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Classical Notes

Signs of civilization

Posted at 11:03 AM on May 15, 2006 by Don Lee

A friend was asking me the other day about European radio broadcasters, saying hed observed distinct differences between them and us. During his travels in Europe, he said hed noticed their news reports were longer. Classical music was more prevalent and the programming choices more serious. He wondered whether what he heard was evidence that European listeners are more sophisticated than we are.

Thats not what European broadcasters think, I told him. More than 25 years ago, wondering the same thing about our cultures, I raised a similar question with several German radio people. Their answer surprised me. They said they didnt have many listeners for challenging music, serious documentaries or radio drama. They offered this programming because they felt it was important work to do and the government subsidized them to do it. Since that time, the rise of commercial broadcasting in Europe has reduced the audience for public radio culture even more.

Saturdays New York Times reports another development that suggests Europe's cultural roots may not run as deep as Americans might think: The Berlin Philharmonic has launched an ambitious new education program. When that organization in that city makes such a move, it lends a lot of symbolic weight to the notion that future classical audiences can't be taken for granted (even if you factor in the big grant the orchestra got for the project).

So. Europeans are not more culturally sophisticated than we are. Or are they?