The Sound of More Silence

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse with the CBC, they prove me wrong. This morn­ing, I lit­er­al­ly awoke to this news sto­ry:

CBC kills radio orches­tra
Van­cou­ver-based group last of its type in North Amer­i­ca
Lloyd Dykk, Van­cou­ver Sun
Pub­lished: Fri­day, March 28, 2008

VANCOUVER — The Van­cou­ver-based CBC Radio Orches­tra — the last radio orches­tra left in North Amer­i­ca — is dead.

The head of CBC Radio music, Mark Stein­metz, flew from Toron­to Thurs­day to tell the orchestra’s 35 free­lance musi­cians that the orches­tra will be dis­band­ed in Sep­tem­ber, key play­ers in the Van­cou­ver music scene said.
Stein­metz met with the musi­cians at a late after­noon meet­ing at the Geor­gian Court Hotel, which is near the down­town CBC build­ing. Reporters were barred from the meet­ing.
Col­in Miles, head of the Cana­di­an Music Cen­tre, an orga­ni­za­tion that pro­motes Cana­di­an com­posers, said his under­stand­ing was that Stein­metz con­sid­ered axing the orches­tra an inter­nal CBC mat­ter and had no plans for a pub­lic meet­ing fol­low­ing the ses­sion.

The CBC Radio Orches­tra was found­ed by John Avi­son in 1938 and has had an illus­tri­ous his­to­ry.
It orig­i­nal­ly con­sist­ed of 25 musi­cians and was increased to 35 in 1952.
Its oth­er con­duc­tors were the Eng­lish­man John Eliot Gar­diner and Mario Bernar­di. Quebec’s Alain Trudel has held the reins of the orches­tra for the past two years.

The orches­tra does only eight con­certs a year, but that’s irrel­e­vant, Miles said. “If they’re cost­ing so lit­tle, why get rid of it when it’s a nation­al trea­sure?”

Richard Kurth, head of the Uni­ver­si­ty of B.C.’s school of music, called the loss of the orches­tra “a trag­ic event, both cul­tur­al­ly and eco­nom­i­cal­ly, for the musi­cal life of the region and of the nation.”
He said he feels that being the last radio orches­tra in North Amer­i­ca has to be put in con­text — radio orches­tras con­tin­ue to play vital roles in Euro­pean nations, he said, and that shows peo­ple do lis­ten to them.

The CBC is appar­ent­ly plan­ning to use the mon­ey to record and broad­cast oth­er Cana­di­an orches­tras,” Kurth said. “We … have to wait to see whether they would actu­al­ly do that, beyond the degree to which they already do.… They were cut­ting the orches­tra just as it entered a peri­od of renewed vital­i­ty with a dynam­ic new con­duc­tor.”

This is the most impor­tant orches­tra in the coun­try, with a 70-year his­to­ry,” Miles said. “What the CBC is doing to their man­date is what [U.S. Pres­i­dent George] Bush is doing to the con­sti­tu­tion.”

After news of the CBC meet­ing leaked, Miles orga­nized a ral­ly of local musi­cians in the lob­by of the Geor­gian Court Hotel. The approx­i­mate­ly 40 peo­ple who showed up includ­ed musi­cal heavy­weights such as Bramwell Tovey, con­duc­tor of the Van­cou­ver Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra, and music lovers such as Mary Lou Hen­ley, one of the city’s top arts patrons. As for­mer CBC Radio Orches­tra cel­list Ian Hamp­ton described it, the loss of the orches­tra was only the next log­i­cal step in the “dumb­ing down” of the pub­lic net­work.

The loss of the orches­tra comes as lit­tle sur­prise to Vancouver’s music com­mu­ni­ty. In recent months, the CBC has killed such clas­si­cal music shows as Music for a While and In Per­for­mance.

Despite my shock and sad­ness on los­ing clas­si­cal music on CBC Radio 2, I could say that this doesn’t sting quite as much, and feels a bit like ‘the oth­er shoe drop­ping’ (i.e. the inevitable fol­low-on to what’s been hap­pen­ing to date). I did hear the CBC as recent­ly as last year, when they played a bril­liant per­for­mance of Shostakovich’s Piano Con­cer­to No. 1 with my child­hood friend Sarah Davis Buech­n­er as soloist. Alain Trudel, who I believe was indeed that ‘dynam­ic’ con­duc­tor Miles spoke of, was the con­duc­tor of that con­cert and is indeed a bril­liant tal­ent. I hope he doesn’t leave the coun­try to pur­sue his career (although that seems like­ly). The fact that the CBC was based in Van­cou­ver means that the musi­cal life of this city is affect­ed even more than most of Cana­da.

Clear­ly, some­one in the CBC has it in for Clas­si­cal Music and peo­ple who lis­ten to it. Their reign of ter­ror is far from over. Appro­pri­ate­ly enough, this day in late March, it’s snow­ing like crazy. Metaphor­ic frozen tears do match my mood.