Sunday, August 31, 2014

Which version of the truth do you want?

On August 27th 2014 BBC Two TV screened the first of a four part documentary Hotel India billed as "A look behind the scenes of India's oldest and most famous hotel, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai". On November 26th 2008 the Afghanistan based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba attacked a five-star hotel in Mumbai in a city wide terror campaign that left at least 167 people dead. Anyone without prior knowledge watching the BBC's Hotel India, which the Guardian reviewer described as "PR puff", would not have connected the terror of 2008 with the hedonistic paradise of 2014 portrayed in the BBC documentary, yet alone realised that the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was at the centre of the attacks. Thirty-one of the dead were killed in the hotel which is seen under attack in the photo above.

It may be that the remaining three episodes will correct the blatant editorial imbalance - described by the Guardian reviewer as "one of the more extreme cases of amnesia" - and cover the atrocities that took place in Hotel India. It may be that these episodes will address the allegation made in the meticulously researched The Siege: Three Days of Terror Inside the Taj* (p, 90) that many of the security steps recommended by the Indian police and implemented by the Taj Mahal Palace management following reliable warnings of a possible terrorist attack had been dismantled, because the luxury hotel argued "it could not be expected to sustain a war footing". Or it may be that the newly-appointed BBC Trust Chairwoman Rona Fairhead will inject a healthy dose of truth into future BBC programmes. I do not want to pre-judge Ms Fairhead, and, of course, there is no suggestion that she had any influence on Hotel India. But the following is an illustration of the tensions that can arise when a corporate high-flyer is appointed to a senior position on the governing body of an editorially independent broadcaster.

The new BBC Trust chairwoman is a former ceo of the Pearson owned Financial Times Group and continues to hold positions as a non-executive director of PepsiCo and HSBC. While over on the Indian sub-continent, multinational conglomerate Tata Group has its headquarters in Mumbai close to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Its subsidiary Tata Interactive Systems numbers Pearson Education among its clients, Tata AIA Life Insurance has a partnership with HSBC, Tata Global Beverages has a joint venture with PepsiCo, and Tata's Indian Hotels Company owns 108 luxury hotels around the world, including the Taj Mahal Palace, otherwise known as Hotel India. I am sure Rona Fairhead will inject a healthy dose of truth into future BBC editorial coverage. But which version of the truth will it be?

* For an objective and thoroughly researched account The Siege: Three Days of Terror Inside the Taj by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark is highly recommended. Header image is via ComingAnarchy. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Social media hysteria will not help new music

I decided to set some of the Vespers texts that Monteverdi had set, but I did not want to write an orthodox Roman Catholic Vespers. Religious music is difficult to write nowadays because most composers (I think it is fair to speak generally) can no longer feel themselves part of established religions; yet the religious impulse is there in all of us, and religious works of some kind are, I think, still needed. So perhaps the only approach one can adopt is as an individual, stating what one can believe and no longer attempting to uphold doctrines that are no longer tenable.
Those refreshingly frank and level-headed thoughts come from David Matthews' note for the new recording of his Vespers and Seventh Symphony. After first immersing himself in the music of Michael Tippett and then spending three years as an assistant to Benjamin Britten, David Matthews (b.1943) emerged as a pioneer of tonal compromise. This important stylistic school avoids academic sterility while also avoiding romantic platitudes; the Seventh Symphony was commissioned from David Matthews to complement Mahler's Seventh, and its post-romantic modernism must surely appeal to the new generation of Mahler-fixated concertgoers.

Convincing performances, from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Carewe in the Seventh Symphony and together with the Bach Choir conducted by David Hill in the Vespers, earn this disc a strong recommendation, as does David Matthews' invocation of the Hindu god of destruction Kali in the Alma Redemptoris Mater of the Vespers. Particular mention should be made of the remarkably lifelike sound - particularly in the expansive climaxes of the Vespers - captured by the Dutton Epoch production team in the Lighthouse Poole. Independent label Dutton have recorded six of David Matthews' seven symphonies, while NMC have completed the cycle to date with a re-issue of a Collins Classics recording of the Fourth.

As I said in my last post, the BBC's treatment of new music is scandalous. But what is equally scandalous is that the music journalists who are leading the current witch-hunt against BBC Four TV, themselves only champion new music when it suits their opportunistic personal agendas - which means when it provides them with a Sinfini Music splash, a BBC Radio 3 appearance, an exclusive newspaper feature, or Twitter fodder. There is a huge amount of deserving new music out there that does not ever receive a Proms performance, a Sinfini Music splash, a Radio 3 mention, a newspaper feature, or Twitter coverage, yet alone a BBC Four TV broadcast. Spreading the word, even when it does not suit personal agendas, would be a far more productive way to support new music than the current social media hysteria over three minutes of missing Birtwistle.

No review samples, Sinfini Music splashes, BBC Radio 3 appearances, exclusive newspaper features, or Twitter fodder were involved in this post. 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). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

When is dumbing down not dumbing down?

The dumbing down of classical music by the BBC is truly scandalous. However, it it is ironic that Norman Lebrecht and other music journalists are getting so hot under the collar* over the loss of three minutes of Harrison Birtwistle's music from BBC Four TV: because the same journalists have been assiduously ignoring - no, disingenuously denying - that BBC Radio 3 has been dumbed down for years. Is three minutes of missing Birtwistle the straw that has finally broken the camel's back? Or does the fact that BBC Four TV has a far less generous budget than BBC Radio 3 for commissioning music journalists have something to do with it?

