Yay, Mr Davey

Radio 3 names and faces – presenter Clemmie Burton-Hill and controller Alan Davey – are out online banging a drum ahead of the BBC’s Opera season.

Clemmie’s opinion piece for the Evening Standard lays out the familiar assumptions and lazy journalism opera has long fallen foul of, contrasting them with present-day reality of the medium. She concludes with an impassioned call for curious viewers to watch the programmes and ‘have their minds blown and their hearts broken’.

Standard fare, but a tired stance.

Radio 3 Controller Alan Davey (find him on Twitter as @ArmsLengthAl) offers a more sophisticated and thought-provoking angle.

Making an appearance on the Classical Music blog, he reinforces the contribution BBC Radio 3 makes to the UK cultural landscape, demonstrating how it supports and appeals to the next generation.

Hence the long list of Radio 3 and Proms-related achievements that feature young people. Highlights include BBC Introducing – the BBC’s actively and carefully-curated talent search – this week celebrating 10 years. So too Radio 3’s Next Generation Artists scheme. The Proms ‘Inspire’ scheme does what it says on its tin. Young Musician gets a mention too.

I’m really hoping that Young Musician can continue on its current trajectory. . Originally, the revamped series was trying desperately to justify its rebranded self by adopting an X-Factor visual grammar. It was infuriating to watch.

But I see a change in the programme today – it’s easier on the eyes. It doesn’t dumb down quite so much. It’s pulled back on the over-dramatization. The most recent series injected a little more deference to the art.

The Young Musician point is uppermost in my mind when I read this in Davey’s blog post:

“As the BBC has shown through its Ten Pieces initiative – if you can get young people to engage with classical music and not dumb it down, they will listen and respond to it.”   

BBC Ten Pieces is an incredible endeavour which achieves what it set out to do: a simple solution to a problem which won’t ultimately be solved until music is his Government’s education policy reinstates music at the heart of the curriculum.

That a senior editorial bod at the BBC is comfortable acknowledging publically that dumbing down is not the right approach to appealing to a new audience is incredibly reassuring. It gives the sector something its needed for a long time: a bit of confidence about itself and what it delivers.

Later in the post, he goes a little further in clarifying the approach to new audiences,

“You shouldn’t assume knowledge from any audience, but you can assume, from a millennial audience in particular, an innate openness to music, a curiosity for the unfamiliar, a desire not to be short-changed by the in-authentic, and a possibility of seriousness that means classical music is near the top of the list of things an audience could be curious about.”

The use of the term ‘millennial’ isn’t good, it has to be said. A number of twenty-somethings I know have told me how much more they dislike it too. I’ve heard industry people use it on-air and in print. Surely, if you’re looking to appeal to that demographic not to use a pejorative term to refer to them seems like a good start.

Alan Davey credits a potential new audience – let’s call them twenty-somethings rather than ‘millenials’ – with curiosity and openness. In doing so he abandons the paternalistic stance most usually adopt when referring to the challenge facing classical music marketers appealing to the ‘replenishers’.

Davey gives a clear confident statement about how the pursuit of new younger audiences isn’t some kind of Holy Grail. He is unapologetic about the content. Good. It’s the lazy thinking and tired approaches that need challenging.

Yay him.

Alan Davey speaks at Voice of the Listener and Viewer Conference 2015

BBC Radio 3’s Controller Alan Davey spoke at Voice of the Listener & Viewer Conference earlier today, underlining his vision for the network and illustrating some of the ways the radio station underpins the UK’s cultural landscape.

Selected highlights from his speech are included below.

Much of Davey’s speech was familiar – the content had echoes of recent interviews in the Sunday Times and BBC Music Magazine and his ABO Conference speech this year, but this line about BBC Radio 3 ‘abroad’ came as a rather lovely lesser known fact.


Through the orchestras, the Proms and our broadcasts – which have the highest number of rebroadcasts through the EBU of any other single broadcaster – we represent and give opportunity to the cultural economy of this country to be better known abroad.

Of his vision for Radio 3 …

We want to lead audiences to things they don’t know but might enjoy. As Reith, perhaps somewhat pompously, put it, “give the public slightly better than it thinks it likes.”

The Third Programme (BBC Radio 3’s predecessor) began in 1946. How tastes have changed since then.

[It] was remorseless in its attempts to educate the country. At its inception, Mozart and Bach were considered as light music and too frivolous to be given any airtime. But only the BBC with its freedom from advertising revenue could have created such an institution – and stayed with it, and adapted it to meet new audiences and new times without ever losing belief in its mission. I’d like more people to give in to its charms, to open their minds and discover the heaven in a wildflower that is Radio 3.

The full speech is available on the BBC Media Centre website. The picture used here was taken and published on Twitter by Alexandra Heybourne.

BBC Radio 3’s 2015/16 Season Launch 2015

New (can we still call him new?) Radio 3 Controller Alan Davey introduced his station’s new season of programmes at an event earlier this week. At the same time, there was a hint of a slightly redefined station too.

