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    HomeCANADA ENTERTAINMENTOpinion | Why is CBC radio forgetting its classical music lovers?

    Opinion | Why is CBC radio forgetting its classical music lovers?



    Institutions change, and the CBC is certainly one of them.

    That realization was introduced dwelling lately by a brand new guide concerning the historical past of CBC radio and “art music,” which led me to consider Ben Heppner and the venerable broadcast establishment. While I’d grown up with the CBC’s protection of classical music, I’d listened most lately to Heppner on the ultimate broadcast of his opera program “Backstage” final September. These two occasions struck in me a type of nostalgia: they made me understand that the CBC’s protection of classical music merely ain’t what it was.

    Ben had stunned me by turning into a radio host within the first place. He confessed on air that it had really been his ambition since listening to Howard Dyck host “Saturday Afternoon at the Opera,” which Dyck hosted. After all, right here was Canada’s best tenor, a world opera star, whom I had heard on the Metropolitan Opera and Salzburg Festival, amongst different far-flung locations. What possessed him?

    For eight years we heard Heppner’s reply. After experiencing intermittent vocal issues and looking out ahead to the potential of a brand new profession, he had found this new position for his voice. Succeeding Dyck on “Saturday Afternoon” in addition to establishing a brand new opera program, “Backstage,” he rapidly proved himself to be a radio animal, comfy with the casual relationship between broadcaster and listener.

    The CBC wasn’t at all times so casual. Growing up in Vancouver a long time in the past, I keep in mind concert events by its nationwide community of orchestras, providing typically difficult music and sometimes clever commentary. It was a severe enterprise.

    Those days are historical past now. The orchestras and concert events have disappeared and so has a lot of the vital commentary related to them. To be blunt about it, from a musical perspective, CBC English-language radio has dumbed down.

    All of which makes the latest look of the aforementioned guide well timed. “John P.L. Roberts, the CBC/Radio Canada and Art Music,” (from Cambridge Scholars Publishing and edited by Friedemann Sallis and Regina Landwehr) expands on a two-day symposium held in 2015, marking Roberts’ donation of his papers to the University of Calgary. Among his a number of appointments, the Australian-born pianist-educator-administrator was dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts on the college from 1987 to 1995.

    But as he can be fast to acknowledge, the seminal interval in his lengthy life (he’s at the moment a nonagenarian) was the simply over 30 years he spent as a producer, administrator and adviser to the CBC.

    As the guide makes clear, these now seem to have been golden years and Roberts was the proper man in the proper place to make factor occur.

    Hired by CBC Radio in 1955 and despatched to Winnipeg, he wound up producing a broadcast of the Beethoven First Piano Concerto that includes a younger pianist he had by no means heard of named Glenn Gould. The lifelong friendship that adopted their assembly led to the pianist’s introducing Roberts to the world of Canadian music and the producer fostering Gould’s singular profession with the CBC.

    Gould not solely appeared frequently on CBC radio and tv (sure, CBC tv used to supply classical music applications), he invented a brand new style he dubbed contrapuntal radio, developed in a collection of meticulously edited documentaries. Throughout this era Roberts, notably in his position as head of radio music, cultivated Gould’s creativity and that of Canadian musicians throughout the nation.

    He rapidly expanded the company’s commissioning and presentation of recent Canadian music, advocated establishing the CBC’s personal document label (now sadly defunct) and gave “classical music” a prominence it has since misplaced. The particulars of his challenges and achievements are chronicled within the pages of the guide, which isn’t a lot what one would characterize as “a good read” a lot as a priceless useful resource for these eager about studying extra about broadcasting in Canada.

    Canadian society has modified significantly since Roberts’ arrival and defenders of as we speak’s CBC would in all probability argue that the company has tried to mirror these adjustments. As the guide factors out, “so-called serious music had an advantage in Canadian cultural policy until the late 1960s at least, because no one involved in policy decisions considered popular music as a suitable vehicle for establishing or promoting Canadian cultural identity.”

    That angle has modified. With Heppner’s “Backstage” showing solely as reruns, and regardless of “Saturday Afternoon at the Opera” nonetheless airing (introduced by Kwagiulth and Stó: lō First Nations mezzo-soprano Marion Newman — Nege’ga), a lot of what I hear might simply be heard on a business station.

    Why, I’m wondering, ought to authorities be subsidizing the CBC to supply what’s already out there on business radio? Like Britain’s BBC, after which it was largely modelled, it initially had increased objectives. Isn’t it time for correct authorities funding to save lots of the CBC from enjoying the numbers sport, and isn’t it time for correct management inside the CBC to purpose for increased cultural requirements?


    William Littler is a Toronto-based classical music author and a contract contributing columnist for the Star.


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