SOMETIMES it takes a jolt to wake us up and show the beauty of what we take for granted. The recent news that BBC Scotland is set to remove Classics Unwrapped from its scheduling from April 2023 has done just that.

Thank you, BBC Scotland, for reminding us of the treasures you have produced, serving a community of people who rely on your localised national services – but your decision to axe Classics Unwrapped is a mistake. The unique service the show provides to its audience has offered a deeper understanding of a range of music that is rarely available through other programmes.

Classics Unwrapped shares the same fate as many of the performers and organisations it has nurtured and promoted over the years. Closure and redeployments are now rife within the performance industry as government and public organisations cut subsidies and funding.

The Tron theatre has recently lost £130,000 of yearly funding from Glasgow City Council, while Creative Scotland has seen a reduction of £6 million in government funding for 2023.

Dr Stephen Langston: The arts in Scotland – a hidden economic driver

The show is essential to building art communities in Scotland. If the government wants to showcase, develop, and earn money from the arts, it needs to support, fund and promote current and future generations with this kind of BBC programming.

Classics Unwrapped – hosted by charismatic classical performer Jamie MacDougall – has aired on BBC Scotland for over 20 years. It is a showcase for Scottish talent, a lifeline to rural and distant communities and an essential platform for delivering classic music in an educated and informative fashion.

The programme has highlighted local festivals including Glasgow’s West End Festival, Loch Sheil Festival, St Andrews Festival and East Neuk Festival as well as promoting the launch of James Macmillan’s Cumnock Tryst festival and the Peter Maxwell Davis, St Magnus Festival in Orkney.

Simply put, it was an integral ingredient in helping these events grow. Nicola Benedetti acclaimed international violinist first appeared on the programme in 2004 before she won BBC young musician of the year. The relationship between artist and programme has continued to flourish, helping spread word about her music education charity, The Benedetti Foundation.

MacDougall and his team have travelled to the remotest parts of Scotland, interviewing locals, educationalists and prominent artists including Scotland’s beloved composer Sally Beamish. This has exposed talents to a new generation, inspiring young and old. During Covid lockdowns, Classics Unwrapped was instrumental in supporting homegrown musicians.

HeraldScotland: Acclaimed violinist Nicola Benedetti first appeared on Classics Unwrapped in 2004 before she won BBC young musician of the yearAcclaimed violinist Nicola Benedetti first appeared on Classics Unwrapped in 2004 before she won BBC young musician of the year (Image: Newsquest)

The show commissioned a new piece for the Nevis ensemble, who until recently specialised in bringing live professional music to unusual venues including supermarkets, and swimming pools. Unfortunately, even a worthy organisation such as Nevis closed its doors due to a lack of funding.

Classics Unwrapped promotes the importance and benefits of music making through local communities. Artists first launched on the show have gone on to great success on the concert and recording platforms, including saxophonist Jay Capperauld and the contemporary ensemble, Red Note.

Equally – and uniquely – it provides a spotlight for Scotland’s professional classical platforms. Scottish Opera features regularly on the programme along with the orchestras of Scottish Ballet, the Royal Scottish National Opera, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Scottish Chamber Ensemble.

As host, MacDougall brings years of experience and professionalism to the masses. He is not just a broadcaster but a professional musician at the top of his game. Communal experiences, connections, stories and friendships are all shared with listeners, creating a community that shares a love of the classics.

When I told Jamie I was writing this article, he shared his feelings on the impact of Classics Unwrapped, stating: "I’ve been in a very privileged position and taken enormous pleasure presenting the programme that strives to be at the centre of an incredible and thriving music community. In many ways two hours isn’t enough to truly reflect the scene. Brass band and musical theatre are two very important musical strands in Scotland. I’d love to reflect that more."

Likewise, our Scottish jazz scene is flourishing. Advocates like Saxophonist Tommy Smith soloist and creator of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra is a regular contributor to Classics Unwrapped and Jazz Nights, another Radio Scotland production facing the chop.

Presented by Seonaid Aitken who like Jamie is one of Scotland’s most popular and versatile performers. The irreplaceable combination of national, local and cross artistic cultures brings together an aspect of our music industry that has a place in our diverse and multi-cultural Scottish society.

Jazz nights regular features Scottish artists mingling with their international colleagues. In 2021 the programme previewed highly acclaimed Paul Towndrow’s new album Deepening the River “where music and rhythms from other cultures collide”. The album “creatively explores musical connections with the Mississippi and the Ganges as well as the Clyde itself”. This was an important steppingstone for Scottish jazz, a demonstration of the incredible talent available within a small nation.

These programmes uniquely place amateur and professional musicians’ side by side, working together to create distinctive local and nationally recognised stories of artistic beauty shared over the air waves to an appreciative audience.

They provide a unique and valuable service to its audience and offers a deeper understanding of a range of music that is rarely available through other programmes. It is an important way to preserve and promote home grown music and cultures, and its dedicated audience will be disappointed with the cancellation.

Dr Stephen Langston: The arts in Scotland is facing an existential crisis

The BBC is likely to replace the gaps left behind through other programming strategies. But plugging the gap isn’t enough – these programmes should instead be expanded, offering more promotion of home-grown talents, and making the shows the focal point of Scottish Arts.

BBC Scotland should reconsider its decision and keep both programmes on the air but utilise the surge in popularity as a design point where more genres, interviews, world firsts and banter can become a bigger and more regular feature of Scottish Radio. Come on Aunty, Promote, not Demote. Radio Scotland needs to promote its children, not cut them off from mainstream services.

Dr Stephen Langston is Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader for Performance at the University of the West of Scotland