* To avoid inflating search engine rankings, links to Slipped Disc are deliberately indirect; the destination of the link should appear at the top of the Google search results. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use", for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Music to be, or music to do: that is the question

'If the world stands bewildered and confused in the face of its troubles, it is partly because we Westerners have made a god of activity; we have yet to learn how to be, as we have already learnt how to do' - Paul Brunton
Fashionable dogmas tells us that classical music should do and not be. However, Jonathan Harvey differentiated between linear music that is composed "against what has been established as a pattern" and transcendental global music that sees "everything as a unity". This split between linear and global can be interpreted as corresponding to the music of doing and the music of being. Paul Brunton's non-aligned beliefs were rooted in Vedanta. Bhakti is a Hindu term signifying devotion as a path to salvation and Jonathan Harvey's eponymous work for chamber orchestra and quadraphonic tape has a quotation from the Rig Veda at the start of each of its twelve movements. Bhakti is quintessential music of being which proves fashionable dogmas wrong and makes the world seem a little less bewildering and confusing.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. My copy of Bhakti was given to me by Jonathan Harvey. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use", for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Assuming the audience knows best is always questionable

The assumption that the audience knows best what it wants is always questionable. The blurring of the distinctions between the giving and receiving of art can be tragic. Everywhere in the West one notices this frightful descent into homogeneity, blurring distinctions obliterating the idiosyncratic, dragging the leaders down and the led up onto some middle ground of fulcrumed banality. Both communism and democracy are systems dedicated to smoothing out differences between men. Of course you can make a congenital dunce into a prime minister but this is no guarantee of improvement in the state. Those who are prepared to pass the responsibilities of the artist to the audience will merely be rewarded in the same way as the liberals who first prepared the revolution of democracy: their heads were the first to fall when mass-man took over.
R. Murray Schafer wrote that in 1966, which explains the politically incorrect tone. But, despite being written almost 50 years ago, it delivers an important message in an age where 'the audience knows best' has become the de facto mantra of classical music. And R Murray Schafer (b. 1933) cannot be dismissed as an autocratic reactionary. His 'theatre of confluence' concept predates Stockhausen's Licht and other paradigm shifting creations, and his music remains notably ahead of its time. The quote comes from Murray Schafer's essay The Theatre of Confluence 1 which is reprinted in Patria: The Complete Cycle. This anthology of his writing contains more sense in one page that does the entire collected edition of keynote speeches to the Association of British Orchestras.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Conservatories have produced a glut of fifth-rate composers

Dear Bob, I am a freelance pianist-composer from the smallest state in the USA, and I have a personal stake in some themes you have blogged about recently, to wit, the difficulty faced by new composers in getting heard, and the low income of composers at large.

Regarding the first of these themes - Liberty resides in the rights of the music you find most odious - naturally I completely agree with John Stuart Mill's dictum, which is identical in substance to Voltaire's much more famous statement on freedom of speech. I also think that in the particular case you spoke of, where the BBC paid for the Proms and agreed to include the new composition in the live performance but left it out of the broadcast, the composer got horribly shafted and deserves a make-up broadcast from the BBC. But after a cursory Internet search I can't find anything that says that the BBC had actually agreed to broadcast the entire concert; correct me if I'm wrong but the BBC seem to be within their legal rights.

What exactly is meant by "rights" anyway? A horribly abused word nowadays, up there with "community", "multicultural", "sustainable", "diversity" etc., all originally standing for laudable concepts but which mean little or nothing as used today. (I should stop right there before I wind up quoting the entire text of Orwell's Politics and the English Language.)

One of the Overgrown Path commenters brought up the issue of copyright, which I think is a huge, self-imposed stumbling block for many up-and-coming composers. Anxious to be remunerated for their work, and justifiably so, they join ASCAP [American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers] and other copyright-enforcement organizations that make it rather difficult for anyone who isn't also a member of ASCAP to perform their compositions. Composers might actually do better in the long run if they admit that they stand to gain little money and lose much publicity by stringent enforcement of traditional copyright, and they stand to lose little money and gain much publicity by letting performers off the hook regarding royalties.

Ultimately, those who can actually afford to impose copyright and demand royalties to the letter - "afford" in the sense that it hurts the circulation of their works the least - are those whose career is already well established, those who have long ceased to worry about income. I say this not without bitterness, for I have written some virtuosic solo piano transcriptions of John Williams' better-known film music that I would not hesitate to perform if not for prohibitive royalty fees. But Williams' music is so well-known he probably couldn't care less that small-fry musicians have a harder time performing his works.

This brings me to your second theme of Why are composers paid so little? People lament the fact that composers get paid so very little - which has always been the case, long before the days of Lang Lang and his Porsche or whatever sort of car it is. Arthur Rubinstein remembers (in My Many Years) Stravinsky lamenting that pianists have it easy, living off of dead composers' toil. Rubinstein claims that in response he suggested that Stravinsky write himself a piano concerto that would be well within his (Stravinsky's) technical ability as a pianist, and people would flock to hear Stravinsky play his own piano concerto. Whether Stravinsky actually got this idea from Rubinstein I don't know - Stravinsky himself never gave Rubinstein credit - but he did write the Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments, and a few other works for himself to perform, and he eventually turned to conducting and made a killing that way.

In fact, I tend to think making a living as a composer is a pipe dream, unless you enjoy living on the edge of a financial abyss (or in it). In the past, those composers who had the fewest financial difficulties were those who supported themselves mainly by performing, teaching, or working as insurance clerks, and what they may have lost for composing time they gained in a broader view of the world. Even working nine to five as an insurance clerk and then composing at night lets you observe more of humanity than just composing all day.

But to return to the BBC "suppressing" new music. The "rights" supposedly in question are those of "freedom of artistic expression". But "freedom of artistic expression", taken literally, means only this: You have the legal right to compose and perform - if you are also a performer - whatever you want for whomever is willing to listen. It doesn't mean that you have the right to a performance if you can't perform your music yourself; it doesn't mean that you have the right to an audience if audiences aren't willing to come. No other musicians have to perform your music, unless they are under contract to do so; no music publishers or radio/TV broadcasters have to publish or broadcast your music unless unless they have agreed to do so. It's up to you to build a following among audiences and performers.

Unfortunately, building a following is not trivial, even for composers of Stravinsky's caliber, and all sorts of institutions have been founded for the purpose of giving young composers a boost. We should all be thankful such institutions exist. Plenty of mediocre composers, who have been groomed by their native conservatory environment to believe that they have it where it counts, and confusing the "right to freedom of artistic expression" with the supposed "right to assistance in getting heard", now lay claim to more attention - and money - than audiences are typically willing to give them.

