Posts Tagged ‘ABC Classic FM cuts’


April 18, 2018

ABC “Classic” FM continues to disappoint.

The weekend before last, when I was in Canberra, there were numerous broadcast interruptions.  At least there was a kind of automated announcement made about these.

Much worse was to come on Sunday night when I was driving back to Sydney and, from Sutton Forest on, making the journey bearable with the (delayed) live broadcast from the Met of Strauss’s Elektra.

About an hour later just before the beginning of the M7 and M5 (I had stopped briefly at Pheasant’s Nest if you are being finickity about times) the music stopped and was replaced by a terrible hissing sound.  It wasn’t just one station – the noise was on all the alternative stations/frequencies for ABC “Classic” FM I could find.

Grimly determined to wait this out, I continued listening until I got home, a bit over 20 minutes later.  Still the terrible noise – though I turned the volume down in order to bear it.

Was nobody at the ABC paying attention?  Does anyone listen to the stuff they broadcast to check for quality?

I did not turn on the radio when I went into my house, so I didn’t know how long this state of affairs continued.

But now, even more shockingly, I do know, because the hissing, in all its glories, is retained in the “listen again” feed on the website (this link will presumably go dead in a few weeks).  Here is my rough analysis according to time elapsed from the beginning of the program:

  • 00:00:00 – program begins
  • 1:09:48   hissing – towards the end some more radiophonic noises as though somebody might be trying to do something about it
  • 1:54:54   silence
  • 2:09:09   hissing resumes
  • 2:10:00   silence
  • 2:11:35  music resumes.

Unbelievable.  And no sign, as far as I can make out, of any acknowledgement of the slip up.  And with the preservation of the fault on the “listen again” facility, so much for the bruited redirection of efforts to an online audience.

I have belatedly submitted a “complaint”/”enquiry” to the ABC and shall say here if I ever receive any response to it.


Thank you for your message and apologies for the interruptions to broadcast which you encountered. The technical issues behind these disruptions have been investigated and measures put in place to avoid the situation of them occurring again. We hope you will continue to enjoy listening.

Not what I would call an informative or even individuated response.  Do the measures include any actual person in real time listening or monitoring what is going on?

The “listen again” link has now (I’d say prematurely) been pulled.




Pissed orff

January 23, 2018

I’ve been listening to ABC “Classic” FM since it started broadcasting in 1976.

Until 2012, programs and music listings were published on a monthly basis.  After that you could still look up the music listings on the internet though by last year these were only being posted a day or so in advance.

About last November, I noticed that the listings were getting patchier. I filled out the contact form to ask about it.

They say “We will reply as soon as possible, but please note that we’re not able to respond in detail to all messages.”

There was no reply. I filled out the form again. I didn’t receive a reply to that either.

Then I saw on the “FAQ” page something to the effect of “We are currently experiencing difficulties with our music listings.”

Now the music listings are no more. So much for the technical difficulties of last year – obviously they were on the way out even then but the ABC didn’t want to give anyone any opportunity to complain by announcing the decision in advance. Now the FAQs page says:

Where can I find the music listings?

Our Music section of the website includes information regarding Recently Played pieces and is searchable by program, date and time. The recently played section replaces our old music listings page and is more accurate, being automatically updated when a piece is played in the studio. If you are listening on ABC Listen or Digital Radio, you will find that information about what is currently playing will now appear on your device. If you want to source a particular piece of music to enjoy again, the music details provided can be used at your local music retailer or for an online search.

How do I find out what music is going to be played in the future?

Have a look at our Concert Schedule which has details of our upcoming concert broadcasts. You can also head to our Program Schedule and check out what programs are coming up through the day. Because we have moved our focus to providing accurate information about what is played at the time that it is played, we no longer offer our draft broadcast plan. If you are after specific information regarding what pieces will be played through the day, please stay listening as our presenters often talk about what is coming up!

So what do we get now?

The Youtube/Spotify links are for the musical work, not the performance or performers which/who are broadcast.  And as the second FAQ acknowledges, you’ll only find out about something in advance if it comes within the very limited categories of being a concert or something you actually hear about on the station itself. Even then,  the concert links can be pretty uninformative. For example, for 24 January (as at 22/1):

  • 1pm Melbourne Recital Centre Sutherland Trio: The Heart Speaks

  • 8pm Australian Youth Orchestra AYO Music Camp 2018: Concert 3

The Program Schedule is just a list of ABC “Classic” FM’s scheduled programs.

The links for these provide no guidance about what will be played in the future. Indeed, when I clicked on it on Monday, the “Sunday Opera” page still did not say which opera had been broadcast the day before.  It’s one opera a week. How hard would it be to give an indication of what is planned for, say, the next 5 or 6 weeks? Surely they have some idea of what they are going to be broadcasting? Apparently not.  Actually, I think it’s just that it is nobody’s job to publish this information.  It’s as much as the regular presenter. Deborah Cheetham,  can do to recount about a quarter of the plot.

