Saturday, April 24, 2010

BBC Proms 2010 - a miserable showing

Last week the BBC published its programme for the Prom Season 2010. Of course I have looked what they had on offer in the realm of early music.

Let's see.
The ensemble Stile Antico brings motets on texts from the Song of Songs.
A concert by Le Poème Harmonique is entitled 'Venice - from the streets to the palaces'.
Musica ad Rhenum plays a programme of chamber music by members of the Bach family.
John Eliot Gardiner conducts the English Baroque Soloists in Bach's Brandenburg Concertos.
He also performs Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine.
From the Early Opera Company we get Pergolesi's Stabat mater.
And lastly, the Ensemble Matheus, directed by Jean-Christophe Spinosi, brings arias and instrumental pieces by Handel and Vivaldi.
And that's all, folks!

There are 76 Prom concerts, and just one contains early music, Monteverdi's Vespers. In addition there are matinees and chamber music concerts - the latter mostly in form of lunchtime concerts. The other six concerts are all part of these two categories. Let's assume that there are about 100 events in total. If just seven of them are devoted to early music, that is a pretty miserable showing.

On top of that, the programming is anything but imaginative. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, Monteverdi's Vespers and Pergolesi's Stabat mater - as if we haven't heard them many times. Equally predictable is the choice of performers, with really no new names. Nothing against Gardiner, Musica ad Rhenum or Le Poème Harmonique, but aren't there any other interesting performers and ensembles around?

There was a time when the BBC was famous for its programmes with early music on Radio 3. It was the time when I could hardly receive the channel, as I had only access to the medium wave broadcasts. The reception was miserable, and in the summer months - when I had most time to listen - the medium wave was poisoned by that dreadful cricket.

But I was able to pick up an interesting programme now and then. And I regularly listened to the inimitable David Munrow who often had interesting stuff to tell. What has happened since? Now that I have the possibility to listen to Radio 3 in digital quality there is very little which arouses my interest. Now and then there is a belch of recordings with early music, but mostly with mainstream baroque and classical repertoire.

There is the Early Music show. But if it contains recordings of a live event, we only get extracts. If a concert is good enough to be broadcast, why cut it up to pieces?

Very long ago Radio 3 presented unknown pieces by the Italian composer Legrenzi or the German Thomas Selle. Much of what was presented at that time may be much better known today. Even so, there is still much to discover, but we won't hear it on Radio 3. Because of that I listen less frequently to Radio 3 than in those days of medium wave reception.

Not that it is really better elsewhere. In my Dutch weblog I have written about the recent changes in the broadcasting schedule of classical Radio 4 in the Netherlands. It seems early music has almost been banned from the channel. The German channel WDR 3 has always had a great reputation in early music, and regularly produced CD recordings of early music. But some years ago the early music department was disbanded, and it is only now and then that concerts with early music are broadcast. WDR even got rid of its own period instrument orchestra, the Cappella Coloniensis.

Maybe it is time lovers of early music make themselves heard. A little pressure on the various classical channels would not be amiss. After all, early music is an important part of the international music scene. It seems only some managers of classical channels haven't noticed. Time to wake them up.

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