Today's composers point to The Rite of Spring as the reason you can't trust audiences to recognize greatness. They forget that after the infamous first performance The Rite of Spring gained acceptance not through the intervention of any distinguished panel of experts in the name of musical "freedom" but by audiences themselves; according to Alex Ross' book The Rest Is Noise, by the third night Stravinsky had won over a clear majority of listeners. (In a memoir published in the 1930s Stravinsky blamed the initial reception of the piece on the poor sets and choreography, but you have to take anything Stravinsky says with a grain of salt.) The real moral of the story, as I see it, is never schedule only one performance of anything.

But the conservatories and the arts foundations have together produced a glut of fifth-rate composers barely sustained by grants and scholarships, whose pieces of avant-garde kitsch get token performances in "New Music Festivals" and nowhere else. (I should add that I myself am just now in the process of applying for a composers' scholarship. As much as I hate the abuses of the grant-and-scholarship system, if people think I am worth throwing money at, I won't complain; but if they don't I won't complain either.) In fact, perhaps a big reason composers have such a hard time getting heard is there are so many of them, and out of this great swarm performers and audiences are hard pressed to discover today's true greats among them.

Competitions don't help, either. I think it was Julian Lloyd Webber who went on record recently about just how rigged competitions are - at least for performers, but it could hardly be any better for composers. There is an overall trend of new composers writing primarily for other new composers rather than for audiences at large, since it is the previous round of grant-winners that have the task of selecting the current round.

It is instructive to compare the cases of John Luther Adams and Eric Whitacre. John Luther Adams is one of today's "respectable" contemporary composers - well along in his career, he has a Pulitzer Prize and the attention of Alex Ross, both which have earned his admittedly beautiful but tediously long Become Ocean a handful of performances scattered around the USA. Eric Whitacre is not nearly respectable enough to merit any mention on Alex Ross' blog, and he is not respectable enough because his music is too good. He has no pretentions of being a 'Musician of Tomorrow'. He just writes what he feels like and audiences take to it. His second instrumental work Godzilla Eats Las Vegas! was intended to be "completely ridiculous" in his own words. It never won any awards for profundity or originality, yet symphonic bands and orchestras were soon playing it all over the world.

Arnold Schoenberg said "If it's for everyone it isn't art, and if it's art it isn't for everyone" or something like that. Perhaps he was right. But if you're a composer who intends to write only for the few, then I don't want to hear any complaints if people don't want to pay you for your effort.

Yours truly, Benjamin Nacar
That email arrived from Benjamin Nacar a few days ago. It was my first contact with him, I am not familiar with his music, and I don't necessarily agree with all his views. But the arrival of his thoughtful musings was an auspicious coincidence. The first tentative post On An Overgrown Path appeared on August 24th, 2004. As an ageing serial hater of both anniversaries and self-promotion I was going to let the event pass without comment. But giving a platform to someone who is young - Ben was 15 when I started blogging - has something different to say, and says it rather well, seemed to be a constructive use of this post.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material for the purpose of critical analysis only and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The paradox of the Dalai Lama

The Paradox of Our Age, a short but powerful essay credited to the present Dalai Lama, is widely available in Ladakh in northern India, a region known as 'Little Tibet'. The text ends with the observation that: 'These are times of fast foods but slow digestion/Tall men but short characters/Steep profits but shallow relationships/It’s a time when there is much in the window but nothing in the room'. Tibetan Buddhism is widely viewed as an appealing alternative to materialistic Western society, so, not surprisingly, The Paradox of Our Age is widely circulated on the internet and Twitter - see photo tweet below. I bought The Paradox of Our Age on an exquisitely printed little scroll in the Tibetan refugee market in the regional capital of Leh, where I had travelled overland from Delhi in July to observe the Kalachakra teachings given by the Dalai Lama. My accompanying photos capture that intensely moving spiritual event; but they also capture a great spiritual tradition that, as I discovered, has itself become a paradox of our age.

Ladakh is in the disputed Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It borders on what has been known as the Tibet Autonomous Region of China since the 1949 invasion, and the region is politically sensitive due to its proximity to both China and Pakistan. Ladakh means 'land of high passes' and the region is bordered by the Kunlun mountains to the north and the Himalayas to the south. Summer temperatures exceed 20 degrees celsius, but in the long winter they plummet below minus 20 degrees. There is only one road into Ladakh; this is the notorious Manali to Leh route which reaches 17,400 feet as it crosses the Himalayas and is only open for four months a year. I arrived via this road and photos of my journey can be seen in an earlier post.

In 1951 Christmas Humphreys described how in the Himalayas: "The great spaces... and the silence where men are scarce and wildlife is rarer still, all lend themselve to introverted thought, to the practice of the best and worst of the manifold powers of the mind". The Himalayas dominate Ladakh, and the legendary kingdom of Shambhala and the paradise of Shangri-La in James Hilton's 1933 novel Lost Horizon are both, supposedly, located in these mountains. Ladakh was only opened to tourists in 1974; it is an alpine desert with a narrow fertile belt around the course of the Indus river. The area is renown for its stunning scenery and views of the surrounding Himalayas; however, at 11,500 feet visitors are exposed to the risk of altitude sickness, and power cuts are a constant reminder that this is the very edge of the developed world. There are strong historical links to Tibet and 70% of the population are Tibetan Buddhists; but these Buddhists are indigenous Ladakhis, rather than Tibetan diaspora as is the case in Dharamsala. The region is celebrated for its monasteries; there are thirty-six active Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and many smaller ones, however the monasteries are under pressure as a declining birth rate has dramatically reduced the intake of new monks. In July 2014 the Kalachakra teachings were given in the Jiwe-tsal - ‘Peace Garden’ - adjacent to the summer palace of the Dalai Lama five miles outside Leh, and all my photos were taken at this venue.

