Saturday, November 16, 2013

How classical music painted itself into a corner

My best personal example is that I seem to have developed a resistance to the latest "sensational" pianist/soprano/tenor/whatever. This item provides a convincing rationale. Do I miss something with this attitude? Perhaps ... but if the newest sensation lasts, you usually catch up with them sooner or later anyhow.
That comment was added by a regular reader who is part of classical music's core audience to a recent post about classical music shouting too loudly. It highlights how classical music has painted itself into a corner - the core audience which classical music remains stubbonly dependent on is becoming increasingly resistant to the shrill hype of the PR machine, while the long-promised new audience that the hype is aimed at refuses to materialise.

Reader Scott provides one example of the growing resistance to hype, On An Overgrown Path provides another. Press releases arriving in my inbox are treated with extreme suspicion and stories covered by Norman Lebrecht, Sinfini Music and others in the culturally commentated world are treated as damaged goods. Which is my choice - this is a personal blog and my pleasure is to choose what I write about. But therein lies the problem; As music journalism surrenders to the shrill hype of the PR machine, so it loses authority. For better or worse, On An Overgrown Path's non-aligned position means it has retained a degree of authority, but I find myself increasingly unwilling to exert that authority for fear of becoming just another cog in the classical music PR machine.

These musings were sparked by an unsolicited email from the young British Vienna-based conductor George Jackson. I almost sent it the trash bin together with news of yet another child prodigy. But several things about the email caught my eye: it was written not by a PR agency but by George Jackson personally, and he clearly was a reader of my blog - you would be very surprised how many emails arrive from PR agencies asking me to promote X Factor contestants. Moreover George was sharing a video of his Wiener Musikverein debut conducting Ombres by the contemporary composer Michael Jarrell, and it was nice to see not too many empty seats in the Musikverein for that concert.

Music journalism has traded authority for impact. Which means it is failing emerging talents like George Jackson, because it no longer provides the balanced and independent media coverage needed for their careers to develop in a measured fashion. On An Overgrown Path is also failing these musicians because, in common with most of the core audience, it has developed a severe adverse reaction to the shrill hype of the PR industry. That is how classical music painted itself into a corner.

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Elaine Fine said...

You make a valid point. This child does have real talent, but the system of exposure that is necessary for people to know about her (and her magic skipping rope that gives her musical ideas) is speaking to an audience that has tired of claims of "the next Mozart." Let's hope that she continues to be inspired and continues to grow in spite of whatever the market-driven society does.

She is getting a lot of recognition for what she has done (so far). It is a mixed blessing, though, because she could, like so many prodigies, have her artistic peak at 14 or so, and remain at the same level through her adulthood. Or, like many musicians, she might need to struggle to find work when she is just another musician. She might also turn to whatever kind of pop music is around in 20 years.

Pliable said...

John McLaughlin Williams comments via Facebook:

I'll believe she is a prodigy when she writes something with the quality of Korngold's Op.1 Piano Trio or Op.5 Sinfonietta. Till then this seems a mere attempt to galvanize a quick and ephemeral audience into generating a quick profit, and nothing more.

Lukas Fierz said...

If you qualify Alma Deutscher as hype you may in fact have missed something remarkable.

Look at this video especially the few last seconds.

This girl has an astonishing musicality, stage presence and wit, in fact more of this than most accomplished pianists. Then she also plays the violin. And then she does something performers forgot since the times of Kreisler, - she actually composes.

Rather than giving jaundiced comments lets pray and hope that she will navigate the many deadly cliffs awaiting her.

Pliable said...

Discussion about this post seems to have missed its point. No judgement has been made about Alma Deutscher’s talent. The point of the post was to amplify a reader’s observation that “I seem to have developed a resistance to the latest "sensational" pianist/soprano/tenor/whatever”. In common with many others I have been prevented from making an objective judgment of Alma Deutscher’s talent by the way she has been promoted.

The question is not how talented is Ms Deutscher? It is how much of the attention currently being heaped on her by the media is due to her precocious talent, and how much is due to her representation by ‘talent agency’ Curtis Brown, which represents a number media celebrities and presenters? My original post was titled Classical music is shouting so loud people can't hear it and, judging by the widespread adverse reaction, that certainly seems to be the case with Ms Deutscher.