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2001

Classical Music ArticleIn programming philosophy the show seems torn between its desire to attract the younger people who listen to Terry Gross’s interviews with Gladys Knight or Mel Brooks and its need to retain core listeners, many of whom see the show as their one connection to classical music. Benjamin Roe, the senior producer of Performance Today, said that some of its strongest support comes from rural listeners for whom it functions as a surrogate concert hall. It has cemented its provincial support by broadcasting live recordings of concerts from halls around the country. Regional festivals and ensembles have come to count on the show for national exposure.

The essential element in the programming of Performance Today is live performance. Even though the show often broadcasts performances of standard reper-tory that can easily be found on CD, the live format offers not only a rush of adrenalin but also the presence of audience applause. In effect, Performance Today puts its listeners on the air, a tactic that has earned it a loyal following. Yet the program’s strengths in the heartland may have hurt it in larger markets. It is not played in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Seattle. In New York and Washington, Performance Today follows All Things Considered in the evening but has not been able to grab the news audience.

Perhaps responding to pressure from NPR, Performance Today has taken a more active role in generating live concerts of an usual and newsy nature. “We want to make classical music special,” Mr. Roe explained. The program presented a live performance of Bach’s B minor Mass conducted by Robert Shaw on Easter Sunday in Atlanta, and a benefit concert featuring four maestros, Pierre Boulez, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Kurt Masur, and Seiji Ozawa, the next day from Symphony Hall in Boston.

More problematic, at least for the core audience of Performance Today, the program has strongly endorsed crossover endeavors, presenting concerts by Billy Joel and Paul McCartney. Martin Goldsmith, the show’s host, interviewed the pop stars on the show with the same pious tone he accords the Emerson String Quartet, but it is not clear that the audience shared his respect for their symphonic efforts. Mr. Roe, a true believer in crossover, criticizes the siege mentality of stations that stick to the classics but admits that so far, Performance Today has only small success in trying to woo a younger audience.

The average Performance Today listener—to get back to age, as one always does in these discussions—is 48 to 50, which puts Sir Paul, for one, over the average. Perhaps his arrival as a classical musician, rather than making a case for crossover, just confirms Suzanne White’s prediction that the future of classical radio is just a matter of the coming of age. In any case, if Sir Paul ever had the time and inclination to share his enthusiasm for the classics with radio listeners, he might make a most engagingly nutty professor.

(Reprinted with permission from the New York Times.)

David A. Schiff, R.P. Wollenberg Professor of Music, has taught at Reed since 1980. A composer and writer, Schiff regularly writes on music for the Sunday New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, and the [London] Times Literary Supplement. He is the author of The Music of Elliott Carter, winner of the Deems Taylor/ASCAP prize, and George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue. He contributed articles on Leonard Bernstein and Elliott Carter to the New Grove Dictionary. His musical compositions are widely performed.




Go to Page 1 go to page two go to page three go to page 4 Link to Reed Mag  Home
2001