In Ladakh: Land of Magical Monasteries Bob Gibbons and Siân Pritchard-Jones describe how tantric practices came to Tibet from India in medieval times and fused with the occult elements of the indigenous Bönpo religion. Tibetan Buddhism's incorporation of earthy and intense shamanistic elements of the Bönpo religion is often overlooked, but the shamanistic heritage still survives in institutions such as Nechung, the state oracle consulted by the Dalai Lama, and in the numerous fierce protective deities portrayed in the temples. (The Dorje Shugden controversy, which in 1999 resulted in the murder of a senior member of the Dalai Lama's staff and two students, is a dispute about the status of one of these protective deities). In her pioneering book Magic & Mystery in Tibet Alexandra David-Neel describes how Tibetans do not believe in supernatural miracles, but see the exceptional happenings which occidentals consider to be miracles as the work of natural energies. These energies exert their power in exceptional circumstances, or through the skill of an adept who knows how to release them. She also describes how Tibetans believe that anything that one visualises can be realised, because, in their view, if visualised circumstances did not correspond to external reality they would be beyond the power of the imagination. The potential of these natural energies, reputedly, explains the power of the legendary Himalayan masters and yogins. My photo below shows a Tibetan Buddhist protective deity depicted in Hemis Monastery.

According to the sutras (scriptures) used in non-tantric Buddhist traditions, the achievement of enlightenment takes many lifetimes. But in Tibetan Buddhism the scriptures used are tantras, and these offer an alternative fast track to fulfillment; this means that by following the tantric path a fully initiated practitioner can achieve enlightenment in a single lifetime. Tantra channels conventional energies into transforming and enlightening energies which transport the adept to higher levels of consciousness. (The very advanced practices involving transforming sexual energy has led to widespread misunderstanding of tantra in the West.) Tibetan Buddhists believe that the Buddha taught the Kalachakra tantra around 2800 years ago to an audience which included the rulers of the elusive kingdom of Shambhala, and the tantra were transmitted to Tibet between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries. Kalachakra means 'wheel of time' and the complex teaching leads practitioners from quotidian time to an alternative temporal realm where the enlightened can fuse with the Kalachakra deity in the legendary kingdom of Shambhala. Mandalas are used in tantric practices as a meditation aid, and the Kalachakra tantra uses visualisation and meditation to guide initiates through a specially constructed sand mandala. The photo below, which comes via the Dalai Lama's website, shows the Kalachakra sand mandala in the final stages of construction at the teaching ground.

Tantric empowerments are usually secret and exclusive rituals, but, uniquely, the Kalachakra is taught in public to large audiences. The present Dalai Lama has a particular affinity with the Kalachakra tantra, and the 2014 empowerement was the thirty-third that he has delivered. All but two of these have been given since he was exiled from Tibet, and the initiations have attracted large audiences around the world in high-profile venues, including Madison Square Garden, New York in 1991. In recent years, at the direction of the Dalai Lama who is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the empowerment has been promoted as the 'Kalachakra for World Peace'. The audience for the 2014 initiation packed the 37.5 acre peace garden; there were 160,000 devotees, of which 30,000 were monks and 4000 came from outside the Indian sub-continent. Although primarily aimed at Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama stresses that non-Buddhists can achieve karmic benefits by attending the Kalachakra teachings.

The 2014 empowerment was given by the Dalai Lama over six days; with the teachings lasting an uninterrupted four hours each day. All the teachings were in Tibetan, with simultaneous multi-lingual translations on FM radio frequencies. There was no seating other than the ground, and the only refreshments were Tibetan tea and dry bread, and temperature hovered around 30 degree celsius for all six days with very intense sun due to the extreme altitude. With a limited number of squat toilets available, enlightenment may come quickly at the Kalachakra, but it does not come easily.

Monks were, quite understandably, given the prime positions in the peace garden complete with their own toilets; the other 120,000 people in the audience watched on giant LED TV screens and listened either to the Tibetan text over the PA or to translations on FM radios. The size of the crowd and distance from the action made the event seem like a giant rock concert without the music. I was one of the privileged few with a press pass, and this allowed me to take the photos of the Dalai Lama seen here; but for most of the audience he was no more than an image on an LED screen for the twenty-four hours of teachings. Ladakh is politically volatile, and the 1999 Kargil War in the region between India and Pakistan threatened to escalate into a full-scale nuclear conflict. In additions to the tensions with Pakistan, there were concerns about threats to the Dalai Lama from extremist Chinese groups. So, there was an armed military presence at the 'Kalachakra for World Peace', and His Holiness' heavyweight bodyguards can be seen in my header photo.

Attending the Kalachakra teachings emphasised how deeply rooted Tibetan Buddhism is in this part of the world. In her definitive study Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh Helena Norberg-Hodge describes how at the 1976 Kalachakra in Leh: "...There was almost a carnival atmosphere. One minute the man in front of me was lost in reverence, his gaze locked on the Dalai Lama; the next minute he would be somewhere else, spinning his prayer wheel almost absentmindedly". This combination of devotion and carnival, which is unique to Eastern spirituality, also dominated the 2014 teachings and can be seen in my photos. As a minority occidental I felt as though I was not so much a participant in the empowerment as a privileged outsider who was intruding in order to catch a glimpse of something both alien and wonderful.

The four thousand foreigners attending the teachings came from seventy-three countries, which is a reminder that Tibetan Buddhism has wide but shallow roots in the West. These wide but shallow roots reflect the paradoxical relationship that the Dalai Lama has with the West. In a 2006 interview he stated "I don't want to convert people to Buddhism - all major religions, when understood properly, have the same potential for good" yet he maintains a consistently high profile in the Western media that cannot be explained simply by the need to ensure that the Chinese occupation of Tibet is not forgotten. His Holiness' very slick Twitter feed has attracted 9.2 million followers, causing The Daily Beast to hail him as a "Twitter rock star", while in 1992 he guest edited the Christmas edition of Vogue - see below.

This love affair with Western media is strangely at variance with the concept of ego-death - anatta - which is central to Buddhism, and the Dalai Lama is not averse to using egocentric show business personalities such as Russel Brand to front his appearances in the West. At least we were spared the despicable Brand in Ladakh; instead the headline Western celebrity was the infinitely more enlightened if over-exposed Richard Gere, as seen in my photo. In a media interview the Dalai Lama declared that 'Westerners are too self-absorbed', so it is unfortunate that the official promotional material for the Kalachakra teachings seen below resembled a poster promoting the latest album from an ageing rock star.

