Friday, September 04, 2015

Classical music is destroying itself

In my post about the future of the BBC I wrote that: "If classical music is disadvantaged in the forthcoming review of the BBC's activities, it only has itself to blame". Classical music's capacity for self-destruction has no bounds, and the day after I wrote that Norman Lebrecht jeered at the promoters of chamber music concerts* in Cratfield, Suffolk for imposing riders on musician's contracts.

Someone with wide experience of concert promotion points out in a Slipped Disc comment that the riders are absolutely basic stuff for concert planning. But that is not my point: because we all know that Lebrecht never lets the facts get in the way of good click bait. My point is that his piece opens with the words: "Some international artists are chuckling among themselves at a list of instructions sent out by Concerts at Cratfield". Now the contract containing the riders must have been forwarded to Lebrecht by musicians ("international artists") contracted to perform at Cratfield. Those anonymous musicians - who were quite happy presumably to take their fee from Cratfield - were probably hoping for a cheap laugh at the concert promoter's expense, or they may be among the many musicians who mistakenly thinks that keeping Norman on side will help their career. But in the process they are destroying classical music.

The Cratfield concerts are a model of adventurous programming**. In 2012 I wrote a post inspired by a Cratfield performance of Peteris Vasks' Second String Quartet (Summer Tunes) This year there was Vasks' Third String Quartet, and among composers commissioned by Cratfield are Elena Langer, Timothy Salter and Simon Rowland Jones. When the Cratfield concert series has been destroyed because its audience has been split by the same eclectic repertoire being programmed at nearby Aldeburgh or the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, no doubt the anonymous musicians will feed Lebrecht a juicy story about the death of classical music. When Cratfield has been destroyed by last minute programme changes, a practice that the well-informed commenter points out is now widespread, no doubt those musicians will feed Lebrecht with another story about the death of classical music. And when quality music criticism has been destroyed by click bait trivia, they will surely write a lament on Slipped Disc for music journalism. Classical music is not being destroyed by ageing audiences, elitism, discrimination or funding cuts. Classical music is destroying itself.

* I decline to boost Slipped Disc's search engine ranking. Therefore that link is indirect; the cited post should appear at the top of the returned Google search results.
** I have no connections with Cratfield, professional or otherwise, other than as a very happy paying concert goer.

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1 comment:

Graeme said...

I think most of the commentators on that piece of gossip agreed that the prescriptions were eminently reasonable. I attend 30 or so concerts at the Wigmore Hall and maybe 5-6 per year turn out to be different from the concerts I booked for. Sometimes the changes are all very well but, on at least 2 occasions in the last year, the amended programme omitted works that I had specifically booked to hear. My views of Igor Levitt were not enhanced by the changes to his concert. There was another case when what promised to be a tour of 19thc. Lieder morphed into a programme given over to some of Schubert's most turgid efforts. It is a breach of contract and should be viewed that way by the performers.