Is dumbing up classical music's next big thing?

The problem today is not one of restricting classical music to any single audience. On the contrary, it is a matter of making concert going a necessary experience and consequently a social activity that is essential to a community as a whole. This cannot be achieved by popularising classical music in a naive way. This cannot be achieved by adapting classical music to the needs of its audience. It cannot be achieved either by limiting classical music to the expectations of an elite.

Such a role for classical music can only be created on the basis of a new audience with the intention of serving all those members of a community who see classical music as a possibility of renewal for themselves.
To create that manifesto I took the text of Peter Brook's 1969 funding application for his Centre International de Recherches Théâtrales and simply substituted the words 'classical music' for 'the theatre'. Brook's funding application was successful and resulted in milestones of the performing arts including his interpretations of the Sanskrit epic The Mahabharata and the Sufi poem The Conference of the Birds, and culminated in the creation of the Bouffes du Nord theatre in Paris. Below is a scene from Brook's film of G.I. Gurdjieff's Meetings with Remarkable Men.

In the 1970s Pierre Boulez and BBC music supremo William Glock shared Peter Brook's vision of reaching a new audience by making the performing arts a necessary experience, and my header photo shows Boulez in the Roundhouse before a BBC concert in 1974. Peter Brook was a follower of the spiritual teacher G.I. Gurdjieff whose teachings were based on the principle that "If we live calm, monotonous days and peaceful nights, we stultify; we had better torture our own spirit than suffer the inanities of calm". Despite programmes that must have tortured the spirit of some listeners, the photo below shows the Royal Albert Hall prepared for Stockhausen's Carré which was played twice in one Prom in 1972, the Boulez/Glock approach won the hearts and minds of audiences and produced what Nicholas Kenyon describes as "one of the landmarks of Britain's musical life in the twentieth century".

Forty years later classical music is in danger of drowning in the inanities of calm. But as the combined audience for the the unashamedly dumbed down BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM shrinks by half a million, Thomas Adès' Violin Concerto receives whoops of approval from contemporary music virgins in Norwich and Missy Mazzoli's new multi-media opera sells out in New York. Is dumbing up classical music's next big thing?

The text of Peter Brook's funding application can be found in Michael Kurstow's biography of the director. This book contains more wisdom about the performing arts that any other volume I know; it is also pretty good on G.I. Gurdjieff, a subject that I will return to. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.


Pliable said…
Nicely synchronous post by Mark Berry on the Boulezian -

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