Basically, I get the issue. The ABC is being squeezed and within the ABC “Classic” FM is being squeezed even tighter. They’ve let most of their long-term staff go and the increased casualization of the workforce is taking its toll. Measures of internet “hits” probably tell them that (helped no doubt by the labyrinthine website) the music listings are not much used. So they’ve decided to give them up. They’ve worked out an automated fix for at least answering those questions of “what was that I heard at 5pm last night?” which will save them the trouble of even not answering such inquiries as (from my own experience) is their usual practice.

Why not tell it as it is?

Instead we get Panglossian spin, starting with the penultimate sentence:

Because we have moved our focus to providing accurate information about what is played at the time that it is played, we no longer offer our draft broadcast plan.

moved our focus to providing accurate information” –it may be accurate but it is very partial. The disrespect to the musicians is huge.

“we no longer offer our draft broadcast plan” – this particularly riles me, with the suggestion that the music listings were only a “draft plan” and therefore are no loss at all. We can judge that for ourselves.  You can have a draft plan of a building, but music listings are a plan.

And as for:

If you are after specific information regarding what pieces will be played through the day, please stay listening as our presenters often talk about what is coming up!

In other words, there are no more music listings but announcers might sometimes say something about an item which is coming up.

Please spare us the “!” at the end. I, for one, am not jollied along by it.

SIPCA 2016

September 11, 2015

The Sydney International Piano Competition (SIPCA) is due to be held next year.

For many years, SIPCA relied on the financial support of Claire Dan, former wife of Peter Abeles described as a “founder” of the competition.

In 2000 there was a bit of a flurry of public criticism of the competition. This is preserved on the competition’s Wikipedia entry and also by virtue of the internet age.

The nub of it was encapsulated by a comment from Larry Sitsky:

“The title `Sydney International Piano Competition’ sounds grand and definitive. But behind the facade is a rather shabby private party in progress.”

Much of the criticism was really criticism of Warren Thomson, chairman of the jury from 1992.

Shabby or not, the competition certainly was a private party, and the person paying for the drinks was Claire Dan. Thomson remained the director because he had Dan’s confidence. “Warren is best because Warren gets things done,” said Dan.

The competition was run on a shoe-string. For a very modest salary, practically an honorarium, Thomson organised everything from the competition’s office in Dan’s Bellevue Hill mansion, which he attended on a daily basis. He arranged each competition, curated the follow-up tours for prizewinners and kept the affairs of the competition’s “Friends” bubbling along between competitions with musical events featuring his chosen proteges.

By the 2012 competition, Ms Dan was not well enough to attend. She died in October that year. Thomson himself was suffering a decline. He could barely preside on public occasions and had to entrust the pronunciation of difficult foreign names to others. He can only have managed by adherence to a by-then well-established timetable and procedures.

Following Dan’s death, the Bellevue Hill mansion was sold. At the beginning of 2014 it was announced that Thomson had retired. He moved to Melbourne and died in February this year.

At the beginning of this year the competition advertised for a new artistic director, seeking someone who would be responsible for everything that Thomson had done, right down to proof-reading the programs (with the possibility of some administrative assistance mentioned). An “International” figure was sought who could renew the competition.

At the beginning of April Australian expatriate pianist Piers Lane was announced as artistic director. Since then, Marcus Barker, who previously ran the Tasmanian “Ten Days on the Island” festival, has taken a job as General Manager and a “Marketing and Administration Coordinator” position has been advertised ($48,000 pro rata for four- rising to five-days-a-week before). This is the person who who will be doing the proofreading.

There must be some money to pay for all of this.

The revamped 2016 competition has now been announced.

The main changes that I have noticed are as follows:

1. Preliminary auditions are to be submitted as video recordings by Vimeo or Youtube.

Previously, Thomson travelled to various venues (North America, Europe, China, I think) and co-opted local ad hoc jurors for auditions which were at least theoretically open to the public. It is unlikely that Lane would have been available for such an extensive process.

I expect that young pianists of today are accustomed to this sort of requirement and there are obviously economies for the competition in proceeding this way. The costs to competitors of travelling to an audition venue as against preparing an audition video probably roughly cancel each other out.

Overall, I suppose this is a sign of the times, even if the next sign could only be an entire competition conducted online.

2. The syllabus for the solo-piano rounds has become less prescriptive.

The only requirement is that an Australian solo work be included but the specially commissioned Australian works which have previously been a feature of the competition have been dropped.

This may make it difficult to compare competitors although many players will fall back on usual competition stalwarts.

If the rules are looser potential competitors may be looking more carefully at the jury – to be announced in October.

