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Roger Wright

Roger Wright, you are wrong!

Why did I write an Open Letter to the Director of BBC Three in Classical Music recently?

Dear Roger,

Many congratulations on yet another dazzling season of Proms, with unprecedented audience figures, 94% of capacity, with 36,000 attending for the first time. Perhaps some were attracted by the debut of the Spaghetti Western Orchestra or the first Comedy Prom; these together with the Diversity World Routes Academy Prom and the John Wilson Orchestra in Hollywood, did much to rid the Prom Season of accusations of elitism and meet the requirements of the BBC Trust to widen the appeal of Radio Three.

Condolences however on the inability of Radio Three to translate this into continued growth; apparently the quarter ending October showed a drop of 5.6% in audience figures, and we await the figures for the current quarter with interest.

As you will be aware, the BBC’s formal cultural obligation is to provide programmes and services of information, education and entertainment (Royal Charter, Article 3(a)). It was claimed in the submission that BBC programmes aim to reflect the richness of cultural diversity – popular and high, historic and contemporary, and the cultural heritage of different countries and communities, including minority cultures of the UK. Of the eight requirements in the Agreement, the second is that they should: Stimulate, support and reflect, in drama, comedy, music and the visual and performing arts, the diversity of cultural activity in the United Kingdom.

There is certainly one area of cultural activity almost totally neglected by you and your colleagues. In the first decade of this century, two National Surveys of the provision of instrumental music by Local Education Authorities showed that there were more children participating in wind bands than in orchestras, string groups, brass bands, jazz or choirs. Curiously, there is plenty of encouragement in Radio and Television programmes for every type of musical activity save this, and while Radio Three, and in particular the Proms, becomes more and more catholic in programming, there is still no heed taken of contemporary wind music.

YOU ARE WRONG TO IGNORE US

You are wrong to ignore one of the most vital initiatives in British music of the last three decades. The renaissance of wind music began in the early 1980s with founding of BASBWE, the British Association of Symphonic Bands and Wind Ensembles. Since then, a steady stream of commissions has placed British wind music in the forefront of the genre. Clearly, some of this repertoire is music for education or ceremonial, but there are fine light works by composers like Ellerby, Gregson, Sparke, Turnbull and Woolfenden, as well as major works by composers such as Bennett, Casken, Gilbert, Gorb, Hesketh, Macmillan, Maw, McNeff, Musgrave, Roxburgh, Wilby and others. The late David Bedford always claimed that his Sun Paints Rainbows over the Vast Waves, written for the Huddersfield Contemporary Festival, received more performances than any of his so-called “serious” works. The music by these composers is being played by our schools and world-wide, but not by our media.

In the BBC News School Report of 24th November, 2011, you told your young audience that there should be something for everyone this year, and that although you haven't announced it yet, young people will be part of the 2012 Proms. More information will be available in April, so "wait and see!" Can we hope for a sympathetic ear for wind music. At present you are failing completely to provide a role model in your programming for the thousands of players in wind orchestras, both young and old. There are potentially vast new audiences out there; it would be a pity if their needs are not met.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Reynish