3MBS and Mendelssohn outshine ABC Classic FM

Felix Mendelssohn, 1809-1847.

Today, Melbourne community radio station 3MBS (103.5) has been holding its annual “Music Marathon” at the Hawthorn Town Hall. Previous years have celebrated the work of Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert – today was the turn of Felix Mendelssohn.

The Beethoven marathon of 2013 was extraordinary – all 32 of his Piano Sonatas were performed in the one day, to a packed BMW Edge Auditorium at Federation Square, by the cream of Australia’s pianists. A highlight for me was seeing Michael Kieran Harvey perform
Sonata No. 16 in G major, Op. 31, No. 1 – the difference in power compared to the other pianists was immediately apparent, with the sound wave of the fortissimo chords hitting me in the chest like the beat of a bass drum at a rock concert. Later, it was announced that “Mike” would be the page-turner for one of the other performers… a little over-qualified…

It is remarkable that a community radio station, financed by memberships, small business sponsorship, and donations, and run with a great deal of help by volunteers, has been able to stage a popular, world class event (amongst others, including the 3MBS Young Performers Award, and a National Composers Award,) year after year. Sure, 3MBS can be a little amateur – today the presenters unwittingly conversed over the second movement of Mendelssohn’s String Quintet in B flat Op. 87, and my favourite 3MBS moment occurred late one night a few years ago when the old codger running the show dropped his notes, stammered for a moment, then just pressed play on the next piece.

Melbourne has another “classical music” radio station – the national broadcaster’s ABC Classic FM. It comes in handy when 3MBS is playing opera, (except when Classic FM is also playing opera,) and that is about it. Classic FM’s prime time drive show has been plagued by programmers who feel it is their responsibility to “challenge” the listener with Spanish guitar, arrangements of popular works for marimba, and light adult contemporary folk. And the otherwise excellent midday interviewer Margaret Throsby too often sounds panicked when one of her guests challenges her elitist inner-city mindset..

The point of all this is that a privately run radio station with a classical music format can not only survive, it can thrive, and it is not only popular, but is loved. 3MBS is well and truly a key player in the Melbourne classical music scene. If anybody tries to tug at the heartstrings by suggesting that Melbourne would lose a classical music station if the ABC was defunded, just remind them of 3MBS.  (In fact, Classic FM was only established once 3MBS demonstrated that there was a viable audience for it.) It may even open up room for a new competitor in the marketplace. Heck, they could even turn a profit.

So, while we are on the subject of Felix Mendelssohn, here is a recording of Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso Op. 14, by young Canadian virtuoso Jan Lisiecki. For those of you who have never heard it before, I will say very little, so as not to spoil the surprise – re, what is meant by “Capriccioso”.

I hope you have a lovely Sunday evening.

Photo by Bergen Public Library