Nicola Benedetti attacks 'heart-breaking' cuts to BBC Scotland's music programmes

New Edinburgh International Festival director Nicola Benedetti has urged BBC Scotland to rethink “heart-breaking” cuts to its music programming.

The award-winning violinist said she was "shocked and deeply disappointed” at moves to axe dedicated classical, jazz and traditional music shows on Radio Scotland. She has called for the broadcaster to work with the presenters of Classics Unwrapped, Jazz Nights and Pipelines – Jamie MacDougall, Seonaid Aitken and Gary West – to ensure its music programming had an even deeper and more meaningful presence.

Benedetti, who will oversee her first festival programme this summer, said the loss of the shows would “perform a heart-breaking disservice to the irreplaceable role they have played in the lives of musicians and music lovers across the country and all parts of society.”

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She recalled the impact Radio Scotland had made on her own career when they offered her “first ever true professional invitation” as a young musician. Benedetti has joined forces with Scotland’s leading composer, Sir James MacMillan, to campaign against the cuts.

Nicola Benedetti was appointed director of the Edinburgh International Festival last year. Picture: Jessica Shurte

They have launched an online petition calling for the BBC to rethink the decision to axe the shows, which are due to be wound up over the next few months.

MacMillan, founder of the Cumnock Trust music festival in his native Ayrshire, where Benedetti was also brought up, has described BBC Scotland’s actions as “a silencing of Scotland’s unique musical voice and a stamping out of creativity at a time creativity is most needed”.

The composer suggested it was “almost an act of artistic and cultural vandalism” to axe the Classics Unwrapped programme.

BBC Scotland has blamed the cuts on the ongoing two-year freeze of the licence fee, as well as a move to focus more on “digital output” rather than broadcasts.

Sir James MacMillan has accused BBC Scotland of 'a silencing of Scotland’s unique musical voice and a stamping out of creativity at a time creativity is most needed.' Picture: Marc Marnie

More than 2,600 people have already backed a separate petition calling for a rethink from BBC Scotland, which was instigated by one of Scotland’s leading jazz musicians.

Tommy Smith, founder of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and head of jazz at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, accused BBC Scotland of “abandoning the art form”.

Benedetti, who is patron of the Cumnock Tryst Festival, said: “I am shocked and deeply disappointed to hear the news of BBC Radio Scotland’s decision to axe their specialist music programmes Classics Unwrapped, Jazz Nights and Pipelines. My first ever true professional invitation came from BBC Radio Scotland. They reached out to provide a supportive, encouraging yet professional platform before anyone else in the industry.

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“They had, and still have, their eye on the future of music, and were willing to take the risk on a young unknown musician. Every long standing institution always needs to be revolutionised. But the deepest and truest of revolution comes when traditions of quality and greatness are preserved, whilst new voices and contemporary ideas are sought out and given a platform.

Nicola Benedetti is the first Scot and the first woman to be appointed director of the Edinburgh International Festival. Picture: Jassy Earl

"I urge everyone at BBC Scotland to work ‘with’ the seminal figures that have presented and safeguarded these programmes for so long, and to create an even deeper and more meaningful presence into the future.

"Axing these programmes is to perform a heart-breaking disservice to the irreplaceable role they have played in the lives of musicians and music lovers across the country and all parts of society."

MacMillan said: “After 22 years, BBC Radio Scotland is about to axe its Classical Music programme from the schedule.This decision must be reversed. I ask that you sign up to show your support for this campaign and to show your support for the two other ‘specialist’ music shows, Jazz Nights and Pipelines which are also facing the axe.

“Classics Unwrapped (and before that Grace Notes) presented by Jamie MacDougall has always been a platform for Scottish musical excellence. It’s been a launchpad for the next generation of classical music stars as well as a platform for established international stars.

"The voices of the National Youth Choir of Scotland and the instrumentalists of the National Youth Orchestras of Scotland have been heard on the national station thanks to Classics Unwrapped. This would not happen on BBC Radio 3.

“For the wider classical music community, the programme has a vital role to play and it seems almost an act of artistic and cultural vandalism to stop it. And it’s not just classical music. As Tommy Smith has voiced so eloquently regarding the same fate that awaits Jazz Nights, these programmes give Scottish artists a much-needed platform.

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"This is a silencing of Scotland’s unique musical voice and a stamping out of creativity at a time creativity is most needed.

"The thriving music scene in Scotland, the many international and award winning classical music festivals, will suffer from this silence. Without Classics Unwrapped, there will be fewer live music sessions with visiting artists, fewer opportunities for young musicians to broadcast, fewer opportunities to nurture the artists of tomorrow.

"There will be less air-time for in-depth interviews and features on projects, new music and underrepresented musicians, as well as coverage of festivals and performances across Scotland.

"The programme has been a great and loyal friend to my festival, The Cumnock Tryst, and was able to alert many around the country of our existence and activities. That impact cannot be underestimated.

“Classics Unwrapped aims to bring listeners, musicians and the wider classical sector together with wonderful, vibrant music that entices us to listen. We must fight to save this and the other shows.

“The BBC is renowned the world over for its support for culture and the arts. Why is BBC Scotland abandoning this vital activity and damaging its own reputation?”

BBC Scotland has defended the cuts by insisting jazz, classical and piping music would still be reflected in its schedules, adding: “We remain committed to showcasing the musical talent which exists in Scotland across all genres and we look forward to developing fresh and vibrant ideas which will allow our audiences to listen wherever and whenever they choose.”

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