This paradoxical preoccupation with self has also been evident in previous Dalai Lamas. The spiritual leader of all Tibetans is revered as the reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, the transcedent Buddha of infinite compassion. (Om mani padme hum is the celebrated mantra of the Buddha of compassion). But the role of reincarnation of the Buddha of compassion was, in fact, self-bestowed by the fifth Dalai Lama who, around 1650, was looking to beef-up his spiritual CV. A preoccupation with self is also found in those who surround His Holiness. Selfies have become the default tool of 21st century tantric visualisation, and so much time is spent on Facebook by some prominent rinpoches (abbots of monasteries) that it is difficult to see how they have time to fulfill their liturgical duties. During downtime at the Kalachakra teachings the talk among Western practitioners was not of how the sangha should react to the escalating Syrian humanitarian crisis, but of who would be granted an audience with His Holiness, and whether there would be a photo opportunity with 'Richard' (Gere). In India guru bhakti - adoration of the teacher - is a recognised condition, and in Ladakh there were many Westerners following enthusiastically in the footsteps of Madame Blavatsky, Annie Besant and Mary Lutyens.

One of the flimsy justifications used by the Chinese for the invasion of Tibet was that pre-1950 Tibet was a feudal theocracy, and, it has to be said, there are traces of this alleged feudal theocracy in Ladakh. Tourism is now the main industry of the region, and the monasteries, which have major land holdings, are involved not only as tourist destinations, but also as infrastructure providers. Our hotel in Ladakh was wholly owned and manged by one of the largest monasteries, and, also under the control of the monastery, was a new 'glamping' (glamour camping) site. This offers accomodation in luxurious tents complete with four poster bed and 24/7 personal butler at a cost of £3428 per person for nine nights including flights from London. This glamping venture has, reportedly, some rather opaque connections with the Indian army, and the rumour in Leh was that some traditionalist monks and local people were not too happy about it. A cliché ridden folklore display was provided by our monastery owned hotel, while the pioneering ecology centre created by Helena Norberg-Hodge to help preserve the culture of Ladakh is now just a dusty relic. Although the wonders of the mountains and monasteries can never be overshadowed, there is a real risk that the area around Leh will soon become a giant Tibetan Buddhism theme park. Ironically the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism, of which the Dalai Lama is the leader, started as a reformist movement aimed at restoring the purity of the Buddha’s teachings. Perhaps the time has come for the reformists to be reformed? The PR photo below shows the interior of one of the monastery 'glamping' tents.

Tibetan Buddhism's paradoxical relationship with the West is reflected in the way the Dalai Lama assiduously courts the Western media, but is then remarkably naïve when dealing with it. His denouncement of the Dorje Shugden practice, although doubtless based on genuine religious convictions, was a significant PR own goal. While his views on homosexuality, again doubtless steered by conviction, are not exactly nuanced: I quote verbatim from a Telegraph interview: "Using the other two holes is wrong". That interview was given in 2006, and six years later the Telegraph was reporting, somewhat perplexingly, that His Holiness supports gay marriage.

The quality of impermanence - anicca - is central to Buddhism, and it can be found in a number of the Dalai Lama's viewpoints. For instance, he is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and, as recounted earlier, the teachings in Ladakh were billed as 'Kalachakra for World Peace'. Which contrasts with His Holiness' close historic links with the CIA. In the 1960s the Tibetan government in exile received $1.7 million a year from the CIA; the Dalai Lama was a beneficiary of the CIA funding , reportedly receiving $15,000 a month from the late 1950s until 1974. Official US government documents confirm the reports and record that the funding was to support "political action, propaganda, paramilitary [my italics] and intelligence operations". But this alliance between the CIA and Tibet's spiritual leader was impermanent, and in his 1991 autobiography the Dalai Lama distanced himself from it, blaming the Americans for cynical exploitation of the Tibetan cause. There is also a paradox in the tantra used for the 'Kalachakra for World Peace'. As Donald Lopez points out in his refreshingly sceptical Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West, the Kalachakra tells how in the year 2425, the army of the king will sweep out of Shambhala and defeat the barbarians. This Buddhist Armageddon, which legend tells will restore Buddhism to India and the world and usher in a reign of peace, has disturbing similarities to the Chinese invasion of Tibet almost exactly a century before.

Many followers of the Dalai Lama, and some close to him, defend this CIA involvement with the argument that His Holiness knew nothing about it; this despite documents clearly showing that the alliance was masterminded by the Dalai Lama's brother Gyalo Thondup. This dalliance with the CIA may not be recent history, but the perplexing paradoxes remain. All too often in Ladakh when I raised the controversies over the Dalai Lama's views on important topics such as homosexuality, I was given one of two less than convincing explanations: either His Holiness' views had been mistranslated (this despite the 2006 Telegraph interview in which he expressed his views on homosexuality being given in English, a language the Dalai Lama speaks reasonably fluently, with an interpreter on hand), or he had been badly advised by his private office.

Sadly, this auspicious impermanence also applies to the The Paradox of Our Age essay. As recounted earlier, I am one of many whose attention was caught by this engaging little homily. But when I returned from Ladakh, my researches show with considerable certainty that not only was the text not written by the Dalai Lama or anyone in his private office, but it was not even written by a Tibetan Buddhist. It was, apparently, written by Dr Bob Moorehead, a former Christian pastor from Seattle and appeared in an essay under the title The Paradox of Our Age in Words Aptly Spoken, a 1995 collection compiled from his sermons and radio broadcasts. The version attributed to His Holiness is a robust precis, the original text can be read here and compared with the 'Dalai Lama' version here. I have no evidence at all that the Dalai Lama or those close to him are involved in the misattribution, and a comment on an internet forum says "I seem to recall something from the Private Office of His Holiness that it was NOT the work of His Holiness". Which, however, rather begs the question as to why monasteries close to the Dalai Lama are selling The Paradox of Our Age in a version credited to His Holiness. As Swami Vivekanada told us: "God comes to earth to found a religion and everything is very beautiful, but the Devil comes right behind him and organises it".

