THE ROGER WRIGHT
Interviewer: Ian Lace
Roger Wright is Controller BBC Radio
The questions below
have been posed by the Classical Music
Editor and contributors – reviewers
and article writers – to MusicWeb International
First, a note of thanks:
for the often fascinating repertoire
– material sourced from Radio France,
Bulgaria and Estonia etc. – broadcast
through the night, and the quantity
and quality of information on the BBC
Radio 3 web site. We are also pleased
to learn about the imminent extensive
coverage of the works of Tchaikovsky
and Stravinsky, plus the complete symphonic
cycle of Arnold Bax – and the imaginative
concept Music and Words featuring classical
music alongside poetry and prose readings,
to mention but two of the more welcome
offerings across the new BBC Radio 3
(Ian Lace – I.L.)
What is your vision
for the future of BBC Radio 3, how far
does the new schedule align with that
vision and how might the schedule develop?
How do you envisage
the positioning of BBC Radio 3 in relation
to Classic FM.?
BBC Radio 3 (Roger
Radio 3 will continue to be the UK’s
leading cultural broadcaster, with an
emphasis on live music and the arts.
3 does not position itself in relation
to any other broadcaster. It offers
a unique role in the UK radio market
and plays its part in the overall BBC
I.L. In drafting
your future plans, what steps were taken
to consult listeners? Can you give us
examples of items in these schedules
- changes prompted by listener input?
What mechanisms and forums are in place
and used on a regular basis by which
Radio 3 management can obtain feedback
from listeners and take their views
into account in planning the style and
content of the station’s output? Granted
that many opinions oppose and cancel
each other out (e.g. some listeners
are deploring the shifting of ‘Choral
Evensong’ to Sundays whereas others
are perfectly happy with that arrangement),
but there is a general feeling that
BBC Radio 3 too often ignores a significant
number of listeners’ opinions and wishes.
take views from our listeners all the
time – in a variety of ways – research
groups, letters, phone calls, E-mails,
etc. All these varied (and often conflicting!)
views were taken into account when we
considered the schedule changes. For
example a number of listeners wanted
more classical music after 9.30pm. and
many wanted Composer of the Week at
an earlier time in the evening – hence
the changes to the evening schedule.
in the end, it is our job to take editorial
decisions and that often means leading,
rather being led by, the audience.
I.L. There is
concern about BBC Radio 3’s tendency
to ‘dumb down’.
(a) The inconsequential
chat of In Tune’s Sean Rafferty is instanced
– more intelligent and informative material
please. Furthermore, MusicWeb contributors
fear that there will be yet more presentations
of such programmes as the Proms by well-known
popular ‘personalities’. Such people
are manifestly non-musicians and all
too often their comments come over as
superficial or even simply ill-informed.
Could we have assurances to the contrary
[It has to be said
though, that we have no objection to
lucid, non-stuffy, enthusiastic contributions
from informed non-musicians such as
Ken Russell, Andrew Motion, David Dimbleby
and David Mellor.]
(b) We are also concerned
about the equally irritating practise
of playing ‘bleeding chunks’- just one
or two movements of a work. May we be
assured that this will be either outlawed
or at least minimised?
question of presenters and presentation
style is a hugely personal one and is
not a new debate. The regular team of
Radio 3 presenters will continue to
present the Proms on Radio 3.
will continue to play complete works.
However there are times, as in the past,
when it is appropriate to play movements
or excerpts from certain pieces when
it makes editorial sense.
I.L. There is
a concern that the music broadcast on
BBC Radio 3, at times, is too far outside
its basic remit. Disproportionate interest
in world music is instanced and one
contributor comments: "Radio 3's
'Late Junction' in particular includes
a breath of music so wide that
at times that it could often be easily
played comfortably on Radio 1 and Radio
2. It could be contended that so many
varying styles of music played on Radio
3, in addition to the predominant 'classical
music' could make the audience confused
and gives the station a reputation for
being a dumping-ground for music that
it doesn't know what to do with.
commented: "The BBC has a portfolio
of radio stations and the different
genres should be distributed among them
rationally. Why must Radio 3 reflect
a wider range of tastes than Radio 1
(pop music targeted at the 15 - 24-year-olds),
Radio 1Xtra (new black urban music for
a young audience) or 6 Music (pop music
of the 1970s to the present, targeted
at the 25 - 44-year-olds)?"
Your comments please
3 has for many years included a broad
range of music – jazz has been broadcast
since the early 60s. Indeed there are
some listeners who only come to Radio
3 for our jazz or world music. However
it remains a small percentage of our
overall music output.
is important to remember that there
are many members of our audience who
are classical music lovers but who would
love to see programmes like Late Junction
expanded and increased. We need to find
ways to respect the tastes of other
classical music will remain the vast
majority of the output of Radio
3’s music programming, but the joy of
discovery of other musics, cultures
and ideas has always been central to
Radio 3’s public service remit.
I.L. There has
been much media debate about the implications
of the proposals to broadcast concerts
etc not as truly "live" but on a deferred
relay basis. One contributor writes,
"what are we to make of a publicly
funded radio station, primarily concerned
with art music, cutting the majority
of live broadcasts of concerts? Surely
one of the first priorities of Radio
3 must be the championing of live music
making in the UK?
