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Friday, November 13, 2009

Beantown in Cultural Decline

Recently I have begun to question why I still live in Boston. Beantown was once a city overflowing with cultural exuberance.

Historically, public television and radio had been active in producing and broadcasting musical events. WGBH radio once had experimental programs such as "The Composer Show" hosted by Peter Homans and produced by Wesley Horner. That program featured one or two emerging Boston-based composers every week. WGHB television routinely broadcast "Evening at Symphony" which frequently presented to the public BSO concerts, including countless contemporary works and new music premieres.

The Boston Globe (and even the Boston Herald) were once consistent and dedicated beacons of intelligent musical criticism and publicity. I waited every week for the Thursday "Calendar Section" with its' comprehensive listing of concerts, lectures, and cultural events. It was the primary way that a small but dedicated community of interested musicians and contemporary music advocates kept in touch.

And for me, Boston has always been home to three FM radio stations which included classical music programing on the public airwaves: WGBH, Harvard's WHRB, and the commercial radio station WCRB. While WGBH and WHRB were not exclusively a classical music station, WCRB provided classical music 7x24, albeit with a commercial accent. Even Boston University's WBUR would occasionally provide a little classical music programming.

For what feels like the majority of my adult life, WGHB and WCRB radio were the places I'd spend a many Friday afternoon or Saturday evening listening to live performances by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. If I couldn't catch the Friday afternoon live broadcast on WGBH, at least I could hear the Saturday evening performance on WCRB. These have been a major public service, and have allowed me to listen to the important new works that the orchestra has premiered in Boston and at Tanglewood over the past decades.

On December 1st, WGBH Boston will cease its' classical music operation. The not-for-profit broadcast organization has purchased WCRB and will take over their classical music venue. It seems to be all about economics. Many long-term staff members have been let go - including announcer and "DJ" Richard Knisely who has been a WGBH stable for 20 years.

It's unclear what this will mean in practical terms for the public, but for sure it will result in a net decrease in the aggregate number of hours of classical music air-time in the Boston-metro area. We will be going from three stations to two. While I suspect that live broadcasts of the Boston Symphony concerts will continue, I fear that the luxury of hearing both the Friday and Saturday concerts will cease to be an option.

As Boston matures and develops into an world-class city, it seems that access to its' home-grown cultural richness is in serious decline. The wonderful local resources that attracted me to this city some 35 years ago are rapidly vanishing before our eyes.