First Fiddle / Tuning in to the British
Surfing BBC Radio 3's Web site is like journeying through a cave of treasures, with its rich archive of classics, live concerts and interviews. The Voice of Music's site isn't even worth visiting.
It is noon on a Friday, and the classical music radio station is broadcasting its weekly program, "Music Matters." In an eloquent exchange, full of humor and depth of thought, the host interviews British composer Judith Weir about the approaching weekend of concerts celebrating her works. The two discuss music and society, live concerts and recordings, the creative processes of composers and the power of sounds and words.
The host then turns to another guest in the studio, to discuss a new book on the philosophy of music. The conversation flows and turns to Schopenhauer's approach to music and a discussion of whether Beethoven's great piano sonata, the "Hammerklavier," can be considered "the same work" if performed by a flute quartet. Lastly, to round off the program, the host pays tribute to pianist Arthur Rubinstein, playing his recordings and speaking about the artist.
It almost goes without saying that we are not talking about Israel Radio, but rather the British station BBC Radio 3. We aren't tuning in to the radio as much as connecting over the Internet. The name of the program, "Music Matters," is really pun - it is about music and also about how music makes a difference in the world.
Surfing this site is like a journey through a cave of treasures: It is possible to pull hundreds of works from the archive and listen to them: New and old hits, live concerts, interviews, young musicians and composers of the past, drama and jazz, Bach and world music, discussion of religious and secular tunes and much more. It is also possible to sign up for "podcasts" - programs that are automatically downloaded onto your computer the moment they air.
This Web journey naturally rouses the question: Why not here? There are two switches at Israeli radio studios: One connects to the European Broadcasting Union, and its "Euro-Radio Classics" program, from which Israel can receive hundreds of music broadcasts from Europe each month. This window on what is happening in the world, and the ability to distribute Israeli music though radiophonic cultural exchanges, are being blocked because of bureaucracy. And these do not cost money.
The second switch is the connection to the Internet. It is not even worth trying to surf the Voice of Music Web site in its current state, because it is underfinanced and irrelevant. This is the only radio station in Israel that is not connected to the Internet oxygen tube: Army Radio and Galgalatz, the Second Channel and Radio 88 and even the First Channel also broadcast on the Internet, including commercials, news and public service spots - just not the Voice of Music. The station must make superhuman efforts to flip those switches as part of the urgent rejuvenation it needs.
It is well known that the station does not have financing or job openings and the Broadcasting Authority and Finance Ministry want to shut it down. After the sword of closure was brandished over it recently, it emerged as some musical outpost, a valuable reserve, backed by its listeners who stood behind it and rescued it. But the listeners' protests will not prevail forever over the financial interests of the Broadcasting Authority and Finance Ministry. The station itself must straighten up and realize that the world is changing - and turning against it; it must use its meager means to revive itself, to apply pressure from within to prove its importance.
Anyone who listens to the BBC Radio 3 can immediately spot the difference between it and Voice of Israel: the kind of conversations. On the Israeli station, they speak in a way that belongs to the old world. Rika Bar Sela on the weekly news magazine, which is mostly a radiophonic bulletin board, Dani Orstav moderating the direct concerts, Zmira Lutzky discussing new music, Hayuta Dvir moderating the weekly Atnahta concerts and Moshe Shidletzky on his programs about musical works. A loyal listener is forced to muster a lot of forgiveness for the station to listen to their style of presenting.
Voice of Israel lacks the calibre of guests interviewed on BBC Radio 3: composers who talk about their works and intellectuals who converse about music.
It is impossible to imitate the flow, the eloquence and the humor of the British, just as it is impossible to grow lawns like theirs - "because after you plant them you need to water them for 500 years," one British expert told an Israeli colleague who wanted to know the secret.
And what is really lacking are the performers who talk about playing music and bring in their own recordings. It is not enough that station manager Avi Hanani himself edits a large part of the programs: With recordings of concerts it is not possible to keep a station alive. Even a computer could also do that.