Can you please give
the following assurances:
a) There will be no
reduction in the number of transmission
hours per week devoted to live or deferred
relay concerts, recitals and operas.
b) There will be no
reduction in the BBC's commitment to
its in-house orchestras as a result
of these schedule changes - i.e. no
reduction in the amount of their output
that is broadcast and no amalgamations
or closures of orchestras or redundancies
the new schedule there is an increase
in the amount of live and specially
recorded music. There is no reduction
to the commitment to the BBC performing
to pre-recorded concerts is, for many,
a poor substitute for live broadcasting,
many of us fear that there will be a
loss of quality and of course the sense
of immediacy. We understand that one
reason given for no longer transmitting
live concerts was that their timing
is too irregular for a fixed radio station
and wreaks havoc on the start times
of other programmes?
But doesn’t the BBC
stop everything for football?
BBC does not stop everything for football,
but that is irrelevant.
are no winners and losers in music making.
listeners have not responded negatively
to the concerts, recitals and operas
which we have recorded. The difference
is between hearing live performances
and those on CD and the amount of live
and specially recorded music is more
than 50% of our music output.
I.L. It seems
that a lot of prestigious concerts and
operas are to be broadcast during weekday
afternoons. This will do nothing for
the working listener who can't listen
via the internet or who obstinately
prefers the medium of radio. Why
is it thought necessary to broadcast
such items at a time when many listeners
won't be able to tune in? And why not
repeat these prestigious concerts at
varying times of the day?
And many are unhappy
about the consequential loss of lighter
late afternoon programmes such as those
presented by Brian Kay and Edward Seckerson.
Your comments please
are times when we really can’t win with
those who are out in the evening they
say please put something on during the
day, those who are working want it in
the evening and those who want things
repeated clash with those listeners
who want something new. We try to strike
a balance but will never be able to
please everybody all the time. I am,
though, delighted that we are now able
to introduce complete operas in the
afternoon. The recent Opera North "Peter
Grimes" was hugely enjoyed.
far as the loss of some of our 4 p.m.
programme is concerned I can only offer
the views of some listeners (who are
not alone in their views):
new Radio 3 schedule is appreciated
and a welcome change. This afternoon
was an absolutely tremendous programme.
It was of such a high standard. Thank
you ever so much."
am very happy with the changes that
Radio 3 has made to the afternoon schedule.
As far as I am concerned, more programmes
devoted to orchestral music can only
be a good thing."
of Brian Kay's Light Programme we now
have Dukas, Hindemith, Franck, Haydn
I am celebrating."
of ‘dumbing down’ why ‘not un-dumb up’?
Should it not be a responsibility of
BBC Radio 3 to educate, particularly
younger potential listeners, especially
those who may not have had the opportunity
of learning to listen to classical music?
You might recall the
Anthony Hopkins’ Talking About Music
school of music, broadcast all those
years ago on Sunday afternoons on what
was then the BBC Third Programme. Hopkins
straightforwardly analysed basic repertoire
works. There were other excellent programmes
like Composer and Interpreter in which
contrasting interpretations of, say,
all the Beethoven symphonies were discussed
and played. If such programmes are in
the BBC archives can they not be re-broadcast
or new ones in the same mould conceived;
but, please, introduced by musicians
or knowledgeable people who can communicate,
It is noted that Discovering
Music is to be retained and expanded
but from a glance at this programme’s
more ‘advanced’ content in Radio Times
over the last few weeks, Discovering
Music hardly qualifies it as a basic
music appreciation teaching medium?
listener’s dumbing down is another listener’s
entry point to a world of music and
the arts. We seek to entertain, educate
and inform and Discovering Music is
certainly appreciated by the students
who use it as part of their GCSE study.
By the way "Talking About Music"
wasn’t always on the Third Programme.
It only transferred from the Home Service
to the Music Programme in 1964 – and
how the world has changed in the last
again is an example of some typical
views from our listeners about our new
am delighted to find the new changes
to your schedules. At last you seem
to be returning to your roots: 'proper'
music, intelligent commentary from knowledgeable
hosts, some great performances and good
Classical Collection: Will it explore
both new and historic recordings? Will
there be something of the same systematic
approach as adopted by CD Masters, i.e.
vintage artists and classical repertory
themes? Will there perhaps be a wider
remit of artists, including not only
vintage artists but also those with
an extensive range of recordings? (earlier
this year CD Masters had the oddly restrictive
notion that an artist should be 70;
thus Barenboim wasn’t admitted, although,
later on Pinnock was admitted at 60)
Will Classical Collection
use BBC sound archive recordings to
widen the scope of exploring historic
recordings more imaginatively? (Rather
weakly, CD Masters would only play recordings
that had at some time been commercially
available. It is understood there could
be rights/copyright issues if sound
archive recordings were made available
commercially but does the BBC not have
the right to broadcast from its own
archive, as recently with Choral Evensong?)
