Wednesday, August 31, 2016

We also need more black conductors at the Proms


Good journalism changes the way people think. Bad journalism panders to the way people think to win readers. Yesterday the Guardian indulged in bad journalism by jumping on the we need more women conductors bandwagon. Of course we need more women in senior positions in classical music. On An Overgrown Path was one of the first to say that ten years ago. But as a commenter on the Guardian editorial astutely observes "the issue is much more complicated than a call of 'We need more women conductors!'” Quite wrongly a complex of historical factors and entrenched attitudes has prevented women taking senior roles. Thankfully that is now changing, but the cultural correction will take time. It can be argued quite convincingly that the correction should have been instigated earlier. But it wasn't and we can't change history.

What makes the Guardian editorial particularly bad journalism is that it aims at the easy target of the unacceptable gender balance in classical music, but totally ignores other imbalances such as ethnicity. The editorial trumpets that just eight BBC Proms out of 75 this year are conducted by women, but overlooks the even more startling statistic that in more than 2500 Promenade concerts there have been just three black conductors - all men - and the last one was back in 2003. Again, quite wrongly a complex of historical factors and entrenched attitudes have prevented black musicians taking senior positions in classical music, and, as for women, the essential correction will take time. But the difference is that the correction has not even started for black conductors. Now over to the crusading liberal journalists at the Guardian...

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3 comments:

Kevin Scott said...

The first thing that concert promoters, executive directors and musicians will say is "we don't see color." Fine, and in a Star Trek universe, we wish this was the case where everyone is seen, treated and compensated as equals. Not in this present day, however.

What would it take to invite a black conductor to the Proms? Well, the first thing someone would ask is "can you name me one significant black conductor, American or not, who is on the same footing as Dudamel, Harding, Nezet-Seguin, Gilbert or Welser-Moest?", or any conductor aged between 25 and 50 who holds prominence in classical music circles. The lay listener would be at a loss, because conductors of African heritage, or even indigenous black Africans, have not held positions with major symphony orchestras, let alone being invited to conduct them.

Part of the problem is that those who are known are caught in a Catch-22 trap where they are music directors of orchestras, but the orchestras are considered second-tier. Such is the case with Kevin John Edusei, a German conductor whose lineage is from Cameroon, and he is the music director of the Munich Symphony, an excellent orchestra, but also one that is considered a secondary orchestra when compared against the Munich Philharmonic and the Bavarian Radio Symphony. The same is with Kazem Abdullah, who is the general music director in Aachen, Germany, a city renowned for its interest in the arts, but again considered secondary when held up against other major cities in that country.

Both men have won rave reviews for their appearances and their execution of both standard orchestral repertoire and a firm commitment to contemporary music. Both men should be looked at as prime candidates to conduct one of the major London orchestras at the Proms or, better still, bring them to London with their own orchestras and let the public see for themselves what the buzz is all about.

This criteria should also apply to Michael Morgan of California's Oakland Symphony and Andre Raphel of the Wheeling Symphony based in West Virginia. Why haven't either of these conductors, along with numerous other conductors of color such as William Eddins, Leslie Dunner, Brandon Keith Brown, Julius Williams, Kirk Smith, and especially John McLaughlin Williams whose recordings of works by lesser-known American composers have won accolades from the press, have been invited not only to the Proms, but also to appear with major American orchestras as well. Some will argue that most of these men have been welcomed by such orchestras, and those same pundits will also point out that most of the reviews they received from the press say otherwise about their conducting talents, leaving the powers-that-be the decision to bring them back or not, and in some cases, many of these conductors have either had one-shot engagements, or they're relegated to minor concerts that are off the radar.

In the case of black women conductors, there are few that have made any kind of inroad on the national level. Tania Leon, Kay George Roberts and Jeri Lynne Johnson are the few who are known, but also make rare appearances with major orchestras, which is why we're seeing a dearth of white, Latino and Asian women grace the podium, but no black woman has been granted the opportunity of major exposure like their peers have. This also has to be corrected.

But this also leaves out a

JMW said...

I've said before that if administrations and managements want to find someone of color, don't call other admins and managements; they don't possess the resources. They need merely to call one of us, for we know far more qualified individuals than they and are happy to recommend them.

Candace Allen said...

Kevin John Edusei will be conducting the Chineke Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in London this coming Sunday, 4 September, at 6:30pm http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/chineke-orchestra-96321