According to Davey, Radio 3 was a cultural destination, distinct from its perceived competitor Classic FM, in a radio world big enough for both to coexist. Maybe it was more of a reminder of Radio 3’s inherent appeal – it’s much-guarded secret – which some of us forget. Post-Proms it’s important to remember that culture isn’t just classical music – it goes far, far wider than that.

A contemporary of mine from my hometown (give or take two years) also attended the event and explained when he first started listening to the station back in the early nineties (a good fifteen years before I did with any regularity). I observed nods of recognition when I explained that I always found Radio 3 somewhere to escape to. It was something I felt incredibly protective about – a shining example of distinctive BBC output.

Alan Davey speaks with a modest passion about the service he now runs. He is a reassuring presence for a service which feels solid and protected. That in itself makes me feel that as a listener I’m a part of the world he occupies. And that strikes me as the most authentic and genuine way of encouraging others to explore a vast cultural world.

Some personal highlights from the next few months:

Saturday 3 and 10 October 2015 – Hear and Now: Cut and Splice Festival
Sunday 11 October 2015 – Sunday Feature: Arthur Miller – Speaking of New York
Sunday 11 October 2015 – Drama on 3: Death of a Salesman
Monday 12 – Friday 16 October 2015 – The Essay: Staging Arthur Miller
Friday 6 – Sunday 8 November 2015 – Free Thinking Festival 2015
Saturday 7 November 2015 – Handel’s Orlando (with sync’ed live commentary online)
Sunday 22 November 2015 – Sunday Feature: Asian Theatre in Britain
Friday 11 December 2015 – World on 3: Northern Lights (live music + sync’d film online)
Friday 18 December 2015 – In Tune Christmas Special
Sunday 20 December 2015 – Private Passions: Alan Bennett
Friday 1 – Thursday 7 January 2016 – New Year New Music
Sunday 10 January 2016 – Tom Stoppard’s Artist Descending a Staircase

Alan Davey interview with Bryan Appelyard in Sunday TImes Culture Magazine 5 April 2015

Alan Davey interview in Sunday Times Culture Magazine – 5 April 2015

Some quotes from a double-page interview with Radio 3 Controller Alan Davey by Sunday Times Culture feature writer Bryan Appleyard, published today.

Alan Davey on his work as Head of Arts at DCMS and CEO of Arts Council England: “We tried to find a way of talking about the qualitative impact, what culture could do for the individual. If you get the conditions right for great artists to do what they do, to make a living and eat, then great intrinsic benefits come to individuals. There could be economic benefits but only if you create something authentic. People can sniff out bad art, they can sniff out the fake.”

Later, speaking about Radio 3: “If you set out to chase ratings, it’s quite hard to succeed. If you concentrate on doing the best you can do and offering quality day in and day out, people do find you and they do appreciate it. We almost undersell ourselves – we don’t have the courage to talk about what it is we are about.”

And on young audiences for classical music: “Young people are growing up with an open mind about various kinds of quite complex music, but its not pop music, either. The step into classical music would be quite easy for them if they were to encounter it in the right way.”

The feature hints at Alan Davey’s ideas for creating a new programme like a music introduction series on Radio 3 from the 1970s called Pied Piper.  There is also mention of curtailing listener’s phone calls in response to ‘purists who had been objecting to the ‘interactive’ implications of the calls and the interruptions of the [news] bulletins.’

Bryan Appelyard’s feature ‘Lend Him Your Ears’ is available on the Sunday Times website

Radio 3 Controller Alan Davey at the ABO Conference

New Radio 3 Controller Alan Davey gave his first speech in his new role, at the ABO Conference in Gateshead tonight. His speech is publicly available on the BBC Media Centre website.

One section of his speech particularly resonates:

Classical music – or indeed maybe we should describe it as serious, interesting, life-changing and complex music – as well as culture and ideas, are what the Radio 3 family is about. Doing in spades what we set out to do at my previous organisation, the Arts Council:

– Creating great art and culture and putting it within the reach of everyone
– Doing so with a quality and care that does not discriminate and treat anyone as second class or entitled to less
– Through high-quality crafted broadcast sound, say to people that these great treasures are for you and here’s a way in for you
– Never dumbing down but providing everyone with the means to understand great music and culture for what it is
– Not just giving the audience what we think they want, but earning the right to be a trusted guide to new things and to do so in a spirit of generous authority
– Having an informal, but informed tone that wears its knowledge lightly
– That always has in mind the thrill of discovery and remembers the joy of hearing a great piece for the first time
– Ensuring as Helen [Boaden] mentioned yesterday that we continue to take creative risks and our talented Performing Groups are a major part of that, not least through their some 60 premieres a year – a major part of the BBC’s Music commitment

I really like the point made about knowledge and wearing it lightly – “Having an informal, but informed tone that wears its knowledge lightly”. It’s a nice way to think about the music genre I personally find increasingly important. There’s an aspiration there to make others feel welcome, an aspiration which I wouldn’t mind adopting myself.