Will the best practice
of CD Masters be preserved in Classical
- items to be played, with times clearly
documented in Radio Times (essential
for listeners who like to order scores
on the internet or from their local
- a dedicated Message Board giving listeners
the opportunity to discuss recordings
played and presenters to respond to
listeners’ views and defend their own,
as well as giving listeners the opportunity
to request or suggest future broadcasts
- the selection of distinctive recordings
that are not currently available on
CD, including some that have never been
available on CD.
Collection is a new programme and will
contain new and legendary recordings.
I hope our listeners enjoy it.
BBC archive is not part of the brief
for Classical Collection but archive
recordings will continue to appear occasionally
in our schedule.
is currently no plan to have a dedicated
messageboard for Classical Collection
but we shall be adding some boards to
our current offering and we will consider
this once the programme has been launched.
I.L. Will BBC
Radio 3 maintain its commitment to new
music, commissioning music by contemporary
composers? Will Radio 3 continue to
foster the talent of younger promising
British composers and performers? If
so could you please identify one or
two such talents?
will remain the most significant commissioner
of new music in the world and continue
to commission new writing..
current roster of New Generation Artists
shows just some of the young talent
we are extensively supporting.
Other more specific
I.L. Some MusicWeb
contributors, including composer, Arthur
Butterworth, have expressed dismay at
BBC Radio 3’s neglect, even abandonment
of brass band music. Considering that
such composers as Elgar, Holst and Vaughan
Williams have written for that medium
how can such neglect be justified? Must
brass band music be regarded as a ‘cloth
cap’ art or something like a competitive
don’t regard brass band music in this
way. For those lovers of brass band
music we will never play enough, for
those who dislike it we play too much.
It will continue to be included occasionally
in our schedules.
I.L. Some feel
that organ music is likewise being neglected?
the above answer!
I.L. Would it
be possible to have a series on neglected
conductors: Ashley Lawrence, Stanley
Pope, Norman del Mar etc etc
continue to broadcast a range of artists
and consider all programme ideas. Thanks
for the suggestion.
advise on the planned future use of
the BBC tape library for repeat broadcasts
we repeat programmes we will obtain
the programmes from the tape library
– although we are now "tape free"
in our current recordings.
I.L. There is
a feeling that many 19th
century British composers are being
overlooked. More: German, Coleridge-Taylor,
Coates and Wood etc and less Britten,
Cage and Maxwell Davies, perhaps? Is
BBC Radio 3 planning to commemorate
the bicentenary of Balfe in 2008?
attempt to strike a balance in our output
and our recent coverage of British symphonies
has been warmly welcomed. We also always
try and reflect significant anniversaries.
contributors have asked if the following
composers might have some or increased
coverage: William Hurlstone, Alan Hovhaness
and Allan Pettersson
for the suggestions. I hope your contributors
enjoyed Alan Hovhaness as Composer of
I.L. Would it
be possible to have more downloads of
studio broadcasts and available from
the BBC Radio 3 web site server for
is a matter of regulation. The BBC Trust
has ruled that the BBC should not offer
downloads of classical music. This matter
is currently out for public consultation.
some technical questions. One contributor
feels: "The public is being softened
up for Radio 3 to go digital, before
other BBC radio channels, because it
is cheaper to produce than analogue
and I dispute the claim about purity
because the compression involved in
the process loses harmonics and downgrades
quality with DAB." Another commented:
"…I listened, for instance, to
a 2006 Prom broadcast of the Shostakovich
8 and switched off before the end because
of the poor sound quality, with so much
compression there was no genuine fortissimo…Why
is it that the new digital sound quality
is so much worse than how FM used to
a minority voice amongst us, contending
the ability to distinguish between a
‘live’ relay and a recorded one, commented
on the latter comment thus: "the
problem of "bandwidth squeezing" could
have something to do with it. If a "live"
relay is transmitted at a high bit-rate,
and a recorded one at a low bit-rate,
there will be a difference. Of course,
this will only apply to DAB. The whole
point of variable bandwidth was supposed
to be to optimise the traffic by transmitting
(e.g.) speech-only programmes at a lower
bit-rate, leaving more room for music
programmes at higher bit-rates. The
technicians know the relationship between
bit-rate and sound-quality. If inappropriate
bit-rates are being used,
somebody might be overruling the technicians?
– cost-scrutinising accountants, perhaps?
Would you please let
us have your comments
digital broadcasting might be cheaper
to produce than analogue but doesn’t
it use far more electrical power?
were indeed problems with the coding
on our DAB transmissions during the
2006 Proms for which we apologised and
which were subsequently rectified. Radio
3 still broadcasts at a higher bit-rate
than other BBC stations, although there
are times when this bit-rate has to
be reduced to accommodate other listeners’
desire to listen to other occasional
BBC stations. We know from our market
research that the majority of listeners
have switched to digital radio for the
choice of services.
electricity (power) consumed by a DAB
transmitter network to
deliver Radio 3 is substantially the
same as delivering Radio 3 from a
FM transmitter network. On receivers,
as we don't control the
manufacturers it is difficult to comment.
your interest and questions.