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Classical's elusive young audience wants chewy music

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In his biographical overview Klaus Schulze: Electronic Music Legend Greg Allen explains that: 'I have long thought that when people in the future look at the 'classical' music of our time (mid-20th century through early 21st century), they would view Klaus Schulze's music as the classical music of this era, just as we view Beethoven, Bach and Stravinsky as the 'classical' musicians of their eras'. Although this can be dismissed as needless hyperbole, the links between Klaus Schulze and classical music cannot be ignored, as this extract from his notes for the album "X" shows.  'Richard Wagner could also have been part of these musical biographies on “X”. Wagner is particularly close to me because for me he was the first to create a synthesis of the arts. For instance he demanded for a composition a separate theatre where the orchestra could disappear in the pit. Therein I see an analogy to the synthesizer. Here the actual instrumen

Berlin Philharmonic's rhapsody in black

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On June 26th Wayne Marshall conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in a programme of music by Gershwin, Bernstein and John Williams. Back in 1945 Rudolph Dunbar was the orchestra's first - and only to date? - black conductor , so Wayne Marshall's appearance is noteworthy. But on the Berlin orchestra's website seen above the featured musician is percussionist Martin Grubinger who performs John Williams' 'Percussive Planet'. Grubinger is also the lead in the concert summary, with Wayne Marshall consigned to a footnote. Which some marketeers will see as a missed promotional opportunity, or worse. But others may see it as an enlightened strategy of treating a musician of colour not as click bait , but as a hugely talented conductor who does not require a marketing makeover .

Watch this classical music movie or forever live in darkness

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It is surprising, or perhaps a comment on the current state of classical music , that my most penetrating classical experience in recent weeks came via Netflix. Chaitanya Tamhane 's 2020 Marathi-language film The Disciple portrays the journey of a Khyal singer - played by musician turned actor Aditya Modak  who is seen above - through the treacherous waters of commercialised art music. This exquisitely directed and musically very satisfying movie won the Best Screenplay Award at the 2020 Venice Film Festival and also won the International Critics Prize.  Some readers will doubtless be enraged that the 'classical music' referred to in my headline originates from the city of Gwalior in central India, and not from Symphony Hall Birmingham or Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie . But these myopists are missing the movie's powerful message that the  virus of click bait has morphed into the highly transmissible and dangerous global variant of audience bait . And, incidentall

How Mahler became sound upholstery

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Two members of the original Third Ear Band were classically trained, Paul Minns on oboe and recorder, and Richard Coff violin and viola. With founding force Glen Sweeney on hand drums and tabla, and Mel Davis on cello they cut the bands first two legendary all-acoustic albums Alchemy and Elements in 1969 and 1970. For their equally legendary 1972 soundtrack for Roman Polanski's Macbeth , Richard Coff was replaced by another violinist from a classical background Simon House , and Royal College of Music cello graduate Paul Buckmaster  joined the band*. This classical connection was reflected in the venues where the Third Ear Band played, which included the Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Festival Hall - where they appeared with musique concrète exponent Bernard Parmegiani  - and the Royal Albert Hall All three albums were released on EMI's newly-formed Harvest label aimed at the emerging progressive rock market. However the Third Ear Band's iconoclastic style di

'John Cage had been one of my heroes since the age of seventeen'

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Recently I have found new books far more engrossing than new classical recordings. One of my most rewarding reads has been the first volume of Richard Thompson's autobiography Beeswing .  Richard Thompson is best known as co-founder of the legendary folk-rock group Fairport Convention . A few years ago I wrote about his exploration of the Sufi path , and I have also recounted the untold story of the counterculture's Islamic connection in an exclusive interview with Ian Whiteman - aka Abdallateef Whiteman - who with Richard Thompson was a member of the fabled Bristol Gardens Sufi commune in 1970s London. Beeswing is much more than a rock memoir. It name checks, among others, Delius, Bliss, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Wagner, Satie, Granger and Stockhausen, and includes this John Cage anecdote:     "During that tour, our driver, Walter Gundy, needed to pick something up from his house in upstate New York, and I went with him. There were two units in his rental, and he men

What the law of diminishing diversity tells us

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A quick scan of the online postings from classical music's cultural commentators proves the law of diminishing diversity. This law tells us that a commentator's commitment to true cultural diversity is inversely proportional to their social media presence. In this context cultural diversity does not mean the standard 'Mirga', 'Sheku', 'Brexit doom' and 'woman composer' box-ticking. It means reflecting the truly rich cultural diversity of art music at the expense of the holy grail of audience size.  The mechanism propelling the the law of diminishing diversity is easy to understand. Popularity in the form of readership numbers, audience size, site traffic and other social media metrics is now the end game for cultural commentators . So if a topic pulls eyeballs, you provide more of the same to generate more eyeballs, which results in cultural tunnel vision.  This dynamic of giving more of the same in the interests of audience size is multipl

There is no happiness for those who do not travel musically

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Bill Laswell's City of Light is an electro-Vedic journey to India's holy city of Benares .   The evocative booklet essay is by the anarchist writer and poet Hakim Bey (Peter Lamborn Wilson), whose book Sacred drift: essays on the margins of Islam was featured here some years back. Music on the margins of Islam has also been a preoccupation of Bill Laswell for decades. His 1992 album   Apocalypse Across the Sky offered a refreshingly lucent take on the Master Musicians of Jajouka, in contrast to Brian Jones' celebrated chemically-blurred production .  Staying on those creatively inspired margins, Laswell's  Gnawa Night captures the spirit masters of sub-Saharan Africa in the same lucence.   In his booklet essay for City of Light, Hakim Bey quotes from Diana L. Eck 's definitive portrait of Varanasi, Banaras: City of Light , and the quote resonates with my recent post Music is the best way to travel . It comes from the ancient Indian collection of sacred h