Magazine article The Spectator

Eavesdropping for Free

Magazine article The Spectator

Eavesdropping for Free

Article excerpt

Amid the fear and drear of cuts, and yet more cuts, Radio 3 has offered its fans an adrenaline boost by suddenly announcing a huge increase in the number of 'live' performances on the station. 'It's not about cost, ' says Roger Wright, the controller, 'it's about the distinctiveness of the Radio 3 brand.' By the middle of May, he promises, Performance on 3 will be truly live every weekday evening, and not just a specially recorded concert, broadcast a few nights, or weeks later. Instead of performing to just a couple of thousand in the Barbican, say, or the Usher Hall in Edinburgh, orchestras, wind bands, quartets and soloists will have an audience of a couple of million listeners who'll be eavesdropping free of charge on some of the best music happenings around the country.

What a brilliant ruse. Intimations of rising costs can be countered by the fact that it costs little more to broadcast live than it does to 'specially record'. Accusations of metropolitan bias, of not serving the broader public, of being too elitist can be offset by showing that the concerts will be broadcast from venues all over the UK (from Kirkwall to St Ives) and from just-beginning artists as well as the big names. Anyone with a radio set will be able to eavesdrop for free on those occasional moments when the music takes off and black notes upon a page are turned by artistic self-expression into something beyond words, beyond description.

Back in 1946, when the Third Programme was relaunched after the war, its mission was to do something every evening 'that is culturally satisfying and significant'. By this the BBC's director-general, Sir William Haley, KCMG, meant 'live performance'. It's the core function of the BBC to promote such artistry and make it available to those who can't afford seats in the concert hall or opera house, or who can't have access to them.

Just four years ago, there were big cutbacks in the amount of 'live' music on Radio 3, sacrificed to the demands of new technology and smooth programming. Now it's back, thanks to the very same technological developments, which have created the fear that the station will be threatened if it loses its distinctiveness as the most democratic, most varied, most cost-effective broadcaster of live music. Hoorah.

Only on The Archers, you might think, would a village pleb swoon at the mere sight of a member of the royal family as she deigned to visit Grey Gables, the country hotel on the periphery of Ambridge.

But when Lynda Snell wept with ecstasy as HRH The Duchess of Cornwall gave her a smile and a gracious wave of the hand as her charabanc swept her home to Highgrove, Lynda was not acting as daft as all that. …

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