3. The number of competitors has been reduced from 36 to 32 and there is one round fewer

This will save costs on fares and accommodation and duration of the competition. Previously stages I – IV were in duration 20, 20, 40, 50 mins plus chamber music, with respectively 36, 36, 20, 12 players. Now preliminary rounds are 20 and 30 minutes, after which the semi finals see a reduction from 32 to 12 players. The semi-final recital has been lengthened to 60-65 minutes. A player who gets to the semi finals will have played 110-15 minutes in 3 recitals as opposed to 130 in 4 before. We hear less from fewer pianists and more pianists will only play twice.

4. The solo and chamber music rounds have returned to the Verbrugghen Hall at the Conservatorium.

This marks the healing of the rift between the competition and the Con which occurred after Thomson left the Con and went to the Australian Institute of Music in the late 1990s. The competition also now has an office at the Con.

In the intervening years the competition has been held at the Seymour Centre. The Con is more glamorous and probably will work better backstage and for practice pianos. The Seymour Centre has actually proved to be quite audience friendly and provided you come by car much more accessible than the Con will be next year.

5. A revision of the “choice of piano” rules.

In previous years there was a kind of competition going on between piano manufacturers. There may have been more going on than met the public eye with the offering of practice pianos and other inducements to fancied competitors.

Now the rules say that four
pianos will be provided – Kawai, Yamaha, Steinway and Fazioli, and that “Competitors will perform on at least two and up to four different piano makes during the Preliminaries and Semi-finals of the Competitions, the order of which will be determined through a public draw in early June 2016.”

The rules state that this is designed to reproduce real-life conditions, where players cannot necessarily chose the instruments they play on – but how often in real life do you have to play a Fazioli? I can’t help thinking that this change has other more practical reasons, including just saving time in the first preliminary rounds.

6. A revision of the chamber music round.

In recent years the chamber music part of the semifinals involved making up a piano trio with one of two violin-cello pairs. Next year competitors will need to have prepared a violin sonata and a piano quintet. Which they get to play if they progress to this round looks as though it will depend on how the order of semi-finalists pans out.

The Goldner Quartet, who are collaborators with Lane, will make up the quintet; Tasmin Little will be the rent-a-violin.

It will be a treat for the audience to hear six piano quintet performances. It may prove a bit more difficult for competitors to find a whole quartet to practise with before the competition rather than just a violinist and cellist.

7. The list of concerti has been tweaked.

A Bach, a Haydn and Beethoven 1 and 2 have been added to the first concerto round which previously comprised Mozart concerti only. My bet is that there will be a Beethoven-ward drift.

The second, 19th-20th century round, which starts at Beethoven 4, is notable for what has not been included. Four prominent competition choices are OUT: Beethoven 3 & 5, Tchaikovsky 1 and Rachmaninov 3. That is a relief, especially the Tchaik and Rach.

There are some intriguing inclusions. This is the list:

Beethoven Concerto No 4 in G major Op 58

Hummel Concerto No 2 in A minor Op 85

Chopin Concerto No 2 in F minor Op 21

Schumann Concerto in A minor Op 54

Liszt Concerto No 2 in A major S.125

Grieg Concerto in A minor Op 16

Saint-Saëns Concerto No 2 in G minor Op 22

Tchaikovsky Concerto No 2 [!] in G major Op 44 (competitors might be wise to check which version the SSO has the parts for)

Brahms Concerto No 2 in B flat major Op 83

Scriabin Concerto in F sharp minor Op 20

Dohnányi Variations on a Nursery Tune Op 25

Rachmaninoff Concerto No 2 in C minor Op 18

Medtner Concerto No 2 in C minor Op 50

Prokofiev Concerto No 3 in C major Op 26

Gershwin Concerto in F

Ravel Concerto in G major

Bartok Concerto No 3 Sz. 119, BB 127

Barber Concerto Op 38

Williamson Concerto No 3 in E flat major (probably the most obscure of the lot: counts as Australian content)

Franck Variations Symphoniques M.46

Litolff Scherzo from Concerto Symphonique No 4.

The last two come together, ie, if you choose the Franck you also play the Litolff. They could be a canny choice. I hope somebody who has chosen these gets through to the finals.


There is (trigger alert: cliché coming) an elephant in the room: the devastating cutbacks in ABC Classic FM’s live broadcasts.

Over the years the ABC’s live broadcasts with commentary have done much to enhance the competition and I expect done a lot to garner audiences for the follow-up appearances for prize winners. They were a big part of the buzz.

In recent years, the ABC has extended the same coverage to the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. This year it did not. At that time, the axe had just fallen and hard. The ABC probably thought it was doing well to mount the level of live and (more often) delayed broadcasts that it gave.

There is still time to regroup for SIPCA 2016. It would be pathetic if any invidious Sydney-Melbourne thing were raised to preclude the resumption of normal broadcasting.