It is a bitter irony that the cultural and human genocide perpetrated by the Chinese in Tibet has created a seemingly inexhaustible stream of goodwill for Tibetan Buddhism that other less exotic religions such as the Catholic Church can only envy. However, despite his obvious enlightenment and despite being venerated as a god king, the Dalai Lama is a sentient being who, personally, makes no claims to the Buddhist equivalent of papal infallibility. Observing the Kalachakra empowerment was a once in a lifetime experience which I will always be grateful for. Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness) and anicca (impermanence) are central to all the Buddhist traditions, and if my spirit quest to Ladak enlightened me in unexpected ways, that is surely not a bad thing. And a Christian pastor authoring a text widely attributed to a Tibetan Buddhism lama is also not a bad thing, because as the Dalai Lama tells us: "All major religions... when understood properly, have the same potential for good". The views expressed in this post are strictly my own; but my thanks go to the tireless Jane Rasch of the Tashi Lhunpo monastery trust who made travel arrangements for me and my wife in India, and to our travelling companions for their fellowship. As our plane skimmed the Himalayas at the start of our return journey, I was reminded of these words by Elias Canetti:

How unbelievably modest are human beings who bind themselves to only one religion! I have very many religions,and the one overriding them is only forming throughout my life.

Sources include:
~ Introduction to the Kalachakra Initiation by Alexander Berzin
~ Virtual Tibet by Orville Schell
~ Re-enchantment: Tibetan Buddhism comes to the West by Jeffery Paine
~ Magic & Mystery in Tibet by Alexandra David-Neel
~ Prisoners of Shangri-La by Donald S. Lopez
~ Ancient Futures by Helena Norberg-Hodge
~ Introducing Tantra by Lama Yeshe
~ The yogins of Ladakh by John Crook & James Low
~ Ladakh: Land of magical monasteries by Bob Gibbons & Siân Pritchard-Jones
~ Living with the Himalayan Masters by Swami Rama
~ Buddhism by Christmas Humphreys

All photos, unless otherwise noted, are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2014. Any other copyrighted material is included as "fair use", for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Why are composers paid so little and other paid so much?

There is quite rightly much indignation about the findings of a survey of fees paid to composers for new music. This report by Sound and Music, the UK agency for new music, reveals that the average fee per commission in 2013 was £1,392. Many people are asking why are composers paid so little? But very few people are asking why are composers paid so little when others in the classical music supply chain are paid so much? For instance, the fee for a single concert by a celebrity conductor - in all probability conducting a tour programme of a Mahler symphony and other works he/she has conducted dozens of times before - is around £20,000. If I was a composer, I would be very angry that a top musician such as Lang Lang earns more for one concert than I do in a year, and, in addition, makes his pocket money by lending his name to the special edition £1.757 million Bugatti Veyron that he is seen with above.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use", for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Monday, August 18, 2014

How listening hard alters the music

The guy who writes the music-themed blog On An Overgrown Path is a bit of an obsessive, but I like that. The entry for 14 August happily happens to chime with a number of my own obsessions. Listening to music, and I mean listening hard, alters the music, and preparing to listen makes it twice as strange. And wonderful.
That post by Brian Connor on his blog From a far place appealed to me, because not only does it sum up nicely what I have been saying On An Overgrown Path over the last ten years, but it also hints at the huge untapped potential of the lost art of listening. My own recent listening - and I mean listening hard - has included Bridgettine Chant from Vox Silentii. Birgitta Birgersdotter (1303-1373) of Sweden was a visionary and founder of the Bridgettine monastic order of contemplative nuns: she was canonized in 1391 and declared Patron Saint of Europe in 1999. Sung by the by the Finnish all-female medieval music specialists Vox Silentii, these recordings are not new; but the glories of Bridgettine Chant have been a recent and extremely rewarding feminine-centric discovery for me that I want to share with readers. My recent reading has included Deep Listeners by Judith Becker, published by the Indiana University Press. In her book Ms Becker develops with more academic authority and rigour than I can offer, themes that preoccupy (obsess?) me On An Overgrown Path. Her thesis is that people who experience deep emotions when listening to music have entered the same realm as those who trance during religious rituals (the book comes with a CD of music illustrations), and listening hard to Bridgettine Chant provides confirmation of this thesis.

By an auspicious coincidence, Deep Listening contains a photograph of the Chisti Sufi order ritual at the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia in Delhi that featured here recently. In the late 11th century the troubador movement originated in Occitania and spread through Europe influencing the development of Western art music, and it is now acknowledged that the benign Islamic culture of Al-Andalus played a significant role in the evolution of the troubadors. In his Oxford Addresses on Poetry Robert Graves explains how:

The troubadours' real debt was to Sufism...By the twelfth century, Morisco lutanists clad in motley and with bells on their ankles, had gone through all Provence singing love-ditties based on the Persian; from these the troubadours it seems, learned their code of behaviour.
Exploring trans-cultural links is not an explicit theme in the newly released Trobar & Jonglar (jongleurs were instrumentalists) from French early music ensemble Alla francesca; however listening, and I mean listening hard, to their CD reveals the syncretic nature of the influential music of the troubadors and jongleurs, with its trance-like echoes of the Sufi rituals of mystical Islam. (Developing this trans-cultural theme, in her essay The Commanding Self Doris Lessing repeats the assertion that Ravel's Bolero - one of the most popular classical works of all-time - is based on a Sufi chant).

Both the Bridgettine Chant and Trobar & Jonglar CDs were recorded in sacred spaces with the producers giving the sound of the performers a lot of space to breathe. When auditioned through the speakers of my high-end system both recordings reproduced in startlingly lifelike sound. This provided a welcome contrast to the up front and close but ultimately fatiguing sound of headphones that was my only option during recent extensive travels. It is a fact that very few producers mix for speakers these days, but old fashioned speakers do make for less tiring and more authentic listening. But speakers or headphones, as Brian Connor tells us, listening hard, alters the music, and makes it twice as wonderful. It's fashionably free and accessible; so could educating audiences to listen hard solve classical music's current problems?

