GOOD PRACTICE GUIDE Pushing music to the front in post-Covid UK

In its centenary year the BBC’s music output is being reviewed after the pandemic. Patrick Holland, director of factual, arts and classical music for the BBC and former controller of BBC2 and BBC4, explains

Since the BBC was created 100 years ago, classical music has been a major part of our remit, whether through being the most significant patron of new classical works and supporting cutting edge talent, or our adventurous concerts from the BBC orchestras and choirs in hard-to-reach areas.

Or our projects to rewrite the classical music canon, representing unfairly forgotten composers on BBC Radio 3, our performances and documentaries on TV, and our wide-ranging learning and outreach activity.

And of course, we’re the home to the biggest classical music festival in the world – the BBC Proms.

All of this is such important public service work. Our footprint is international, UK-wide, across the devolved nations and regionally in England. Much of what we do is only possible through working with partners across the classical world, and we know that over the last few years many of the venues, support organisations, talent, administrators, ensembles and more have been hit hard by the impact of Covid 19.

The effects on the cultural sector are still being felt. Add a rapidly changing digital landscape, with audiences finding ever new ways to access classical music, and there has never been a more important time to understand the BBC’s role in the UK classical music ecosystem.

Classical music performance, creation and curation are baked into our charter, they help make us wholly distinctive, and it’s a role that we are fiercely proud of. The questions are how do we best plan for the next decade, to ensure we retain our unique position, reaching existing audiences whilst being ambitious to attract new ones too?

Given all these factors, and especially in our anniversary year, we want to take stock and explore the current state of the classical music sector in the UK, the BBC’s role in it and how we can continue to get the most audiences and cultural value from our classical music portfolio.

We will be reviewing our activity in the coming weeks, seeking input from our own teams as well as various partner organisations, to hear their thoughts on how we can best work together in the future. The review will include audience and market analysis as well, and explore ways for the BBC to reach people across the UK in the nations and regions, encourage greater diversity and develop new talent. We also hope to identify new opportunities to broaden out access to the BBC’s classical offer, including through digital innovation and additional partnerships.

I’ll be devoting much of my time to leading the review over the next two months and I’m interested in seeing what we come across as part of it. After my years running BBC2 and BBC4 I’ve seen how audience habits have changed, and my time running Factual, Arts and Classical Music in TV has made me further appreciate the unique role our content plays in cultural life across the UK.

I’ll be working with Rachel Jupp, editorial executive in the BBC’s content division, and Alan Davey, controller of Radio 3, BBC Proms and BBC Orchestras and Choirs, as well as people across the BBC who are involved in our classical music activities. We’ll be making a summary of the report public, as well as plans that are developed as a result of it.

We are hugely proud to be one of the most significant players in the classical music industry, forming a vital part of the British cultural landscape and the international scene too. We’ve achieved this by never staying stagnant, always considering how we can best serve our audiences and our partners. We want to continue that conversation to ensure the BBC has the biggest impact for audiences; broadening access, education, participation to classical music and opening the doors for the next generation behind the baton. This review will help us to do so.

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