It’s a good sign for the future direction of ABC Classic FM that the station is currently giving great national coverage of the AYO National Music Camp in Adelaide, in a month that usually brings a dearth of classical concerts, except for welcome festivals out of town.
This new year will bring changes to ABC Classic FM, as to the wider broadcaster. Some are as a consequence of reduced funding, but some changes should be particularly welcomed. It’s tempting to hark back to the “good old days” when the ABC owned the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and major symphony orchestras throughout the country – and broadcast everything they played, or so it seemed.
But the performance landscape has changed dramatically, especially as those orchestras are no longer ABC orchestras, and there are far more players including chamber groups, choirs and smaller orchestras for the ABC to record. (For a clearer understanding of the history read David Garrett’s fascinating account The Accidental Necessity: ABC involvement with the Australian orchestras). Garrett writes, “The ABC showed a way of forming and managing symphony orchestras at a professional level. Even now that the orchestras are no longer ABC orchestras, the ABC provides broadcasting outlets which can only help orchestral music continue to thrive.”
Classic Melbourne also notes that the online site continues to develop with its podcasts and background stories, clearly offering a service that was not possible in the “good old days”. Another innovation, ABC Classic 2, also brings benefits as a complementary service to the main station, and – while purists may not like it – there are many listeners who appreciate a constant flow of classical music. It really isn’t an “either/or” situation.
Manager of ABC Classic FM, Richard Buckham, is enthusiastic about what 2015 has in store and gave Classic Melbourne some background. Moving jazz programs to Radio National (they are not disappearing!) will free up airspace for two new classical programs. But this has already received some flak from Nick Galvin at the Sydney Morning Herald. In a flurry of inverted commas, Galvin writes:
“Sunday Live will be replaced by a two-hour program called Sunday Recital at the later time slot of 5pm, displacing the existing Jazztrack. That program will consist of recorded performances of ‘smaller-scale music performances’ by the ABC’s ‘broadcast partners’, said Buckham. ‘We won’t be staging a free concert every week around the country any more,’ he said.
“However, his assertion that the concerts would ‘occasionally go live’ has also been questioned”, says Galvin, quoting ‘a source’ as saying *“Nobody puts on a concert at 5 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon – it’s just not going to happen.”
Galvin’s piece expressed fears and outrage from “sources” about the changes but his piece was short on evidence that these were likely, let alone inevitable. Buckham explained to Classic Melbourne that Sunday Recital will indeed replace Sunday Live but will be two hours, not one, and will be a broadcast of a concert recorded live in the past week. (The timeslot might not be ideal for an actual live concert, but would be fine for a broadcast). These will be recordings of concerts given around Australia presented by Musica Viva, the ACO, ABO, and others, hopefully including series such as the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Local Heroes.
If so, the only people to nurse a grievance might be those who have enjoyed being part of the audience – usually at the ABC studios – for a free one-hour concert on a Sunday afternoon. The writer is among them, but suggests an alternative might be to explore more live concerts and pay the (often very reasonable) fees to support the musicians, and listen to the rest on radio as usual! (Classic Melbourne’s calendar will be of assistance as it develops this year).
For its part, Classic Melbourne urges ABC Classic FM to be open to seeking out gigs and featuring new music and emerging artists as it has done with many Sunday Live concerts. Hosting the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition, as well as the ABC-Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards will keep Classic FM and its listeners in touch with live performances. Buckham asserts that, “In 2014 we increased the number of live broadcasts and recently recorded concerts in our schedule, so that you could hear most Australian concerts either live or within a week of performance. We’ll continue that pattern this year”.
A commitment to “at least one Australian concert every day” is a good beginning. It’s worth reading the full statement of Classic FM’s plans for 2015, and signing up from the site for regular newsletters. Classic Melbourne urges listeners to continue their support for ABC Classic FM, a great station doing its best – and a very good best, at that – under somewhat straightened circumstances. Remember, it didn’t cut its own budget!
Picture: The Bishop Orchestra begins rehearsals with Douglas Boyd for the 2015 AYO National Music Camp concert.
Editor’s note: * The assertion that “Nobody puts on a concert at 5 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon” is incorrect. The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra does so when in Melbourne and there are many smaller concerts in Melbourne on Sunday afternoons whose start time might well be rescheduled to accommodate broadcasting needs. We expect the same is true of many other places throughout Australia.