BBC set to open elements of its classical archive to on-demand audiences

Martin Cullingford Sun 7th October 2018

Director General due to announce that many recordings will be 'returned to the public'

Bryn Terfel winning the lieder prize at the 1989 Cardiff Singer of the World: such events are among the treasures of the BBC's classical archives (copyright: BBC)

Bryn Terfel winning the lieder prize at the 1989 Cardiff Singer of the World: such events are among the treasures of the BBC's classical archives  (copyright: BBC)

The BBC is set to make many recordings from its archives available to the public, for on-demand online listening. 

Tony Hall, Director General of the BBC, is expected to make the announcement on Thursday, when he launches ‘Our Classical Century’, a season of programmes spanning both radio and television channels which will explore the past hundred years of classical music-making by the corporation. 

With all that sits in the BBC’s vaults, the announcement is an enticing prospect for classical audiences. Not only is the corporation home to a number of prestigious performance groups - including world-leading ensembles such as the BBC Symphony and BBC Philharmonic orchestras, as well as choirs such as the BBC Singers - but it also produces the Proms, one of the world’s longest and most wide-ranging concert annual music festivals, and major competitions including the BBC Young Musician and Cardiff Singer of the World. All of this makes the BBC archives among the world’s richest repository of classical performances.

Full details are yet to be revealed, though it’s understood that recordings will be introduced into the public domain for limited broadcast and on-demand listening over time, on platforms including BBC iPlayer and a soon to be launched audio app BBC Sounds, and that the BBC will seek to complement what the commercial sector offers in this area.

In his speech, Hall is expected to say ‘In an age of ever growing platforms and social media sharing, these historic and recent performances will be returned to the public as their rightful property’ - a reference to the way the BBC is funded, by the UK public, through a TV licence fee. That aspect is also expected to be touched on in Hall’s speech, as the Director General will argue that the BBC’s current breadth of output is not sustainable under the current finance model.

In recent years, the way people listen to music has transformed radically, with much listening - and for many most listening - taking the form of online streaming, whether of traditional recordings on services such as Spotify or Apple Music, or through the archives of orchestras including such pioneers of digital concert streaming as the Berlin Philharmonic or the Gothenburg Symphony. Meanwhile, on-demand online listening has also transformed the way audiences listen to radio stations, the days of only being able to tune in at the time of broadcast long gone. Depending on how much is released, and how it is made available, the BBC’s plans may well further add something rich to that ever-growing mix.

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© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2018