An open letter in response to Charlotte Higgins
Graham Sheffield
Director of Arts (British Council), Chairman (Help Musicians UK)
30th September 2016
An open letter in response to Charlotte Higgins

After 70 years Radio 3 needs a rethink. It’s time to unleash the composers" | Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian, 23 September

I should be resolutely standing (or lying) shoulder-to-shoulder with Charlotte Higgins, if she would have me, and “if the bulldozers came for Radio 3”. But as we were awaiting our compacted destiny, we would surely be having an earnest conversation about what we wanted the network to be.  

As a former music and documentary producer on the network for 12 years, in the days of tape and vinyl, Radio 3 still feels like part of my cultural DNA.  It will always live in danger of an ambush, on the one hand by the "popularisers" who seek to take it towards the Classic FM model, which, to be frank, it has given considerable ground to in recent years through the "chatty" morning sequences and the early evening soft focus In Tune - and on the other by the hard core "exclusivists" seeking pure unvarnished Reithian ethics from this holiest of radio grails.  To be attacked by both sides probably means it's getting it about right!

I must say I quite relish the fact you can still turn on Radio 3 and find something musically impenetrable - we have a choice (off switch) after all.  But more often you find a high quality radio network, unrivalled on this earth, and one which, recent evidence shows, is attracting higher audiences than ever. 

In an increasingly visual image-led world, it is refreshing to find a radio station that still relies on the power of the listener's imagination and intellectual curiosity.  

I agree with Charlotte Higgins about Radio 3's strengths in making the BIG statements outwith its normal schedules; such moments are where the network's professional curatorial strengths shine through, and from where any innovation should surely emanate.  What is the radio equivalent of opening up multi-storey car parks to classical music?  How can the new eclecticism be reflected in ways that don't patronise or cheapen?  How can the composer's voice be heard more powerfully?  (Hooray for Olly Knussen in This Week's Composer for example).  How can the listener's voice be heard in a more vital way than emailing in for a flatulent piece of Glazunov to be heard at 07.45am on a Monday morning? 

Yet beyond Charlotte’s opinion, there is celebration. Later this week, the station will approach its 70th year across the waves. In the age of radio, this milestone perhaps does suggest a need for change, but for now, it’s time to celebrate Radio 3’s past, present and to reflect what the future may bring to a station that shares the world’s greatest classical music.

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