Music Australia News

Classical music’s disappearance from TV

Opera Australia's The Mikado. Photo: Jeff Busby
Graham Strahle
| November 23, 2015

Simon Toyne, UK music commentator and educationist, has written a stimulating piece in Musicroom asking why British mainstream television no longer broadcasts concerts of classical music. He refers to the time when performances by Leonard Bernstein and André Previn conducting Shostakovich, Messiaen and Bach would attract “millions on prime-time TV”, noting that those days are well and truly over. “It is difficult to imagine TV bosses commissioning similar programmes for mainstream TV now,” he writes.

Along with talent shows and live sport, classical music has been ghettoised due to “institutional embarrassment, or just indifference”, Toyne suggests. He argues that just as the broadcast media take an active lead in promoting sport and building sporting participation, so could it do the same with music, if the will was there. As things presently stand though, “The lack of visibility and audibility of orchestras on TV means that violins or clarinets are seen by many as strange historical artefacts”.

“Children love classical music if we allow them to, and we don’t need to dumb down,” Toyne adds.

Here in Australia, the ABC made strides with its Sunday night opera simulcasts, beginning in 1982 with Strauss’s Die Fledermaus – which reportedly reached an audience of more than 2 million. As Kenneth Inglis notes in his book Whose ABC? (Black Inc., 2006), “the now vanished genre of opera simulcasts” formed part of an effort by the national broadcaster at the time to broaden its audience (page 529).

Recently, the ABC has begun reviving the idea of opera simulcasts. Last year, ABC1 screened three of Opera Australia’s more popular productions (Marriage of Figaro, The Mikado and Der Rosenkavalier), and next December it will broadcast The Divorce, a comedic opera by composer Elena Kats-Chernin and playwright Joanna Murray-Smith. However, to see Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour’s Aida one will need to tune into Foxtel.

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