Good music is good music and audiences are becoming more discerning about their eclectic music tastes, good art is good art, not seen in genre terms but quality terms and without prejudice. We are proud to be the foremost broadcaster of live classical and the majority of what we do, programming wise, is providing context and classical performance without a playlist.Alan Davey, Controller of BBC Radio 3, BBC Proms and BBC Performing Groups
Date: 26.01.2017 Last updated: 14.02.2017 at 14.48
Speech by Alan Davey, Controller of BBC Radio 3, BBC Proms and BBC Performing Groups, at the The Association of British Orchestras Conference in Bournemouth on 26 January 2017.
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Hello thanks for coming to our Pie and Hear - Pioneer session.
The theme of this conference is quite an apt topic for us. Radio 3, and by Radio 3 I mean the radio 3 family (BBC Proms, Orchestras and Choirs and the radio station), we thrive on disruption.
After all, what is a pioneer if it is not disrupting but creating and innovating?
From creating world records with Max Richter’s Sleep in 2015 to putting our presenters online and spending a day playing music with no introductions in 2016, from trying to physically expand the classical canon to be more representative, to turning over the station in-to-the hands of composers to curate in 2017 - more on that later - and our perpetual desire to rip up the schedule to try new things, like our Glass all-nighter on Saturday, as part of the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s sold out total immersion day on that composer.
Another of the BBC Orchestras, the BBC Phil, today have two of their Red Brick Sessions, concerts designed to create a more immersive musical experience, using ground-breaking new technology from BBC Research & Development, enabling the audience to receive synced information about the music and even view a live orchestral score in real time.
In the two years I’ve been controller there has been a lot of change within us and around us.
The whole media environment has been disrupted, new technology, new demands on audience time, new competitors in the media landscape, new ways to get news and entertainment, new ways to communicate and new information. All kinds of new players are fighting for a share of ears and attention, and audiences have more choices for where to go.
It means that all of us have to do what we do even better, be more distinctive, and continue to adapt and grow or wither on the vine, and that’s true not just for us at Radio 3, or the BBC, but for the whole cultural and classical sector we operate in too.
But I also truly believe this climate presents us with creative opportunities and there has never been a better time for us to work together more closely to achieve our aims.
Doom mongers have predicted with change or the changing media landscape and disruption comes death, death of the long form, death of the attention span and anxiety for classical music and opera.
John Adams, a very successful composer, recently expressed his worries for classical and opera on Radio 3’s Music Matters, fearing it wouldn’t withstand the future. If we weren’t creative, if we didn’t remain passionate and if we weren’t driven by that old fashioned certainty that what we do brings something intrinsically good for human beings, then perhaps things might wither. But after reformation comes counter-reformation, after the fast comes the desire for slow, and an immense opportunity for us all with our unashamedly slow content.
The ABO’s recently released figures show an increase in audiences to orchestral concerts of 3 per cent. Audiences for ourselves, including the Proms and our compañeros in broadcasting Classical music, are remaining strong and showing seeds of growth as people with genuine musical curiosity discover us.
Once again, more than 300,000 people attended the BBC Proms last year, with many concert-goers buying tickets for the first time, and millions more listening or watching at home. In fact, The BBC Proms 2016 season had the best performance on TV in five years. Cumulative reach across the season on UK TV topped 16 million viewers (well over a quarter of the UK population 27.2 per cent) and The Last Night of the Proms performed well with a peak of 4.5m viewers. We also had record online figures to the Proms webpage and the Radio 3 web page.
My point is that with the fast content world around us, there also comes an equal pull , a need to make space for slow time, reflective time. Which means now, more than ever everyone in this room is needed as producers of high quality stuff that makes lives better. The faster the world becomes, the more a conscience arises from audiences for time out, a thirst for enrichment, a place to think, slow radio, full length performances, expertise and things that take you out of yourself and show you what it’s like to be human.
So that is one thing consuming my mind. How can we as pioneers continue to disrupt in a world which is already disrupted. How can we continue to connect audiences to remarkable music and culture and give them an unfrenzied, gloriously slow take on the world with full length operas and concerts, dramas and sound art.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not burying my head in the sand. We need to acknowledge the faster world too, to help continue to develop different types of audiences and that’s certainly true when looking at younger audience habits in particular.
