have as large — percentagewise — an alternative audience as the one WNYC can find in New York,)