NPR Drops Two Major Classical Music Programs; American Public Media Picks Them Up

Classic Arts News   NPR Drops Two Major Classical Music Programs; American Public Media Picks Them Up
National Public Radio has decided to drop Performance Today and SymphonyCast, its flagship classical music programs. The network announced yesterday that it will stop producing the programs early next year.

But there's no need to fret that this is another giant step in the disappearance of the classics from the airwaves. In the very same announcement, it was revealed that American Public Media — the national distribution arm of Minnesota Public Radio, and the network that distributes A Prairie Home Companion, Marketplace and St. Paul Sunday — will take over both programs.

Production of the shows will simply shift from NPR's Washington headquarters to those of APM in St. Paul; distribution of the programs should increase from the current 230 local radio stations with the addition of the 15 stations in the Minnesota Public Radio system; insiders at the networks confirmed to The Washington Post and to that, at least in the near term, there should be little apparent change for the listener.

NPR will eliminate 11 staff positions in Washington connected with the programs, according to the Post. It is possible (though not confirmed), however, that those employees will be able to continue working on the shows in St. Paul.

Performance Today, with more than one million listeners the most popular classical radio program in the US, broadcasts concert excerpts in a wide range of classical genres from various ensembles throughout the United States, with interviews, news and features offered as well. SymphonyCast presents complete orchestral concerts from such prominent American ensembles as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as top European orchestras.

An NPR producer confirmed that the network will continue to produce World of Opera, which broadcasts performances from such companies as (among others) Houston Grand Opera, Washington National Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, the Teatro Comunale di Bologna and the Bavarian State Opera. NPR will also continue distribution of the youth-oriented classical program From the Top as well as such occasional programs as seasonal concert broadcasts of Handel's Messiah.

In recent years many US public radio stations have been reducing airtime for classical music or eliminating it from their schedules altogether in favor of news, features and talk programs. This trend has alarmed classical music lovers, but the stations generally report that their listenership increases in the wake of such changes.

American Public Media, however, has been increasing its classical music offerings, producing Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra concert broadcasts and distributing performances from the likes of the BBC Proms and the Music@Menlo festival. The network also offers Classical 24, a 24-hour/7-day feed of programming available for broadcast by member stations as they wish.

As American Public Media increases production and distribution of classical radio programming, NPR is concentrating on offering music digitally. The latter network is at work on developing a comprehensive online platform for distributing music programs digitally — classical and other genres as well. According to yesterday's statement from the two networks, APM has agreed in principle to participate in NPR's new digital service.

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