Good afternoon, friends. As they say in opera, Coraggio, the end is near.
For over 50 years I have enjoyed a modest international solo career. Before branching out as a soloist, I was for many years a member of the Vancouver Symphony and the CBC Radio Orchestra. In my spare time I founded and developed Overture Concerts, which brought thousands of concerts, performed mainly by up-and-coming young Canadian artists, to smaller communities throughout the country, on a financially secure subscription basis. For this peripatetic performing and organizational activity, I've been honoured with the Order of Canada and the Order of B.C.
In recent years I've worked with tenor Ben Heppner, arranging his tours to smaller rural Canadian communities. And I've taken particular pleasure in developing Remote Tours Canada, which provides professional musical ensembles to schools throughout Canada's most isolated regions. I therefore particularly appreciate this opportunity to address the standing committee.
This morning, before coming to this meeting, I received an e-mail from Ben Heppner, and he asked me to read it to you. With your permission, I will read you a bit of what he said:
Dear esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am in a state of shock. As I have travelled throughout the world performing, I have been hearing alarming things about the CBC.
All of the arts reporting is seemingly gone. The CBC orchestra, completely unique in North America, gone with a stroke of the pen. The CBC Talent Festival...named earlier, gone. Every significant arts program vaporised.
I have been on record as saying that the most important moment in my career was the winning of the CBC competition in 1979. Without this national exposure, I quite likely would not have ever decided to pursue a career at all. Now, just as the list of exceptional talent is reaching significant proportions with names like James Ehnes, Measha Brueggergosman, this is the moment when the decision is made to relegate “classical” music to the 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. time slot. This is exactly how you can kill any interest from the successive generations--put it where they won't hear it.
I believe these sweeping changes are a gross mistake for our country. Surely there are some of you hearing these various presentations who will take the courage to challenge the misguided efforts to change CBC to a commercial-style radio station. This is a shortsighted approach to our national culture, talent pool and future.
Please have the courage to reconsider these misguided program changes.
After such a powerful plea, most of my previously prepared text is decidedly anticlimactic. So even though I've saved one minute there, I won't save much more on what remains.
In recent seasons Ben Heppner, surely Canada's most celebrated superstar in the world of classical music, has made a commitment to Canada. In between his engagements at the world's great opera houses he decided to set aside a time slot each season to tour to small-town Canada. Last year it was Dawson Creek and Salt Spring, among others in B.C. This year he's going to Fort McMurray, Whitehorse, and Yellowknife. He recognizes that Canadians don't only listen to great music in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.
The CBC, like Ben Heppner, has that same choice. It can follow the ratings or it can serve the nation. Toronto and Montreal have classical music alternatives, but the CBC is the only classical music station for most of the nation. The CBC seems to have forgotten that classical music is the backbone of all the other music and must therefore remain a pre-eminent mainstay on Radio 2. Great music reflects timeless standards of excellence. It is eternally enjoyed by young people, by elderly people, by new immigrants, and by every ethnic and national group that makes up our nation. Instead, we are now to be offered what Victor Borge would call “a little bit of this, a little bit of that”. Nobody, regardless of musical preference, will find much satisfaction in such a hodgepodge of undefined programming.
My own MP, Russ Hiebert, South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, and an associate member of your committee, pointed out just yesterday in a letter to constituents that “an attempt by the CBC to be all things to all listeners may well end up satisfying no one”.
It may sound politically attractive to try to reach a broader audience with varied musical tastes, but the result, as you can see from the massive popular outcry, has been a clear and bitter alienation of Radio 2's essential core audience, with no guarantee of any new audience to take its place.
Take a look at the word “orchestra” before you scrap the CBC Radio Orchestra, and try spelling it backwards. The last four letters, A-R-T-S, make up the word “arts”. It is absolutely impossible to dismantle that orchestra without destroying the very “art” that it embodies. Although the issues you are dealing with today are vastly greater than the orchestra itself, it's scuttling; it's one more step in the general disintegration of respect and historical awareness of great music, which, along with great literature, painting, poetry, architecture, dance, represents the fundamental heritage of our ever-changing nation.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.