The BBC’s Culture Show ran a 30-minute special last night on Alfred Brendel. It went out at 11.20 pm and showed no more than 30 seconds at a stretch – at least so long as my eyelids stayed up – of the cheeky chappie doing what he used to do best, which is playing the piano.
Instead, the media-savvy conductor Charles Hazlewood quizzed Mr Brendel reverentially about his poetry, which he recited with seesawing eyebrows, a feat I have not seen replicated since the early years of television comedy.
Mr Hazlewood expressed polite surprise that the rhythm and metre of the poems was so musical. Mr Brendel was charmed by that exceptionally acute critical observation.
What was the BBC doing putting out such obsequious blether? Nothing for classical music.
Take one of the great living pianists, but don’t show him playing a movement of a Beethoven sonata. Oh no, that might lose audience share, even when the show is carefully put out after all but the night shift have gone to bed.
BBC Television is frightened and ashamed of classical music. Mark Thompson, the director general, wishes it were otherwise. But his policy directive has so far made no impact whatsoever on the production teams and the channel controllers.
Imagine what went on at the planning meeting.
Charlie: Alfred Brendel is about to retire – you know, the great pianist.
Adam: What does he play?
Charlie: Beethoven, Mozart, a little Schubert.
Adam: Not for our audience.
Charlie: He does other things, you know. He writes nonsense verse.
Adam: That’s interesting. Like Edward Lear, you mean?
Charlie: More T. S. Eliot.
Adam: Wasn’t he the one that wrote Cats with Andrew Lloyd Webber? OK, go for it – but no classical music, mind. Not on my watch.