Private party or not, if I were SIPCA, that is the big thing I would be working on right now.

Too good to last?

November 21, 2014

On Monday night to Angel Place to hear Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in recital for the SSO.

He has been here before and there was a reasonably full hall. I had been sorry to miss a rather patchily-publicized performance by him of the Schumann piano concerto with the SSO and its fellows and fellows-alumni on the Friday morning before, but it was a difficult time and a look on the internet suggested that there were almost no seats available. What had been done with them? Was it all a big free list?

But back to Angel Place.

The first half was all Beethoven. Originally it was to be No 22 (Op 54), No 24 (Op 78), No 26 (op 81a) and Les Adieux, No 26 (op 81a). That is, the last pre-Waldstein sonata and then three more in almost a row – skipping the Appassionata – two smallish and less often performed and Les Adieux as the big finish.

Maybe in the course of the year since the program was planned Bavouzet decided this was a little too esoteric. Whatever reason, in the end what we got was a rearrangement with the unfamiliar little sonatas taken out and substituted for by the Appassionata. That then became the first-half closer, bookended by Les Adieux as the opener with Op 54 tucked in the middle.

Personally, I would have preferred the original first half. But then I am an esoterica snob. Even if that is my own straw man, it says something a bit pathetic about modern piano recital culture that any Beethoven sonata could be considered so. But I’m not making it up – I overheard others commenting on the F major as “not often heard” on the way out at interval.

Consistent with that, I most enjoyed the middle sonata: the second movement elicited a deserved Bravo! from the balcony.

It struck me that Bavouzet’s vision of Beethoven was a French vision of Beethoven the mad German, stomping his foot and thumping the keyboard against the world and his deafness. This started from the octave leap sforzando just into the Allegro of the first movement of Les Adieux, which was matched with a thumpish (in a good way) bass line. As the first half went on, Bavouzet assumed a Ludwig-van-ish dishevelment. Germans tend to downplay that side of LvB to take him back to the world of Goethe and Schiller.

I did wonder if the last Mvt of the Appassionata started a bit fast (it’s “ma non troppo”): there wasn’t much more for JEB to add for the Presto at the end.

Still, I enjoyed it.

The second half was a piece written specially for Bavouzet: “The Book of JEB,” by Bruno Mantovani. I am always a bit trepidatious about new works. It’s ignorance, of course. Being told as we were told to listen to the iterations of the opening chord was not a very helpful listening guide. Nevertheless it was compelling, with some beautiful sounds, and obviously virtuosic – subject to the qualification that I would never know if there were a wrong note, which makes it a kind of low-risk virtuosity which must be a contradiction in terms.

Bavouzet may have brushed his hair at interval: the mad Teuton was banished. He even sat more still.

Which was especially apparent in the last set of pieces, Ravel’s Miroirs. Everyone will have their favourite piece in this set: for me the point where the magic really struck was the boat on the ocean which induced me into a kind of sympathetically sighing trance with the rhythms of the ocean. The spell held and at the end of the valley of the bells I was in tears from the beauty of it all. This was not playing to burst into applause at the end of, but that does not mean it was any the less appreciated.

For an encore we got Debussy’s Fireworks.

This concert itself was not recorded, but a repeat performance in Melbourne is due to be recorded by the ABC and broadcast by them in December. That means I won’t be able to check the (what seemed to me like) slight falters at one point in Les Adieux, but I would be able to hear the Mantovani again and relive the rapture of the Ravel.

At home afterwards, the news was all of the impending cuts to the ABC. The Govt says they are “savings” and that no programs need be cut. ABC management says that as it is it needs to use savings to fund the repositioning of its activities to meet the digital age. Some things will need to be cut to fund this and the word was ABC Classic FM is in the firing line.

ABC “Classic” FM is already not what it was. There are no announcers overnight, and it is unable to announce its music lists more than about 3 days in advance. There has been a certain amount of dumbing down of some of its musical content towards a popular classical format. I could do without Margaret Throsby (though there is less of her than there once was).

What I treasure most in ABC FM is its broadcasts of live performances. That’s the ABC’s own recordings, from Australia, and overseas recordings, mostly from public or public-interest broadcasters. I’m not quite sure how the latter works but I presume it relies on some system of exchange as well as contractual provision in the rights given or sold by the performers to the respective broadcasters.

This has become increasingly important as the economics of studio recordings and CDs or other means of distribution have changed. Broadcasts of local performances and associated magazine-type programs also provide a publicity infrastructure in kind for local performers.

Now it looks as though Mark Scott is ready to slash that. (Update: I meant Classic FM in general but my suspicion that live broadcasts, its most distinctive contribution, would be a target is firming.)

Change and decay in all around as another part of the (middle class) welfare state crumbles. Was it all really too good to last?