We ourselves, through our online offer, very much reflect the way people in the social and digital world interact, often with short videos shared on social media, inviting audiences to catch-up, snippets of programmes repackaged in new ways as an amuse bouche or substantial snack.
But also I think we need to be fearlessly bold in not apologising for what we do and intrinsically are.
As I said before, we cannot take for granted the ways that audience habits are changing thanks to disruption in the market and innovation.
In classical at the BBC we are responding to these on many levels, at a grassroots level, through new technology, ticket pricing and through concert staging and repertoire.
Following the success of Ten Pieces I for primary and II for secondary, Ten Pieces III will be launched later this month, with a new list of repertoire.
The third year of the initiative will focus on making the pieces available to a wider age group and encouraging participants to use the vast resources the programme has to offer, including online support and activity by orchestras and ensembles up and down the country, including those of the BBC. So far Ten Pieces has reached over 4 million school children across the UK and marks the biggest commitment the BBC has ever made to music education in our country.
We want to focus on habit-forming experiences not one-offs and we’ve had fantastic figures to show that after experiencing Ten Pieces I and II, children and their families have gone on to experience more classical music.
As part of the BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus and BBC Singers’ Total Immersion weekend dedicated to Philip Glass this weekend at the Barbican (broadcast on Radio 3), there will be a special free performance showcasing the results of a BBC SO and Proms Inspire learning project based on the music of Philip Glass. Just an example of the kind of outreach work everyone in this room is doing every day.
Other ways that we are trying to develop audiences, say, over on Radio 3 is by developing an after dark zone on the station, a genre-bending collection of programmes which stretch out and look at music as a whole, not in silos of style.
We’re sign posting audiences around more effectively across the whole schedule - for example putting contemporary - newly minted - music in breakfast, and better connecting the wonders of the late zone with what goes on earlier. We have brought contemporary music into the daylight and created new shows like The Listening Service to help look at what’s actually going on in music - part musicological part companion, and Exposure, a show we launched which takes a sample of the creative new music scene in cities around the UK regardless of genre, and incidentally aim to support live venues.
Good music is good music and audiences are becoming more discerning about their eclectic music tastes, good art is good art, not seen in genre terms but quality terms and without prejudice. We are proud to be the foremost broadcaster of live classical and the majority of what we do, programming wise, is providing context and classical performance without a playlist. There is no desire to move away from that, but what we do want to do is to make the right links between all of the content we provide. And making sure the Arts and Ideas programming complements the music and that the music programming works together.
This year marks the 90th anniversary of the BBC Proms being run and broadcast by the BBC. David Pickard is keenly looking at how we continue to reach new audiences, continually developing our family and learning programmes and for the first time last year, presenting concerts in new venues across London – for example in Peckham carpark and the Roundhouse, part of a plan to continue to diversify and attract new people to our concerts, that along with the continued commitment to cheap Promming tickets to see world class performances, and all broadcast on Radio 3 in beautiful sound.
The BBC Orchestras, independently of the BBC Proms for which they are the backbone, too are working hard and distinctively to offer new audiences different ways to experience classical music, from ticket deals to new initiatives.
BBC SSO is to shortly launch its Tectonics festival for 2017 a collection of orchestral concerts which re-imagines how orchestral music can be presented and performed with imaginatively staged concerts across City Hall and the fruit market in Glasgow with contemporary music at its core, curated by the SSO and broadcast on Radio 3. The festival attracts a younger audience and a staggering 67 per cent of the audience last year were new to the BBC SSO as part of this extraordinary event that the guardian dubbed Britain’s hippest orchestral festival.
The BBC Phil too continue to innovate, as I said earlier, today they are ambitiously performing two Red Brick Sessions in a day as part of a partnership with The University of Salford featuring new and rarely performed works, alongside more familiar orchestral pieces, the concert series radically transforms the way people experience an orchestra – with the hope being they bring classical music to a much wider and more diverse audience.
The marriage of technological innovation with artistic performance means that audiences are firmly encouraged to keep mobile devices switched on. The BBC Philharmonic is looking to build on its achievement in the months and years to come by offering audiences new ways to enjoy a wide variety of music.
On Tuesday, the orchestra will also announce the appointment of a new and exciting talent into its family. I’ve been sworn to secrecy on who the new talent is, but the announcement will be on BBC Radio 3 on Tuesday 31 January at 2pm so tune in (excuse the trailer) to hear how the orchestra will be continuing to shape its future and commitment to championing young talent.
