Take Your Hands Off the Voice of Music

Is the Voice of Music really necessary? Is it important for the Israel Broadcasting Authority to maintain a classical music radio station? In his office, as he is busily engaged in promoting efficiency, or cuts, or thrift - or whatever this process is called in which they take the little money that is left to the weak and waste it on the strong - the director-general of the IBA, Yosef Barel, should have been asking himself these questions. From the result - the decision to combine the Voice of Music with Israel Radio Reshet Alef and thereby strangle and silence it - the answers appear to be negative. And now there is the desire to ask Barel: Can you swear that you know why it isn't necessary and why it isn't important?

Barel is not alone. Classical music does not speak to everyone's heart: The beggars of Amsterdam fled what had been the most attractive site for them - the central railroad station - the moment the municipality began to broadcast classical music over the loudspeakers. A public servant, however, is not supposed to involve his personal taste in his considerations and flee, but rather to examine questions deeply; and here Barel has failed.

It had already seemed as though the culture of musical broadcasting in Israel had come a long way since radio stations in the land of Israel in the 1930s and 1940s broadcast live concerts of the Philharmonic Orchestra, or modern adaptations by Eden Partosh and Paul Ben Haim of ethnic songs. It had already seemed that it would no longer be necessary to explain the importance of its status: After all, the Voice of Music wasn't born yesterday, or even 20 years ago - the official date of its birth. It is part of a historical continuum of a far earlier radiophonic musical culture, which broadcast field recordings of pioneering ethnomusicologists and served as a stage for the development of modern music back when it was performed by the Voice of Israel Orchestra. From its earliest incarnations this radiophonic framework was a trailblazer purveyor and shaper of culture, and since then it developed until it became a national asset in the best sense of the term.

And now - regression. This is what is really so distressing and scary about the most recent development: the power of a top official, who appears out of nowhere, to erase history. It is necessary to go back to "Go and pester people and explain the ABCs of culture" - and how the hell does one do this?

Perhaps the thing to do is to pluck at Barel's patriotic heartstrings, and tell them that there is no better station in the world than the Voice of Music, not in England and not in France; perhaps it should be made clear to him that this is not just a matter of symphonies by Haydn and Brahms, but also of jazz and folk music, light classical music and the musical quiz; and maybe he should be shown how relevant this station is to this place and this time in the nurturing of young artists and the affording of a stage to Israeli composers - and above all, perhaps it would be well to explain to him that he has in hand a rare nature preserve, which expands horizons and affords spiritual succor to hundreds of thousands of people, and that the alternative to it is horrible and stupefying: a station like the British Classic FM, which plays only "carpets" of classical hits, and between them offers gardening tools and crates of wine at bargain prices.

Barel should have defended bodily this cultural preserve; and first of all he should have demanded of the director of the station, Avi Hanani, to have drawn the appropriate conclusions from its decline during his long tenure.

In an article that was published in Haaretz last week, Zipi Shohat outlined the anatomy of this decline, which has been expressed mainly in the halving of the number of full-time jobs, a massive erosion of the station's technology and the dwindling of live broadcasts and independent productions. Hanani refused to respond in that article, and not only there: His silence and his failures have continued over the years on the guise of obedience to the gagging-by-law, to which he was supposedly obligated as a government employee, without having the necessary courage to scoff at this prohibition. This is convenient for Barel, and just as he has silenced the station manager, he has now decided to silence an entire musical world.

It is necessary to call upon Yosef Barel: Take your hands off the Voice of Music. For still, despite its decline, he has a splendid station in his hands. He must be prevented from employing the tactic of "combine and rule" by which, after long years of damage to the Voice of Music and Reshet Alef, he wants to combine the two stations in a way that will bring about their extinction. Combine and rule, silence and muffle: not the obsequious Reshet Gimmel, not the failing television Channel One, but the last shreds of the spirit and the intellect that still remain here.