Letter to RNZ (Radio New Zealand)
Recently, RNZ made an incredible announcement that they were going to gut RNZ Concert, the classical (for want of a better description) station in favor of a new “youth” focused program. Needless to day, there has been a veritable hurricane of opposition to this idea and below is the letter I wrote to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Broadcasting.
I am dismayed and enraged over the proposal of RNZ’s management to gut the concert program. I implore you as Minister for Broadcasting services to prevent this ill-conceived, unnecessary and downright ageist plan to go ahead. I understand that you are not responsible for the day to day running and management of RNZ. However, you do have a responsibility to ensure that the public’s needs are being met and that you represent the entire demographic, rather than that of a particular age group.
Personal Impact and that of my contemporaries
I write as an active composer and university lecturer in music, who relies on RNZ Concert to broadcast my music and that of my contemporaries, in what is really the only means of public dissemination of contemporary music beyond live performances.
It has been a privilege over the years, to have had my music broadcast on RNZ Concert and to have been interviewed by a number of presenters. These include William Dart, Eva Radich, Kathryn Ryan and others. The importance of radio interviews by skilled and knowledgeable presenters cannot be overstated, and these tend to be conducted when new works are about to be premiered, new recordings released or tours announced. This is a vital part of the promotion of contemporary music in New Zealand and serves to alert the public of upcoming events and important news. RNZ listeners are our audience and we rely very much on RNZ presenters to keep them informed of our activities.
Some personal experiences I have had include the incredible coverage by RNZ Concert of my WW1 Symphony Letters from the Front. In the days, weeks and even months leading up to its premier, I was interviewed three times by RNZ staff, all of whom were incredibly well informed, had penetrating and sympathetic questions prepared and who played an integral role in promoting the concert itself. My two operas The Juniper Passion and The Prodigal Child were equally well covered by RNZ concert and I very much doubt that audience numbers and the simple awareness of these works would have been anywhere near as successful as they have been. As a university lecturer, I encourage all students to tune in to RNZ Concert, and very often the programs generate lively discussions in the lecture rooms and provides music students with a world class resource.
National and international performers
New Zealand is blessed with many world class and indeed internationally renowned performers and ensembles. A vital part of their lives as professional performers is to have the opportunity to promote forthcoming concerts and new recordings on radio, not to mention the live broadcasting of the concerts themselves. RNZ Concert has long been the primary vehicle for this to occur. Again, RNZ Concert listeners are also the concert going audience and rely almost exclusively on information about concert dates, programs etc. given by radio presenters. We want to hear what performers have to say about the music they will be performing, and we are no less curious about their backgrounds, philosophies and their thoughts about the music they will be playing.
New Zealand attracts many international artists to our concert halls, and our RNZ Concert presenters are charged with interviewing them ahead of concerts. Visiting performers quite rightly expect to be interviewed on national radio stations wherever they are in the world, and if this proposal were to go ahead in its current form, this would simply not be possible. Our reputation internationally, as a country that values the arts and welcomes international artists would be seriously compromised, and would result in a national embarrassment. To me, this is simply inconceivable.
Where is the advocacy on the board and management?
When the news of this proposal was announced last week, I took the opportunity to look at the current RNZ Board of Directors. I was dismayed and honestly confused to learn that not a single member had any real background in classical, or contemporary art music. This seems to me to be a serious oversight and this imbalance of perspectives, must certainly result in a lack of advocacy and understanding of fine music.
The Youth Question
The idea to turn RNZ Concert into a youth focused station is beyond belief and naïve in the extreme. Our airwaves are already awash with youth orientated stations and programs. Where is the statistical evidence that there is a need for yet more? Does management not understand that most young people DO NOT listen to radio? Have they not heard of Spotify?
Where do older listeners come from? There is a phenomenon called aging, and I can guarantee that the youth of today will not be immune from it. As this phenomenon takes its natural course, the “youth” that RNZ Management are so keen to pander to, will eventually become old (and apparently irrelevant) with many will turning their aged (and we hope somewhat more refined) ears to music of a different kind.
AM? Really? The great leap backward. This is so insulting, I am almost lost for words. Most RNZ Concert listeners are what would be described as audiophiles. They are those that are interested in high-fidelity audio, and AM, with its narrow bandwidth, simply does not come close.
RNZ management clearly do not understand or care about our international reputation. The thought that New Zealand uses AM to broadcast classical music on its national radio station is just cringe worthy, and not in step with a developed and supposedly enlightened country.
In conclusion, I implore you as minister for broadcasting to employ all the resources at your disposal to prevent this national tragedy from occurring.