One of the ways I think we can address and reach out to new audiences is through attracting the very best new talent and their creative visions. I’m delighted that the BBC orchestras and choirs continue to be a magnet for talent, We’re also delighted to have announced today that Dobrinka Tabakova will be joining the BBC Concert Orchestra as Composer in Residence this year.
The BBC Concert Orchestra and Radio 3 are also commissioning jazz artist, composer, former New Generation Artist and festival director, Trish Clowes to create a piece for a family concert later in the year.
Through all the opportunities that we have at our disposal as part of disruption and changing audiences demands, what matters is that we continue to attract and hire the very best creative people and hold on to the integrity and quality of our offer. It’s also important that we work together as an industry because we are stronger when we work together and we are all in this together – we need not only to attract new audiences as well as existing ones but also to reflect our audiences accurately.
Which brings me onto point three.
It’s fantastic that following on from the inaugural Radio 3, Basca and RNCM’s Diversity and Inclusion in classical music conference in October, diversity has been a key theme today and there have been so many valuable conversations here.
As many of you will know, diversity is a topic close to my heart for the Radio 3 family.
One of the more interesting assignments I have had in my career was working with Sir Brian McMaster on his report looking at how we describe and measure excellence in the Arts, and how we know if we are achieving it.
What Sir Brian concluded was that if art was to have any sense of relevance and integrity to audiences, and indeed to be truly excellent, it ought to draw on the full creative resource of Britain today, and therefore to reflect the extraordinarily diverse population of this country, and the tremendous creative strength that comes from culture that is open to development syncretically rather than separately – an approach that in many art forms, such as contemporary dance, has made us world leaders.
That’s why diversity becomes important in my current job, leading a number of creative parts of a great creative organisation – a radio network, a music festival and Orchestras and Choirs. It is clear that addressing diversity is the very least that we have to do to ensure the art form we love – classical music – remains as vibrant and exciting as we all know it to be.
At its heart it is about creating the conditions for creativity and talent to find itself – irrespective of background. If in making commissions, in building ensembles, in making programmes, in supporting talent, we are not opening up possibilities to those who have talent, if we are not devising ways of recognising that sometimes there are obstacles to be overcome to allow talent to shine, then we are missing something.
That something is purely and simply the creative possibilities - the great works and the great performances that we will lose if we do not open ourselves up to the true diversity that exists in this country and in the world, and which defines who we are as a society. Great art needs to reflect the society from which it emerges. For our part, we continue to let composers and artists take the reins of Radio 3 and make their mark on our network.
We acknowledge we have a huge role to play in helping to address diversity, as the people’s radio station – paid for by the licence fee – we need to reflect our people, the public who pay for us, but it is not something that we can do alone, we need you, our colleagues in the industry to come together to help tackle this issue alongside us.
For our part, I am proud to say that three years ago at this very conference we announced our first ever international women’s day programming of all female composers, led by my colleague Edwina Wolstencroft. At the time when we first did it, it felt bold given that so many in our sector said there wasn’t enough quality music by historic female composers. We most certainly proved those doubters wrong and we continue to fly the flag for female composers (historic and present day) throughout our schedule.
However there is an issue with finding the repertoire to play for some historic figures – not the quality or intrinsic interest – but the availability of scores, the recordings. That’s why at the end of last year we announced a project with the AHRC, working with the academic community to find and record and play newly recorded works by female composers, that can, in turn, enter the canon and help to address under representation.
This year on international women’s day we will be announcing who the composers are, and assigning them to the BBC Orchestras to create these recordings in order to play them on Radio 3. This is something only the BBC could do. It would be fantastic to have your support with this work and to keep these works alive, well after we have finished recording and, hopefully, their playing has become a regular fixture across our schedule.
This year, in line with our pioneering role, we will be moving the debate on inviting six female composers to guest edit and curate parts of our content on international women’s day for the first time. Each composer assigned to a different programme across the day. Alissa Firsova will be taking over Breakfast, Sally Beamish will be at the reins for Essential Classics, Tansy Davies will bring her thoughts to Afternoon on 3, Errollyn Wallen is curating In Tune, Annette Peacock will be in the studio for Late Junction, and Kerry Andrew is sharing her own Late Junction Mixtape.
