Tony Hall's speech at the launch of Our Classical Century

What the season captures is the great artistry behind 100 years of music making in the UK. And the growth of the music industry into the global phenomenon it is today.Tony Hall
Date: 11.10.2018     Last updated: 04.04.2019 at 12.25
Speech given at the launch of Our Classical Century by Director-General of the BBC, Tony Hall

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Thank you Elena - one of our wonderful family of new artistic talent - and, of course, thanks to our BBC Singers as well.

We’re here tonight to celebrate 100 years of classical music in Britain. There’s a simple idea behind the season we’re doing - and that’s best summed up by the vision Henry Wood articulated 123 years ago. When he first conducted the Proms - he said he wanted to bring the best of classical music to the widest possible audiences.

That’s what we’ve been aiming to do ever since… and that’s what tonight’s all about. This evening we’re launching the biggest classical music season we’ve ever done - led by BBC Four and Radio 3 - with BBC Two and our online services joining in. And, by the way, our orchestras have got behind the ambition - and ALL of them have got involved.

Huge congratulations to Jan Younghusband, Cassian Harrison, Alan Davey - and all the presenters, artists and production teams too. It’s no coincidence that the season kicks off next month - as we commemorate the centenary of the end of World War One. Hard to imagine now, but back then the idea that this country could be world famous for music seemed an impossibility… how times have changed. Alongside the devastating tragedy and loss of life came a defiant creative spirit to put us back on the map - musically.

What the season captures is the great artistry behind 100 years of music making in the UK. And the growth of the music industry into the global phenomenon it is today. The season will run in four parts across the year - ending with a flourish - with a new commission on The First Night of the Proms next year. And, if it’s anything like Anna Meredith’s triumph at this year’s First Night - we’re in for a real treat.

I’m proud to say that we remain the largest commissioner of new work in the world of classical music. And long may that continue...

Our Classical Century will explore the way music has been part of our shared - and personal - experience - and continues to be a part of who we are and who we can be.

I remember vividly my first introduction to classical music. It was through my head teacher at Little Green Lanes County Primary School in Erdington - near Birmingham. She introduced me to a whole new world of sound - I’ve never looked back. And I want everyone to have that opportunity.

I want a BBC that inspires each one of us - and this is a great opportunity to do just that. So, some of the music we’re featuring in the season will become part of a schools project we’ve been doing - Ten Pieces - to introduce children to the wonders of the orchestra. And I’ve seen for myself - it works.

Alan Davey has been working with me on another idea too - one that I’m delighted to announce this evening. The season just couldn’t have happened without the BBC’s classical music archive. And we’re starting - at the same time - a new project which will see us release some of the archive - much of it for the first time.

We’ve been recording, creating and documenting great work for almost a century now ourselves. We have the public to thank for that. They own - via the BBC - one of the greatest classical music archives in the world. It captures iconic moments from the Proms to Cardiff Singer of the World, from BBC Introducing to our Young Musician competition - celebrating its 40th birthday this year.

In an age of ever growing platforms - and social media sharing - these performances - some historic and some very recent - will be returned to the public. We’ll make them available on iPlayer and BBC Sounds - an app we’re launching soon that will, we hope, transform what you hear from the BBC.

We want to work with partners across the creative sector to develop the ambition - for instance, using voice technology to bring the archive to life. The way we consume and share content has changed, of course, but music’s ability to bring us together has never felt more important - and classical music’s role in that should not be underestimated.

That’s why we’re building new studios in east London too. We hope that ‘Made in Stratford’ is going to be a byword for brilliance and accessibility in classical music, delivered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Chorus and the BBC Singers, and their conductors Sakari Oramo and Sofi Jeannin. Just as ‘Made in Salford’ is for the BBC Philharmonic and their brilliant new principle conductor Omer Meir Wellber.

In a moment Lenny Henry, Suzy Klein and Jan Younghusband - who commissioned the season - will tell you more about Our Classical Century. But before they do, I’d like to share a quote from the great American Composer John Adams, who wrote this about the BBC;

“We Americans are in awe of an institution that continues to treat its audience as grown-up, literate and educated human beings”.

That’s what the BBC is all about for me. But I never take it for granted. The fact that we can inform, educate, entertain - and inspire - is wonderful. But we have to make sure that we have the resources to do so. And I have been very open about the challenges we’re facing. It’s so important to remind ourselves of the quality and breadth of what we can offer this country. I don’t know any other broadcaster who’d attempt the adventure we’re embarking on tonight - a Century of Classical music for everyone to enjoy… it’s the BBC at its best.

Thank you.