Monday, February 8, 2016

Of Boulez, Bowie and CBC Radio 2

Autographe de Pierre Boulez (our collection)

Over a month ago, on January 5, 2016 a towering figure of the classical music world, French composer and internationally renowned conductor Pierre Boulez passed away.

Having badly missed on Maestro Kurt Masur’s recent passing despite listeners protestations, and firmly decided not to be outdone this time, the homages were immediate on the CBC Music blog and a few days later on the waves, although not quite as expansive: a mere 0:38 minutes of Stravinsky conducted by Boulez on In Concert on January 10... 

But of Boulez the composer? Zip.

A week later, in that same classical music program, the late David Bowie received his own 5:53 minutes treatment on January 17. Then, for now three weeks in a row and despite the host assurances that he would "get back to that [Boulez] later", repeat programs have been the In Concert rule!

Compared with France Musique quick reaction, on January 6, 2015:
« La disparition mardi 5 janvier 2016 du compositeur et chef d'orchestre Pierre Boulez bouleverse le programme de l'antenne de France Musique. »

What does it say about the state of our national broadcaster?

Philosopher Michel Onfray was recently disserting on the History of Art (time: 40 minutes on) and how representation has been used as a coercive tool to keep the elite narrative ahead, away from the real.

Case in point:

Unable and unwilling to present a critical appraisal of his work, it is indeed ironic that CBC producers/bloggers would join the correctness chorus of fervent praise lavished on Boulez on one hand, just for them, when it counts -that is broadcasting HIS music to the masses-, choose to only present Boulez the conductor on the other: Le Marteau Sans Maître ends up being worthy of a link in a blog but not of a nationwide broadcast, despite proclaiming the death of a genius…

Yet they have to maintain the myth while a broadcast of this difficult music would likely see a perplexed audience and lead to plunging ratings. Excuses for not broadcasting will abound as it is so typical in contemporary art, in which as Onfray remarks, discourse is overshadowing the work itself, as if the piece could not live without its explanation.

A broadcast would show the piece for what it is and no amount of candy wrapping would salvage the instant opinion audiences would form on this music, likely killing the myth used to separate the intellectuals from the rabble. Hence the decision by those intellectuals to serve us 38 seconds of Stravinsky à la sauce Boulez instead… A much safer proposal for them!

This conformism was already at work after Dutilleux passing, or when the CBC Music blog parroted attacks on Bruno Mantovani with the authoritative tone of political commissars despite never having broadcasted a note of Mantovani’s music to CBC audiences.

The real is what they say of it. Fortunately it isn’t: turn off your radio, have a listen to Boulez, Dutilleux, Mantovani, Bacri, Schnittke through the internet, discover what you like or not, what they hide and you’ll understand what $1 billion a year buys you: social engineering.

Update May 15, 2016: Finally, tout arrive... It took over five months for CBC Radio 2 program "In Concert" to get back to... BoulezYet Boulez the composer qualified as "the greatest musical mind of the XX century" beside Bowie and Prince naturally, gets a mere 10 seconds intro of Marteau Sans Maître While the program quickly retreats into a praising lyrical pontification of Boulez the conductor for the remaining 90 minutes not without plundering this music blog for politically motivated anecdotes...

  • A few months ago, the CBC Music Blog was re-engineered. Previous stories have been removed and with them all comments have disappeared. Hence, links to CBC do not work anymore. None of the new stories posted on their music blog offer now an opportunity to comment: taxpayers are silenced.
  • Funny today January 8 2017, driving back from tennis, CBC In Concert Paolo Pietropaolo talking about "beloved Requiems"... Really.

Marc Villéger

P.S.: Two weeks later, the February 21st edition of In Concert is "exploring one of the most popular and influential genre of classical music at the end of the 20th century known as minimalism"... They could have included their own treatment of Boulez at the dawn of the 21st!

P.S. 2: Spring is here and on this Sunday March 20 In Concert has yet to play anything by or conducted by Pierre Boulez since their generous 38 seconds of Stravinsky! However, following the news of the passing of eminent UK composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and the absence of reaction by the CBC Music blog, the In Concert crew hand picked the crowd pleasing easy listening "Mavis in Las Vegas" for their Canadian audience, blowing their Bowie homage by a large margin with over 13 minutes of music. Since public radio is here supposedly to educate, one really wonders why we have not heard more symphonies by this composer over the years and shall be treated like kids with the gloves of condescendence when it comes to programming more serious works.

P.S. 3: Another CBC story... On March 18 2016:

On February 26, 2016 we sent an email to CBC Radio 2 Centre Stage host Katherine Duncan:
Dear Katherine Duncan, We all learn today of maestro Eri Klas passing. We recall that CBC Calgary had recorded and broadcasted Eri’s CPO concert featuring an all Tchaikovsky program with Francesca da Rimini and the Fifth Symphony. In fact you were the program host on CBC radio 2 back in 2001. We attended this concert as subscribers but also, a second time, as guest of the maestro. Backstage, musicians were beaming of happiness, thanking him for such enthralling music making. We gather our own memory of Eri Klas on our blog. For the memory of this world class conductor, we plead and request that Center Stage would re-broadcast this amazing concert. Regards, Svetlana Ponomareva and Marc Villeger
After over 3 weeks of silence, I managed to find the host’s right CBC Facebook page and posted the following comment beside the original letter:
On Feb. 26 2016 we wrote you this letter: (…) Over 3 weeks later, we have received no acknowledgement of our mail. So we ask again: will your program re broadcast this concert showcasing the amazing performance of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of the late Estonian conductor Eri Klas? Thank you.
The CBC host replied within minutes:
“I didn't see your letter, which was delivered to the former producer of Centre Stage, which was then passed along to my colleague Catherine McClelland. She will respond to you directly.”
And indeed Catherine McClelland sent us the following email:
"Hello, The former producer of Centre Stage forwarded your letter to me. I'm sorry I didn't respond earlier. Our union agreements don't allow for rebroadcast of concerts without substantial fees which we cannot afford. Centre Stage is a program based around the great works of classical music, not the performers. All the best, Catherine"
We quickly acknowledged the reply on Ms. Duncan’s Facebook page:
“The letter was sent to the email posted on the Center Stage CBC Music page And indeed, Catherine McClelland just emailed us with an answer.”
And what an answer it was.

Beyond the rocambolesque journey of our modest email request, we learned about the arcane of public broadcasting fees and union agreements ruling the airwaves. Fine. But where the argument’s good faith collapsed was when we were told the program was “based around the great works of classical music, not the performers”. As if Tchaikovsky’s programmed works Francesca da Rimini and Symphony No. 5 did not belong to the prized category…

Update September 10, 2016:

In typical CBC fashion, the Centre Stage power team managed to dig the Pletnev recording of Tchaikovsky 5th for a meager first movement broadcast on September 3. They obviously had a 10 minute time slot to fill. Today, they went for the entire recording broadcast followed by the rarely heard on CBC Carmen Prelude... ;-)

Meanwhile the CBC Music blog on Classical Music, through the inimitable pen of its "Community Producer for Classical Music" Robert Rowat offered taxpayers to "Learn to read sheet music from someone who knows nothing about it"... Illuminating.

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