Anger is mounting throughout the classical-music community over the announcement that the Vancouver-based CBC Radio Orchestra, the last radio orchestra in North America, is to be scrapped, and will perform its last concert in November.
Members of the orchestra were called to a closed-door meeting at 4:30 p.m. yesterday (March 27) with the head of CBC Radio music, Mark Steinmetz. According to Colin Miles, B.C. regional director of the Canadian Music Centre, the players were given less than 24-hours notice to attend the private meeting, which took place at the Georgian Court Hotel downtown. The 45 contract players were told that they would perform for the last time this November.
“This is a bad decision; it’s an ill-informed decision. It’s a decision that needs to be reversed,” Miles, who has subbed with the CBC Radio Orchestra and plays viola with the Vancouver Opera orchestra, told the Straight. “We’re taking steps. My executive director [Elisabeth Bihl] is meeting with the minister of heritage. It’s a national issue. We take it very seriously.”
The CBC Radio Orchestra’s mandate, as stated on its Web site, is to “to make engaging musical radio programs, commission and perform works by Canadian composers, showcase Canadian performers and conductors, and discover and expose Canadian excellence”.
The dismantling of the orchestra, formed in 1938, is the latest in a string of decisions that have seen classical music losing time slots on the public broadcaster’s airwaves. Recent decisions have moved classical music away from morning, afternoon, and evening slots. Popular classical CBC shows including Music & Company, Here’s to You, Studio Sparks, and DiscDrive have all been scheduled for cancellation. Last year, Music for a While, Two New Hours, Symphony Hall, The Singer and the Song, and Northern Lights were cut. The CBC Young Composers Competition was also recently terminated.
Jeff Keay, a spokesperson for the CBC, told the Straight, “The nature of managing finite resources is that you have to make difficult decisions based on the amount of resources that you have....We did a very detailed evaluation of this, and we determined that at the end of the day we could bring more music to Radio 2 by pursuing initiatives with existing music organizations rather than supporting the infrastructure of the CBC orchestra. I don’t think anyone liked the decision, obviously, but part of the nature of having to make decisions on resources is that you have to make hard decisions.”
By Friday (March 28) morning, a new Facebook group, Save the CBC Radio Orchestra!, had 336 members. Another group, Save Classical Music at the CBC, had over 8,000 members. Online petitions to restore classical music programming on CBC Radio 2 can be found at radio2forum.ca and petitionspot.com/petitions/cbcradio2.
“In every sense, the CBC Radio Orchestra is fulfilling the mandate of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation...and I’d say that the people in charge of radio now are not fulfilling the mandate,” said Miles. “They’re out of touch with the mandate, they’re out of touch with the broadcast act, and they’re out of touch with a big part of the Canadian public....I think it [the cutting of the CBC Radio Orchestra] could be a turning point....We’ve seen a lot of these misguided decisions in which they really are not following the CBC mandate. This just follows on that. This may be the issue on which we can make a fight, on which we can turn things around.”