No review samples were used in this post. My thanks, as ever, go to independent specialist retailer Prelude Records for setting me on this path. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use", for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Liberty resides in the rights of the music you find most odious

There has, quite rightly, been considerable criticism of the BBC's policy of exorcising new music from its recorded TV broadcasts of the Proms. Shortly after the Bill of Rights was drafted, English philosopher John Stuart Mill explained that: "Liberty resides in the rights of that person whose views you find most odious." This principle also applies to the arts, and in classical music liberty resides in the rights of the music you find most odious. The problem is that all of us have been party to the development of a culture where metrics - audience size and social media rankings - have become far more important than unfashionable concepts such as principles, rights, liberty, creativity and integrity. Would Le Sacre du Printemps have received a second performance in an age when classical music has become nothing more than a reality TV show where the audience decides which music will survive?

Difficult to choose an appropriate graphic while avoiding stigmatising the music portrayed as odious. But I have chosen the CD set of Dieter Scnebel's Missa which I tactfully described in an earlier post as being at the ragged edge of modernism. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use", for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Classical music demands some effort from the listener

My header photo* shows adepts of the Chisti Sufi order celebrating with Qawwali singing at the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia in Delhi. I took the photo just before midnight during Ramadan; despite the late hour the temperature was still in the low 30s celsius with the very high humidity that precedes the monsoon, and covered heads and bare feet were de rigeur. Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia's shrine is deep in a labyrinth of alleys in the Muslim enclave of Nizamuddin West where few occidentals penetrate; my photo below shows the approach to the shrine, an ambiance which Max Hole would doubtless describe as "unwelcoming".

Yet, despite the fashionable mantra that great music can only be appreciated if it is easily accessible, the Qawwali music at this Sufi shrine delivered one of those rare experiences which transports the listener fleetingly to a higher level of consciousness. Writing in a booklet essay for Ensemble Al-Kindî and Sheikh Hamza Shakkûr recording of a Syrian Sufi ritual, the ethnomusicologist Jean During describes how:
'In the early 9th century, when the Muslim mystics organised their Sufi brotherhoods or orders, they adopted music as a support for meditation, as a means of access to the state of grace or ecstasy, or quite simply as "soulfood", in other words, something that would give new vigour to a body and soul tired by the rigours of the ascetic life. In Sufism the sama, (meaning literally 'listening'), denotes the tradition of listening in spiritual fashion to music, chanting and songs of various forms, all ritualised to a greater or lesser degree. The very meaning of the word sama suggests that it is the act of listening that is spiritual, without the music or poetry being necessarily religious in content'.
This thinking is echoed by Benjamin Britten, who explained in his Aspen Award acceptance speech
'Music demands ... some preparation, some effort, a journey to a special place, saving up for a ticket, some homework on the programme perhaps, some clarification of the ears and sharpening of the instincts. It demands as much effort on the listener's part as the other two corners of the triangle, this holy triangle of composer, performer and listener'
Similarities between the thinking of Britten and the Sufis may not be a complete coincidence. As was described in Britten's passion for the East, the composer was influenced by the culture of Bali which he visited with Peter Pears in 1956. Although Bali is predominantly Hindu, there is a Muslim minority that practises a form of Sufism that has absorbed animist and Hindu practices. The photo below shows Mahogany Opera's production of Britten's church parable The Prodigal Son being performed in Orford Church as part of the 2013 Aldeburgh Festival. This shows how director Frederic Wake-Walker introduced Sufi symbolism into the staging: the pointed hats known as kûlah - which classical music's self-appointed gurus should note represents a tombstone for the ego - seen in The Prodigal Son staging are also worn by the Chisti Sheikhs in my header photo.

But the point of this post is not to prove that Britten was a Sufi. Rather it is to draw attention to the advocacy by Britten and the Sufis of the lost art of listening. In his invaluable little book The New Religions philosophy professor Jacob Needleman describes how established religions have, to their cost, dispensed with esoteric technique, method, discipline and rituals in their frantic search for new congregations. In the same way, to its cost, established classical music has dispensed with esoteric techniques (music education), method (acoustic excellence and concert etiquette), discipline (preparation and effort on the part of the audience) and rituals (actually attending a concert) in its frantic search for new audiences.

Can the the state of grace, the fusion between listener, performer and creator, that both Britten and the Sufis aspire to ever be accessed via a smartphone in an airport departure lounge? The stubborn refusal of classical attendances to grow in response to the multitude of initiatives that eliminate any effort from listeners suggests not. With streaming services such as Medici TV offering "Classical music to go... wherever you are in the world and at any time" received wisdom tells us that classical music should be in rude health. But the facts prove otherwise: for example, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, which is a leader in the cinema screeniing of opera simulcasts, has been locked in an acrimonious labour dispute at a time when, a to quote the New York Times" "finances are fragile as it grapples with weak box office sales".

In the Guardian recently Tom Service endorsed the view of Paul Morley - whose credentials include successor to Max Hole as Association of British Orchestras conference speaker and Sinfini Music contributor - that: "Today’s era of technological fluidity, flexibility, and almost-instant access to an entire world of musical possibility suits classical musical culture better, potentially, than it does rock and pop". This view is shown by recent research to be at the best wishful and at the worst dangerous thinking. In May 2014 the results of research by English Touring Opera, the Guildhall School of Music and the Barbican into the impact of cinema screenings of operas on attendances at live opera were published; this research is, to my knowledge, the only objective study on this important topic. The main finding of the survey was that 85% of audiences that attend cinema screenings do not feel more compelled to see the live opera afterwards. This conclusion prompted English Touring Opera’s general director James Conway to say: "A lot has been speculated about the potential for cinema relays to create new audiences for live opera. I would love that to be the case but, as this research indicates, it may be wishful thinking." If cinema screenings, with all the benefits of high definition visuals and full-range 5.1 surround sound, do not create new audiences for live classical music, what chance is there for the infinitely less engaging streaming to mobile devices?

At least cinema screenings of opera do not devalue the art form by giving it away. But the latest craze of free streaming does. Does no one see the irony of industry pundit Norman Lebrecht aggressively promoting a special-offer advertising promotion for [free] live-stream performances"** while also lamenting that the best selling CD in the US sold just 175 copies in a week? There is no evidence that giving classical music away attracts a new paying audience, but there are good reasons to suggest free music simply attracts a transitory audience for free music. Britten was right when he told us music demands some effort from the listener - "a journey to a special place... saving up for a ticket..". Classical music to go and free streaming are just two symptoms of an artform-threatening oversupply epidemic, and the classical music industry needs to act quickly before it succumbs to what Kierkegaard described as 'the sickness of infinitude'.

