Disruption and diversity are key to the future of classical music, says BBC Radio 3 controller

Classical music must address issues of diversity to remain relevant, says Davey

Published: January 26, 2017 at 3:55 pm

In a speech at the Association of British Orchestras conference, BBC Radio 3 controller Alan Davey has argued that the classical music industry will need to innovate and disrupt traditional performance and broadcasting set-ups in order to attract new, diverse audiences.


Referring to an influential report about excellence in the arts by Sir Brian McMaster, Davey says: '[McMaster concluded that] if art was to have any sense of relevance and integrity to audiences… it ought to draw on the full creative resource of Britain today, and reflect the extraordinarily diverse population of this country.'

Davey says he believes Radio 3 has a huge role to play in helping to address diversity in the classical music industry, and he outlined both what's been done so far and future plans.

The radio station is looking for ways to increase the representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic groups (BAME). Plans in the pipeline include a commission for the all-BAME Chineke! Orchestra composed by Hannah Kendall, who is of British-Caribbean heritage. Julian Joseph has also been commissioned to write a contemporary oratorio for the BBC Concert Orchestra and a diverse cast, based on the story of Tristan and Isolde, and double-bassist Chi-Chi Nwanoku will appear on Record Review to champion music by diverse composers.

‘Great art needs to reflect the society from which it emerges,’ says Davey. ‘The more we can draw on the talents of all this country and support those who have something to give, the more we will benefit music and, in the end, humanity itself.’

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Four million school children have already been reached with the BBC Ten Pieces projects and, Davey says, there is encouraging evidence to show that those children and their families are going on to experience more classical music. The third year of the project – to be announced later this month – will be aimed at a wider age range, and focus more on online support from orchestras and other organisations.

The BBC orchestras, too, are taking steps to disrupt the traditional set-up of classical concerts. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra will again present its Tectonics festival – an imaginatively staged series of contemporary music concerts in and around Glasgow – and the BBC Proms will again take classical music outside the Royal Albert Hall after the success of last year’s concerts in Peckham carpark and The Roundhouse. The BBC Philharmonic is encouraging audiences to engage through mobile devices, and will continue to develop its digital programme in the months to come.

Davey also announced plans to develop an ‘after dark’ zone on BBC Radio 3 that won’t distinguish between genres of music. Steps towards this sort of broadcasting have already been taken, he says, by placing contemporary music in daytime programmes and introducing programmes like Exposure, which looks at the new music scene around the UK regardless of genre.

Despite the need for innovation and disruption, Davey also believes that classical music needs to stay true to itself. ‘We need to be fearlessly bold in not apologizing for what we do and intrinsically are,’ he says, ‘The faster the world becomes, the more a conscious meed arises from audiences for time out, a thirst for enrichment, a place to think, slow radio, full-length performances, expertise and things that take you out of yourself and show you what it’s like to be human.’

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