From January 2019, ABC Classic FM will be known as ABC Classic. This rebranding, which also comes with a refreshed visual identity, brings together all of the broadcaster’s classical music output under the new banner of ABC Classic.

“What that represents is our vision to be the home of classical music for all Australians,” Content Manager Toby Chadd tells Limelight. “It means that we need to have a presence in all the places people listen to music, read about music and watch music happening. So what we decided to do was have a new name that brought together all the ABC’s activity and really have that focus on how are we serving Australians in the places that they listen to and interact with music,” says Chadd.

“One of the things we’re looking to do is take away some of the confusion that’s existed in the past, because the ABC has two very strong outputs around classical music, one of which is ABC Classic FM and one of which is ABC Classics. Now those two elements will still continue to operate in the same way that they do but fundamentally what we’re saying is that the whole ABC’s classical music output will come together under that single banner.”

Christopher Lawrence. Photo supplied

In another significant change for the broadcaster, beloved long-time presenter Christopher Lawrence has announced his retirement after more than 40 years of service with the ABC. He will retire from weekly broadcasting in mid-January, with Ed Ayres to succeed him as the host of Weekend Breakfast. Lawrence will continue to do the odd broadcast from Tasmania, however.

“Christopher is rightfully one of the most beloved presenters on the ABC,” says Chadd. “He’s worked in a number of different capacities, he was the original host of The Music Show on Radio National, he’s worked for local radio quite extensively and of course he’s worked for ABC Classic FM as well for several years. He was our Breakfast presenter in the 1990s when he introduced the Swoon segment which obviously went on to become a very, very significant music brand within Australian classical music. So, Christopher has brought an enormous amount to the network and to the ABC and actually to the classical music community within Australia… He’s got two young daughters and after 40 years he’s decided to step away from weekly broadcasting in order to focus on projects including writing and being part of the lives of his daughters as well.”

“It is absolutely the case that he will continue to feature on Classic FM from time to time,” Chadd adds. “Particularly around special events and direct broadcasts that are coming out of Hobart, so it’s definitely not farewell for Christopher.”

Ed Ayres. Photo supplied 

Chadd is looking forward to welcoming Ayres as Lawrence’s replacement, describing him as a “beloved voice for the ABC”.

“He’s been a broadcaster for ABC Classic FM for a number of years. Since that time, he’s had quite a remarkable journey both personally and he’s also been in Afghanistan teaching children – I’m sure many people will have read his incredible book about that experience. Ed is one of life’s great communicators, he has that ability to take a piece of music and really bring it to life through the stories that are behind it. He’s hugely knowledgeable about music but more than that, he has an incredible empathy for the connection between music and people’s lives and I think that’s going to be a really special thing to have on the network, particularly the Weekend Breakfast show which has an enormous following. There are a lot of people around Australia who wake up to the sound of Classic FM on a weekend morning and I think Ed is going to be a wonderful accompaniment to that.”

2019 sees a continuation of the broadcaster’s commitment to women composers, with a new series of studio recordings of works by women as well as the return of celebrations around International Women’s Day.

“There’s a lot of very good music out there that for historical reasons has never been recorded which makes it very difficult for us to play on air,” Chadd explains. “I really believe that it’s the place of the ABC to be able to take on projects where perhaps other entities that are more subject to market forces wouldn’t be able to. We will invite musicians into the studio to record the music that we think is really important and should be recorded even if it’s not being played day in, day out in the broader community. That will be a significant focus for us through the year and you’ll be hearing those recordings featured across the network. It’s an aim for us to increase the amount of female composition that we play across the network as a whole.

Mairi Nicolson. Photo supplied

Other recording projects are also in the works, focusing on Australian music, the development of the piano, and the solo piano works of Franz Schubert. Additional new initiatives include an expanded online offering of news, videos and features, including a new series called Classical Australia. It reaffirms the broadcaster’s ongoing commitment to Australian music by gathering together works by, and interviews with, Australian composers. It’s complemented by the launch of a new online portal for teachers and parents to help develop a love of music in young people.

In terms of 2019’s on-air line-up, a new Saturday afternoon show hosted by Alice Keath will showcase the week’s best performances from Australia and around the world alongside interviews with artists. The Opera Show, hosted by Mairi Nicolson, will be extended to two hours in response to audience popularity, with Nicolson to present Sunday Opera as well, taking over from Fiona Campbell. Sunday Recital, hosted by Genevieve Lang, will also feature the premieres of the broadcaster’s new series of studio recordings.