Saturday, December 30, 2006

A New Year's Honour for classical music


The 2007 UK New Year's Honours announced today are remarkable for the absence of political awards, which may have something to do with the current scandal over cash for honours. But classical music does appear in the awards, with Evelyn Glennie receiving a damehood for 'services to music'. Glennie (above) is a lady of many parts, and on her website describes herself as " solo percussionist, composer, teacher, motivational speaker and jewellery designer." She has strong views on the futute direction of music, and in June 2006 published an open letter to music professionals. Here is an edited version:

Dear Colleagues. My comments here demonstrate my huge concern over what our business is actually offering our customers today. As many of you know, I am naturally “stubborn” and do not just accept the dismissal of a need when there is an urgent requirement for its address in a healthy, open, honest and constructive way from ALL quarters of the business and beyond.

So who are our customers ? While my employer may be the many orchestras and other promoters that hire me to perform over 100 performances per year,
my customer is actually the paying public who come to these venues and events to be entertained and stimulated by our artistic endeavours and experience the passion which we bring to our specialities. An artist without passion is the same as any other employee who is just doing their job – our extra effort makes the difference.

I was rehearsing in the wonderful Disney Hall in Los Angeles – the new building designed by Frank Geary – and looked up and counted approximately 200 fixed lighting features and about 20 moving light fixtures -
I walked past far more backstage. There is also a fantastic sound system built into and especially for the space. I was banned from using all of it and was told that, “This is a concert Hall and not a theatre” and that the logistics of the event in which I was involved excluded even the modest audio reinforcement that I and the composer had requested. We have all the ingredients right in front of our faces to consistently put on great events but at this point I see this part of the music business and many of our performances like the ingredients of a cocktail sitting in a glass and needing to be shaken or stirred. Let's face it, we aren't going to repeat a bad cocktail experience by choice.

The elitism and refusal to accept that what orchestras are doing now is far less relevant to the general public is answered by the old mantra “they need to be educated”. I do not believe that entrenching ourselves in tried, trusted and accessible repertoire is the answer.
It cannot be denied that the composers of these pieces are great composers with many wonderful works available to us to experience - It is the only reason why these pieces continue to be performed. However, with the advent of the myriads of alternative entertainments available to the public why should they want to come to hear the same thing time and time again done in exactly the same way? We would not expect a contemporary artist to continue to play the same repertoire endlessly and continue to make a living yet this is exactly what we see the orchestras doing.

Despite the classical orchestras being perhaps the older of the Arts we have not learnt new tricks. The pop world, theatre, dance and the graphic and written arts have all reinvented themselves and where deserved, thrive. This is also known as evolution. Dame Evelyn Glennie OBE, June 2006

But for an opposing view read about The latest avant garde tricks.
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2 comments:

Pliable said...

John Rutter received a CBE in the New Years Honours.

If these honours have any meaning any more, and I don't for a moment think they do as they have been completely diluted by awards to footballers and rock stars, it is difficult to understand why Rutter received a significantly less prestigous award than Evelyn Glennie.

sfmike said...

I think Glynnie has a great point. If the composer and performer want to use the theatrical enhancements of lighting and amplification for their work, then let them do it.

Your Benjamin Britten quote was great but I don't think he was warning against "tricks" and "gadgets," so much as advising a young composer to compose with their own voice and style and to forget about the myriad competing fashions of the day, whether those be "proletarian" or "avant-garde."

And have a happy New Year, Pliable Dude, from California.