An update on the RNZ Concert crisis
A protest concert on Parliament’s steps
News website Scoop has published details of a concert involving hundreds of musicians performing in Parliament Grounds to voice their opposition to plans to axe RNZ Concert, the country’s only classical and jazz music station.
A massed choir and orchestra, conducted by Wellington’s Brent Stewart, have chosen RNZ Concert’s 87th birthday, Monday 24th February, to voice their support, with a performance of the classical hit Carmina Burana by Carl Orff.
The protest concert will be on the steps of Parliament at 4 pm on Monday 24 February
Government appears paralysed on RNZ crisis
You won’t be surprised that I am more than a little agitated, dismayed, even angry about this attack on RNZ Concert. While it looks as if they’ve found a spare FM frequency, so allowing them to persist with their misguided intention of creating a new radio channel ‘catering for’ young audiences, many other destructive things could still happen.
Starting from the top, Thompson must be removed along with the board who have been unbelievably complicit in and ignorant in their promoting plans virtually to wipe Concert out.
Bearing in mind that the Government has in the past abolished statutory bodies such as regional councils and school boards, only a little courage is needed to remove a wrong-headed, incompetent CEO of Radio New Zealand, and perhaps its entire board.
The issues are far from resolved, yet they are extremely serious
Will all existing staff be retained and given secure positions? Or is the unspoken intention still to turn it into an anonymous station, like the present midnight to 6am broadcasts, playing endless, unidentified music, as in some web media?
And will RNZ Concert abandon its tedious practice of endlessly self-promoting various ‘programmes’, promoting personalities and individual announcers’ sessions, in the style of TV presenters? And will the ‘popularising’ policy cease, that seeks to generate an intimacy through the presenters’ language, encouraging them to decorate their words with personal anecdotes, gushings about the rapturous or wonderful music about to be played?
Yes, it’s nice to sound friendly and interested (and all current presenters do that), but we also want them to treat us like grown-ups, and not patronised with adolescent speech and affectations.
Will RNZ Concert be more adequately funded (drastically reduced over the past decade and more) so that more live performances can be recorded for rebroadcast, and their ability restored to commission talks and documentaries about music and the other arts, such as there were up to 20 or so years ago? Being increasingly constrained in the quid-pro-quo of exchanging programmes with European and American networks, I gather we are now being treated as a charity case; a shameful situation that should embarrass the Government.
And will it reverse the shabby practice of playing single movements instead of entire works? About 80% of broadcasts of symphonies, sonatas, chamber and other multi-movement pieces are confined to single movements that leave you hanging, or longing to have heard the earlier movements. It’s very unprofessional.
Thompson must go and board cleaned out
Unless Thompson goes life will continue to be horrible for Concert staff as he will be able to continue to act, in a more obscure, less overt manner perhaps, to dumb down the channel. We must have a chief executive who understands and believes unreservedly in the importance of a classical music channel and energetically restores its essential character; someone who will recover its freedom to use its huge resources of recorded music most of which is locked in the basement.
Somehow, RNZ must be convinced that the success of public radio is not measured by its level of appeal to a particular age or any other group, in the same way as might apply to commercial radio. Very few young people listen to radio, PERIOD! And those that do occasionally, listen to commercial stations that broadcast the sort of music that RNZ plans to broadcast over its new channel.
It would be an irresponsible waste of money to set up a youth-oriented network, unless there was a clear intention to sue it to awaken interest in good music, classical music, music that has stood the test of time. It is not the job of public radio to attract any of those who do not in effect invite themselves.
RNZ’s job is comparable to that of a national library or art museum that devotes itself to storing and exhibiting and promoting works of art or literature of proven importance. Things that might not be looked at every day but which are a vital element in a civilised country. The success of such bodies is not to be measured solely by listener numbers but rather, by the responses of those whose background or long devotion to good music equips them to assess its qualities and its ability to stimulate interest in all those with any sort of curiosity about classical music. That’s not just popular music, though the best of contemporary popular music certainly finds a place.
Nevertheless, it has also been shown by a survey in the UK that the NZ Concert Program has, in terms of audience percentages, the largest listening numbers of all classical music stations in the world.
