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.