Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Edward Pearce, who has issued a passionate plea for 'traditional values' on BBC Radio 3, is a delightful man. Some years ago, when he worked as a commentator and journalist on a national newspaper and I scribed for an obscure weekly, I sat next to him at a political conference we were both covering. Unlike many 'name hacks' he was unfailingly courteous and good-humoured, even saving my hotly-competed-for place while I went in search of a cuppa. I've always enjoyed his writing, too. It is thoughtful, informed, quaintly punctilious and wryly Swiftian in its denunciations. A breath of fresh air also, because Pearce moved ground from conservatism to a Whiggish and idiosyncratic form of liberalism during the Thatcher era.

That said, his squeal of anguish over Radio 3 is spoiled (as one respondent says) by "[needless] words and phrases such as 'tributary tosh', 'kitsch', 'inferior music', 'inferior taste', and 'long live cultural snobbery'." Ah, well. That's the bluff North Riding traditionalist in him. Bless. Likewise, film music isn't necessarily the best target - Prokofiev, Britten, Walton, Tippett and Korngold didn't despise the medium per se. And rightly so. 'Light music' is, I admit, anathema as far as I'm concerned - Gilbert and Sullivan included, which drives me nuts. And there is surely plenty of other airspace for it?

But sorry Ed, the idea of re-building cast-iron walls between resplendent classicism and resolute modernism depresses me. Drummond and Glock may have seemed over-zealous in their educative missions, but the Proms at its best is now testimony to the fact that musical trenches are unnecessary. I don't mind jazz seeping in and out of the mix, either. Far from it. Given "those twentieth century blues" it's inevitable, as well as desirable. Radio 3 should still unashamedly be about music as art rather than music as distraction. With that I readily concur. But it should seek to discharge this remit by breaking barriers as well as upholding traditions. Both are possible. Quality should never be confused with stuffiness. And as you say, "[a]n audience of 1.78 million for a programme of classical music, long in earnest talk and flecked with avant garderie, is nothing to apologise for."

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