Silence and passing time makes Minister look indecisive
It is becoming increasingly disturbing that no decisive action has yet been taken by the Minister, primarily on the need to terminate Thompson’s employment. The more time that passes, the more the Government will appear indecisive and timid, and it will also be plain for all to see that it either isn’t conscious of or doesn’t care about the implications, both domestic and international, of allowing the neglect and indifference of the previous Government to persist. This is an extremely important aspect of New Zealand’s cultural reputation.
Get to Parliament 4pm on Monday 24 February.
Here are links to relevant websites:
There is a Give a Little campaign set up to raise $10,000 to help with costs of this concert in Parliament Grounds.
SOUNZ (Centre for New Zealand Music) media release on the need to keep full presentation, scheduling and recording:
Revealing background from former Concert manager
A former manager of RNZ Concert, Miles Rogers, contributed an article in The Dominion Post last week, revealing important background information that illuminates the troubles of RNZ Concert, going back many years.
RNZ Concert from the inside
As a former manager of RNZ Concert, I’m aware that this network has been progressively side-lined and marginalised.
Until the late 1990s a defined funding split operated between National and Concert – c.78% to 22%. A decision was then taken to apply funding where “most needed” and from that point Concert began to lose ground. By 2003, there was no longer a budget to purchase broadcasting rights to the numerous recorded performances from our professional musical bodies and the various international soloists and ensembles that tour – from that time these rights have generously been given gratis. And since an internal restructuring in late 2014, this stream – a whole RNZ network – has had no direct report to the CEO and therefore no appropriate representation.
Further, the vast library of classical CDs was removed from RNZ House, Wellington in 2017. This repository is Concert’s bread-and-butter for maintaining variety and scope in its daily schedule. In recent times, presumably in a directive to appeal to and gain greater listenership, and in part through ever decreasing funding and staffing levels, the output has been reduced to something like a “top 500”, with popular classics often occurring every couple of days, alongside a predominance of single movements. Compounding this, continuity music programming is selected by computer, rather than by musical minds. These factors severely limit programmers’ choice and listeners’ experience. The threat of presenters now facing redundancies continues the present trend that Concert is already automated for most of weekend transmissions and was for a period on weekday evenings – ie no warm body behind the microphone at these times.
Though most listeners would value RNZ Concert for its range of classical music, Concert exists and is funded particularly for the nurturing, recording and dissemination of our musicians and composers… think NZSO, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Chamber Music NZ, New Zealand String Quartet, pianists Michael Houstoun and Diedre Irons, Dames Kiri Te Kanawa and Malvina Major, Douglas Lilburn, John Psathas, – names at the peak of our indigenous talent. Yet Concert’s work for emerging talent extends to secondary schools’ level through annual recordings of such as the NZCT Chamber Music Contest and The Big Sing. There must surely be listeners too at Epsom Girl’s Grammar, who successfully hijacked 2019’s “Settling the Score”. Decreased funding has made such recording more and more difficult to carry out. I can only applaud the dedication of remaining staff, the lengths they go to in maintaining a professional product that still retains agreed quotas of NZ performance and composition within the overall schedule.
There’s a defined, finite audience for every music brand. That classical music has a smaller audience than popular brands should not diminish its value. RNZ Concert covers the broad range of classical, jazz, popular, film and World musics – much as then Director General, John Schroder envisaged when introducing the original YC stations c.1950. As our country’s population ages, more probably migrate from the commercial radio world for the sanity non-commercial radio affords. In truth, RNZ Concert needs a shot in the arm – increased funding – to enhance and regain its former prestige. Of RNZ’s funding from Government in Year 2018/19 totalling $43.4 million, I wonder what percentage was apportioned to RNZ Concert? Throughout the 1980s RNZ’s technical and music staffs built a country-wide FM transmission network for fine music. To relegate this stream to much lesser quality AM transmission would be a retrograde step.
Section 175 of the Radiocommunications Act 1989: Conditions of licences relating to the FM Concert Programme and National Radio” includes the following: “that the first priority for the use of the frequency to which the licence relates shall be the broadcasting of (1) in the case of a licence that relates to the service known as the FM Concert Programme”. Does this not guarantee FM transmission for RNZ Concert?
Those at work, get an hour off to attend this important concert, and think about making a donation through Give-a-little to the large cost of staging a performance like this.
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