Composers are key to what we do and they are at the very heart of Radio 3, the BBC Proms and BBC Orcs and choirs, which makes sense as we are the most significant commissioner of contemporary classical musical. With our Proms Inspire Scheme, BBC Classical Introducing Composers Scheme, and regular partnerships with the PRS for music foundation, the RPS, BASCA, Sound and Music and PRS for music, we’re delighted to regularly support the composing talent of tomorrow.
On international women’s day I can announce that we will have a brand new commission from Kate Whitley setting the text of the 2013 UN speech by Malala Yousafzai about the right of every girl to education to music for the first time, performed by the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales (who will be hosting this conference next year) and girls and boys of Gloucester Cathedral Choir. And there’s much more besides.
These are just some of the things we are planning, to continue to develop our work on under representation, but we are also keenly looking at BAME diversity. At the end of last year I pledged four changes to the way we do things to encourage greater diversity, from making our commissioning more transparent by opening it up to external observers, to giving a new commission to Chineke Orchestra. We can announce today that composer Hannah Kendall will create that commission.
We are also committing to ensuring diversity is a day-to-day part of the schedule, we’ll also be doing a Record Review with Chi-Chi Nwanoku to explore some favourite recordings of music by composers that deserve to be better known.
Julian Joseph has also been commissioned by BBC Radio 3 for the BBC Concert Orchestra for a contemporary Oratorio in Autumn 2018 at Southbank Centre. The cast will be diverse and the story is based on Tristan and Isolde. It’s a huge commission.
And there is more on the horizon throughout our regular programmes and orchestral content.
But that’s just what we are doing. As I said earlier, we’re all in this together, how can you help? We’d love to hear from you, we are willing and able partners, be pioneers with us. Talk to us about your ideas, let’s work together to help ensure we’re making classical truly representative, whether you are an orchestra, ensemble, industry organisation or fellow broadcaster. We should think of ourselves as part of a Great fellowship that has the primal need for people to experience the great resounding roar and delicate pleasure of classical music at its heart.
In making existing forgotten music available, in commissioning the new works that will draw the attention of our souls and make us think, in educating and supporting the talent of tomorrow , the more we can draw on all the talents of this country and support those who have something real to give, the more we will benefit music, and in the end, humanity itself. That’s something worth doing, and indeed fighting for.
You’ve heard some of the things we are doing and thinking about, some of my motivations in the oncoming year and what is driving us, but we genuinely can't do this without you, partnership is key.
At BBC Radio 3, we and BBC Music remain a very able and willing partner and there are many of our partner orchestras in the room who provide Radio 3 and the BBC Proms with content over the course of a year.
Partnership is important to us and we are always looking to work together to fulfil aims I mentioned earlier.
I think it’s important we value what we can offer each other.
When you partner with us you are not just partnering with Radio 3 you are entering the BBC family.
A family that consists of BBC Music on occasion BBC Arts both who have websites and social media which can help you to reach broader audiences
On occasion we’ll have marketing trails, press releases, programme information on the BBC website and syndication of listings to national and online media outlets which could expose your concerts to listeners on other BBC networks and other platforms such as BBC Music Magazine, the radio times and wider.
Our linear broadcasts in In Concert alone reach the equivalent of more than 250 packed concert halls a week and our overall reach fluctuates around the two million mark.
And that’s just the promotional benefits of our partnerships, that’s before we talk about the in-kind outside broadcast support and the money we re-invest to pay orchestras for their work as part of our commitment to classical music-making.
The Director General recently talked about reinventing the BBC for the changing world and we would love to talk to you about how we can work with you , on top of what we do already, to help achieve that in our sector.
We want to partner with you to achieve some of the things I outlined earlier because the more people we can reach, the more people we can encourage to be habit-forming classical music goers.
We can do this by being pioneering and using the tools provided through disruption and change.
We can do this by ensuring we reach the widest possible audiences
We can do this through making changes so that we can reflect the diversity of our audience more accurately and soliciting the best new work
Whilst the orchestral sector is in rude health artistically, I know there are challenges ahead financially. I know that as you submit your funding applications to the mercies of the Arts Council portal, there will be great competition for money and the amount you get won’t necessarily solve all the challenges or allow all of the ambition you have to thrive. The more chance we have to work together introduce the life-enhancing benefits of classical music to more people is surely only a good thing for humanity.