Pic and shovel…

https://i2.wp.com/ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/1440xn/p04ldpry.jpgTo be perfectly honest, I’d prefer not to have seen all this; but one of this blog’s loyal readers kindly sent me the link — and his thoughts, too! — so I can’t really justify ignoring the thing…

The 50 most striking BBC Music photos of 2016‘, it says, ‘it’ being this webpage here.

So, let’s have a look at these ‘striking BBC Music photos‘ — and see what strikes us about them…

Here we go…

First photo: pop music.

Second photo: pop music.

Third photo: pop music.

Fourth photo: pop music.

Fifth photo: pop music.

Sixth photo: pop music.

Seventh photo:

Crikey! It’s a Prom! Have they actually included something related to classical music? Ah, no they haven’t: it’s 2016’s ‘Prom 6’ — the ‘Gospel Prom‘. How divorced from popular music would you say that was? Would you say it was ‘classical music’ at all? No, you wouldn’t — for the very good reason that if the Proms were 90 concerts of ‘gospel music’ one after the other, you wouldn’t even think of pretending it was ‘a festival of classical music’.

All right, let’s move on…

Eighth photo: pop music.

Ninth photo: pop music.

Tenth photo: pop music.

Eleventh photo: pop music.

Twelfth photo: pop music.

Thirteenth photo: pop music.

Fourteenth photo: pop music.

Fifteenth photo: pop music.

Sixteenth photo: pop music.

Seventeenth photo: pop music.

Eighteenth photo: pop music.

Nineteenth photo: pop music.

Twentieth photo: pop music.

Twenty-first photo: pop music.

Twenty-second photo: pop music.

Twenty-third photo: pop music.

Twenty-fourth photo: pop music.

Twenty-fifth photo: pop music.

Twenty-sixth photo: pop music.

Twenty-seventh photo: pop music.

Twenty-eighth photo: pop music.

Twenty-ninth photo: pop music.

Thirtieth photo:

Well, that’s definitely an orchestra — or, part of one, anyway — and once again it’s in the Royal Albert Hall — as you can immediately tell by the shape of the conductor’s guard-rail. But oh, look: it’s ‘Prom 8’ — the ‘Strictly Prom‘. Once again, not a classical event — even though the music being danced through in this specific routine was by Ginastera.

Thirty- first photo:

Golly gosh! Another orchestra! Are we in the presence of something properly classical at last? No we aren’t: look at the rear of the stage. It’s just pop group ‘The 1975’ performing with the BBC Philharmonic as its backing ensemble. Simply more pop music, in other words, albeit the kind that likes — and is permitted — to use 90 of the country’s most capable musicians as mere upholstery

On we go…

Thirty-second photo: pop music.

Thirty-third photo: pop music.

Thirty-fourth photo: pop music.

Thirty-fifth photo: pop music.

Thirty-sixth photo: pop music.

Thirty-seventh photo: pop music.

Thirty-eighth photo: pop music.

Thirty-ninth photo: pop music.

Fortieth photo: pop music.

Forty-first photo: pop music.

Forty-second photo:


Yes: for the third time, we see an orchestra! And this time, it’s not ‘a Prom’, because that interior is the Royal Festival Hall — easily distinguished from the Royal Albert Hall because, unlike ‘the home of the Proms’, it doesn’t have an acoustic that would shame a thoughtlessly designed Zeppelin shed. Oh, just a minute, though: this is the show for ‘The Olivier Awards 40th Anniversary’ — which means the BBC Concert Orchestra was being forced to play its way through this stuff. Not a classical event at all, then — but an eruption of arts-and-entertainments backslapping packed with ‘the very best of musical theatre‘. In fact, if you can think of a single good and compelling reason why all this really had to be broadcast ‘live on Radio 3’ for a total of two-and-a-half hours, then I hope you’ll tell the station’s Controller — because he sure as hell won’t have one.

Forty-third photo: pop music.

Forty-fourth photo: pop music.

Forty-fifth photo: pop music.

Forty-sixth photo: pop music.

Forty-seventh photo: pop music.

Forty-eighth photo: pop music.

Forty-ninth photo: pop music.


Fiftieth photo: pop music.

So there we are: the BBC puts out ‘the 50 most striking BBC Music photos of 2016‘, and not one of them — not a single one! — has any visible connection with the classical repertoire, or reflects in the slightest the BBC’s supposed curatorial and promotional duties with regard to it.

