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
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.)
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.