At the end of this month Christopher Morley will resign as Chief Music Critic of the Birmingham Post after 36 years during which time he has covered hundreds of classical music performances at home and abroad. He shadowed the CBSO’s concert tours around the world – filing copy by telephone – and accompanied the Birmingham Bach Choir to Leipzig when it was part of Communist-controlled East Germany. His exploits fill his 2021 autobiography ‘Confessions of a Music Critic’, which is lively, upbeat and often scurrilously funny. His resignation letter is very different. It acknowledges the “huge honour” of working for the newspaper but fears that, “no-one in today’s newsroom will remember” him. Maudlin old age (Morley is 76) or regret for the past, that other country where everything was always better? Neither – nor is it sepia tinted nostalgia. Those really were the good old days for newspapers – before the internet, smartphones, and social media. Since 2005 some 271 local newspaper titles have closed, there are continuous waves of redundancies and circulation is a tiny fraction of the survivors’ heyday totals. The coverage of the arts has been devastated. Reviewers aren’t paid – neither is the cost of getting to concerts reimbursed – Morley and his dedicated team work for the love of music. They are fans and proselytisers. He’s just filed his last review as holder of his “once august title” and is brimming with enthusiasm for the Welsh National Opera’s “wonderful new production” of Benjamin Britten’s ‘Death in Venice’. Typically of Morley he could not wait for it to arrive at Birmingham Hippodrome in May, but made the 211 mile round-trip to see it in Cardiff.

My interview discovered not resignation but anger, frustration, and passion. There is the government’s “Philistine” attitude to the arts expressed in swingeing cuts and an unwillingness to recognize the revenue generated by performances; “What they fail to understand is the benefits for the hospitality industry which comes from the arts. Concertgoers visiting Birmingham go to pubs and restaurants, take taxis, some stay overnight at hotels.” There’s also the disappearance of music teaching in schools and access to musical instruments, for all but the children of wealthy parents.

There are also two local targets of his ire. First is the management, marketing and PR staff at the recently-created “B:Music”responsible for all events, including classical music, at both Symphony Hall and Birmingham Town Hall. Morley compares the service they provide to the media covering classical music unflatteringly with Andrew Jowett’s regime as Director of Symphony Hall between 1988 and 2016, and the refurbished Town Hall when it re-opened in 2007. Jowett not only attracted the creme-de-la-creme of orchestras and soloists for the city’s International Concert Season but ensured his staff contacted the local media as a priority to cover events. “They used to ring us up to arrange coverage, interviews and tickets”, said Morley, “We were all part of a team – you don’t get that anymore. We once had respect and didn’t have to grovel for tickets.” In one email a member of the B:Music sought to explain the tardiness of allocating review tickets by blaming the artists: “Some don't want reviews of the concerts, and many don't see the benefit of having reviewers in when they are only performing one concert in any particular venue.” Not one of these uniquely publicity-shy musicians was named. Do they exist?

Then there’s Emma Stenning, the CBSO’s new Chief Executive Officer – with a background in theatre not music – and her “vision statement” for the orchestra’s future. The first “vision concert” last December mixed brilliant playing and conducting with a noisy, expensive and redundant light-and-slide show to make the music more “accessible”. That, says Morley, inhibits musical appreciation by hijacking, “the imaginative element, imposing one interpretation upon the listener, and destroying the fantasy of musical experience.” The quest – repeated every few years – for a new audience to replace the ageing present one is based on a false premiss claims Morley:

Any old people in today’s audience are obviously not the same old people who were there when Symphony Hall opened in 1991. Audiences evolve as their life evolves. We go to concerts as students, then we marry and raise families. As we get older, and family and financial responsibilities get easier, we return to the concert-hall. That’how it works.” There’s also frustration because Morley’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the classical music scene is a valuable resource which could be used by the powers-that-be. “It’s the experience of a person who has seen how good things were and could be still,” he adds pugnaciously. So will he stop writing and reviewing for the Post? “No”. “You mean the show must go on?” I ask – an emphatic “Yes” is the reply. Perhaps the end of one era but start of a new one for the indefatigable Morley

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