Think about it: in the ‘outside world’ of people whose only everyday exposure is to commercial pop music designed for instant consumption and rapid replacement, this series of photographs will be seen and digested by countless thousands of folks — every one of whom will come away without having had even the vaguest reminder that the professionalised art-music repertoire exists and is worth exploring in its own right. The entire classical world and its living tradition – the symphonies and concertos, the string quartets and other chamber music, the operas, the sacred music, songs and Lieder, early music, contemporary music — has, in effect, been airbrushed out of sight by ‘BBC Music’ and a supposedly outstanding series of photos that render it all invisible

Incidentally, I hope people will click on the page itself and look at all the other pictures.  Do you see what I see? A succession of images that are, in the main, pretty striking. Plus four that are absolutely pitiful. Our four. There are 46 creditably vivid and arresting photos — especially if what you like to see is kids with guitars, kids posing on stage, kids wailing into microphones, kids trying to look sultry and transgressive, etc — and there are four that are purest photographic clag

Yes, the BBC is pretending that a photo taken 155 feet away from a ‘gospel superchoir’ reduced to microscopic size by the fish-eye lens is ‘a striking music photo’. It is no such thing, of course. The only reason it has been chosen is that it shows the BBC’s ownership of the Proms and duly fetishizes the Albert Hall interior — in a context that has nothing off-puttingly ‘classical’ about it

Then there’s the ridiculously dull photo from the ‘Strictly’ Prom: once again, what we’re seeing is nothing more than a bit of corporate scent-marking: a well-exploited ‘BBC brand’ is being shamelessly advertised in a way that foregrounds two dancers popular with the viewing public — and very much backgrounds the ‘classical-looking’ musical resources that have just accompanied them with such finesse. And the ‘take-away’ message — however subliminal — has nothing to do with art-music … and everything to do with keeping an exploited public ‘on-side’: ‘Defend the BBC and the license-fee!‘, it whispers. ‘Or you’ll lose Strictly! You will! It’ll go…!

By the time our third photo was chosen, I assume someone felt that they really had to risk showing a whole orchestra — but note how it is done: the centre of the image belongs to the pop band, warmly lit; the orchestra is frozen in cold blue light and down there at the bottom. As I wrote in an article the other month: ‘On your knees, orchestra!


As for the fourth image … well, just look at it. It’s a shot so utterly without point, meaning or composition that you couldn’t even give it away in a publicity pack — unless your aim was to show the conductor being unexpectedly beamed aboard a spaceship from the planet Tricolore. Note that here, as elsewhere, no classical instrumentalist is allowed to occupy more than a small fraction of the image; none is anywhere near the camera; and none is shown actually doing anything musical at all.

I don’t think this pitiful collection of photographic debris should leave us in any doubt: as far as classical festivals, orchestras and instrumentalists are concerned, our photographers didn’t know what they were dealing with, and didn’t give a damn anyhow. Nor did the people who put this pop-obsessed and employer-serving sequence together.

Are you surprised? I’m not: it’s the BBC!


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2 thoughts on “Pic and shovel…

  1. I’ve been putting classical music, including dozens of BBC Proms, on TV for 45 years, always trying to make it look attractive and not boring (aided by increasingly adventurous lighting designers).

    However, nothing we do at the RAH/Barbican/RFH/ROH/Coliseum etc. can ever compete visually with the rock/pop/soul/folk/awards spectaculars in these 50 photos.

    At “classical” events we cannot fill the stage with smoke, use intense backlighting, roving lasers, extravagant costumes or sultry nubile poses. We cannot celebrate closed-eyes yelling into mics touching lips, legs-akimbo guitarists, close-mic sobbing at a keyboard, pounding drums, glitter balls or showers of confetti … delivered through 50,000 watts of distortion-free PA loudspeakers. All of that generates the impact that’s been frozen into these dynamic images (apart from the contrived, posed publicity shots). Modern digital photography and powerful lenses celebrate every ecstatic moment.

    These are two worlds. Pretending they are not is pointless. They nudge each other uncomfortably at a Strictly prom or on BBC Music Awards or at the awful Classical Brits (which is outside the BBC’s portfolio) … even the rock journalist Paul Morley wrote a blistering attack on that. The priorities are obvious. A symphony orchestra, or a solo (inaudible) backing cello, are only there to garnish and support. To doubters, “Get over it” is the message.

    The BBC’s photo gallery has simply missed a word out of the title. It should have read: “The 50 most striking BBC Popular Music photos of 2016.”

    One man could solve this: Alan Davey, BBC Radio 3 Controller. He could induce Radio 3’s website to buckle down and put online 50 photos under the title “The 50 most striking BBC Classical Music photos of 2016.” This could start with photos of Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach Suites at the Albert Hall – eyes closed and face rapturous – and two prodigies: Barenboim with his childhood friend Martha Argerich, in a divine Schubert duet encore.

    We should stop pretending these two worlds have parity of appeal among viewers and listeners. They never have and they never will. Only a tiny minority of their respective fans enjoy the other’s music. The pop-orientated compilers at the BBC website must be blissfully unaware of their myopia. Plainly they believe they’ve crowned the past year of music at the BBC with a terrific selection of photos, and topped it with an honest, irresistible headline.

    Rodney Greenberg


  2. Excellent analysis by Rodney Greenberg. Radio 3 needs to come out fighting. And on this issue at least join forces with Classic FM. HB


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