Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Young Musician of the Year 2008 (BBC4)

I missed last night's string programme (general consensus: the guitarist was streets ahead of the others, and the violinist shouldn't have even been there) but I did see the wind finalists paraded before me and the 3 other people who watch BBC4 on Monday. I'm sure the Scottish flautist who won ("He's so camp!" squealed one of the other contestants, and I'm sure he'll thank her for that when he's lying in some street late at night having his head kicked in) fully deserved his place in the grand final, but it's difficult to be sure, because one of the defining features of this programme was that you didn't get to hear very much music at all. Instead you got treated to lots of shots of the players walking about, going on Facebook (they do little else, at least that's the impression the programme gives; well, as every coked-up London TV executive knows, that's what da kidz do, innit bro?), hugging each other endlessly in the wake of auditions and recitals, thinking about what shoes to wear, lots of voice overs about how nervous they are but also how excited to have got this far... I looked at my watch at one point and realised it was halfway through the programme and not one of the four contenders had performed anything. Not long after that I realised none of them would, beyond a few seconds.

Is this starting to sound familiar? It should, because it's pretty much the same format as every other X-stars-in-Britain-have-talented-operatunity show out there; that stumbling mass of rotten-headed zombie programmes that shuffles unstoppably across the TV schedules, with the sole aim of removing the brains from our skulls.

And that's the point: you can see exactly how we arrived at this sorry abortion of a programme - lots of brainstorming by telly people, lots of guff about how classical music's seen as elitist and we've got to show how these lids are just normal teenagers, not stuck up posh kids (except that they are, because music's been sliding down the priorities of educational policy in the country for years, and only posh kids have parents who can afford to pay for them to have the lessons) - oh, and isn't it lucky one of them's Scottish, because another thing that every coked-up TV executive knows is that Scottish kids are automatically NOT POSH, so let's have lots of focus on him. Make it normal, make it accessible, don't let any hint through that there might be anything special or exceptional about these kids, certainly don't scare anyone off by showing them play an entire piece uninterrupted, get lots of reaction footage of the bods on the jury, much better to have someone tell you how good it is, can't trust the fucking plebs who watch TV to listen and form their own opinion, can you?

So you end up with a programme that fails on every count, because it's too scared to show us the only thing that makes these kids worth our time: their talent as musicians. This is how television likes to deal with classical music; anything, anything but the music itself.

You can see and hear complete performances on the website, I'm sure they would say. And it's true, you can. But why can't you see and hear them on TV? It's not as if the schedules are so stuffed full of content that they can't ever find time to devote hours of transmission time to talking heads spouting inanities about what they loved about the 1970s. I think there's a simpler explanation. I think the people who run TV don't like the music, they resent having to make space for it, they resent its very existence. They know little of it, and care less. All they care about is squeezing the last drop of life from exhausted formats while they wait for the next bandwagon to roll up. I'll bet when they put this programme together they talked a lot about journeys, about personalities, about relevance, about elitism and outreach. I wonder how much they talked about music?


Bluedog said...

Could not agree more.

You should go and visit the explosion of opinion on the Radio 3messageboard:

It is quite appalling television, and so unfair to the contestants.

petemaskreplica said...

15 seconds looking at the Radio 3 message board is generally all it takes to have me sobbing for my mummy. it's good to know it's not just me though, even after filtering out the more insanely slavering conspiracies about the Beeb deliberately trying to scupper Young Musician. I really don't believe that; it's simply that contrary to what the Beeb (and the army of bright eyed and gibbering Mail readers set against it) believe, the BBC isn't and has never been a setter of cultural agendas but a chaser of them. It reflects the wider world, and any perceived dumbing down is a consequence of that rather than some demonic plot emanating rom the corridors of Broadcasting House. But that's a topic for another day...