* All my photos On An Overgrown Path are taken on a Canon SX150 IS compact digital camera. I prefer this small and convenient camera over bulkier SLR models as it can be sliiped into a pocket and is ideal for discretely shooting the type of photo seen above - photography is not encouraged at shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia.

** To avoid contributing to parasitic link-whoring the links in this post to Slipped Disc are deliberately indirect - the destination of the link should appear at the top of the Google search results.

Photos 1, 2 and 4 are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2014. Any other copyrighted material is included as "fair use", for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

William Alwyn: the Suffolk composer who wasn't Britten

William Alwyn's First Symphony is coupled with Ralph Vaughan William's Job: A Masque for Dancing in the BBC Prom being given by Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra tomorrow (Aug 13). Genuine thanks go to outgoing Prom director Roger Wright for putting together a programme that shows how classical music's big opportunity is neglected music. William Alwyn was the Suffolk composer who wasn't Britten, and suffered as a result. With Roger Wright moving to Snape hopefully this will be redressed, and perhaps we can look forward to a cycle of all five of Alwyn's magnificent symphonies spread across future Aldeburgh Festivals. Additional thanks go to Roger Wright for starting tomorrow's concert an hour early, thereby allowing me to catch the late train back to East Anglia. If any readers are at this Prom do say hello. It will be easy to spot me: I will be one of those in the audience not applauding between movements.

My ticket for the Alwyn/RVW Prom was bought at the box office. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use", for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Walking on water wasn't built in a day

When Timothy Leary first offered Allen Ginsberg LSD the poet objected, saying "Walking on water wasn't built in a day", and responses to recent posts here underline that the new audience for classical music also will not be built in a day. My appreciation of Arnold Dolmetsch's work with young people prompted Philip Amos to comment:
The second paragraph of this fine post serves to bring again to my mind that the potential saviours of classical music are now about five years of age, if not younger... The key is to expose children to classical music at the latest in their first year of school and thereafter. I do not mean teach music. Nor 'music appreciation' classes if that entails another sort of blether. Just expose. I can remember the first classical works I was conscious of hearing -- and listening to: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Morning from Peer Gynt, Water Music...I was five and these were the among the works played as we gathered for morning assembly.
On the same post D. Whitley comments:
Agree entirely. I believe it is a big mistake to believe that classical music needs to be specially prepared, packaged and presented to "young people" to get them listening. This, IMO, assumes that the genre is incapable of generating sufficient appeal on its own merits. The most important thing, I think, is simply to avoid putting them off in the first place. I spent a fair amount of time with my grandparents up to the age of 11, in the late 1950s. It was not a particularly musical family, but they had a dusty loft with an old gramophone and a collection of shellac records which had belonged to my great grandfather. I have forgotten what most of them were and my parents foolishly threw them out when my grandparents died (which tells you something), but I know there was a fair amount of G&S, Wagner and Beethoven.
In an email prompted by my post about the oversupply of classical music, Gavin Turner, director of the William Byrd Choir, reflects on their recent very successful concert in Salle Church, Norfolk, and ponders on the paradox that, although the concert was well attended, it attracted very few teenagers and students:
We advertised an £8 half price student reduction in the £15 seats ... and apart from three parents who brought along quite small children, we sold less than half a dozen £8 tickets (out of a total of 331) to older school and college students.
Gavin's experience of the lack of response to student reductions mirrors anecdotal evidence given to me by the Britten Sinfonia about performances by them to which I have contributed pre-concert talks. Received wisdom dictated by commercial agendas dictates that the prime target audience for classical music starts with teenage and older rock/pop fans. This received wisdom is based on fast moving consumer goods marketing, where, if you want to sell brand Y cornflakes you target the market for brand X cornflakes, and this translates into the Max Hole strategy of expanding the market for classical by targeting the market for rock and pop. This is an appealing approach for Universal Music and the rest of the music industry, because it should be a quick fix. But quick fixes rarely provide lasting solutions, and the flaw in this approach is that while brand x and brand y are both cornflakes and consumers already have a taste for cornflakes, classical music is not rock, and rock fans have no taste for classical music. This fallacy is tacitly acknowledged by Max Hole who proposes neatly circumventing it by turning classical into a sub-set of rock, which may help Universal Music's sales in the short term, but does little for classical music in the long term.

There is a strong argument which says that the music tastes of teenagers and post-teenagers are so well formed they are unlikely to respond to classical music, even after prolonged exposure. This supports Philip Amos' observation that the potential saviours of classical music are now about five years of age. But we have to be realistic and accept that targeting the sub-teen market is very difficult. It is not a quick fix, and therefore will not appeal to a corporate controlled industry that is desperately looking for a fast way to boost flagging audience numbers. In fairness the BBC has made moves in this area including its 'ten pieces' project in primary schools and CBeebies Prom. But bitter experience suggests these initiatives are unlikely to survive the BBC's strategy of using classical music first and foremost as a way to promote its own brand ahead of the 2016 license fee review, and its equally toxic strategy of sublimating art into entertainment in the interest of audience metrics. With regard to the latter observation, a thoughtful and generous review by Gavin Dixon of the recent CBeebies Prom is telling:
And what of the music? It was good to have the excellent BBC Philharmonic on board, but the orchestra was seriously underused... Given the age range of the target audience, the educational potential of the event was quite limited...
We also have to be realistic and accept that classical music is no longer played in school assemblies - that would be too 'elitist' - while the hegemony of digital formats means that the wonders of Gilbert and Sullivan, Wagner, Beethoven et al no longer lurk in attics; nor do we have the equivalent of splendid institutions such as Leonard Bernstein's Young Person's Concerts and David Munrow's Pied Piper and Sir Robert Mayer's Children's Concerts. Paradigms have shifted irrevocably and, as has been recounted here before, classical music is not good at handling paradigm shifts. Philip Amos is quite right, if classical music has a future, its saviours are now about five years of age. Instead of wasting their time tinkering with concert hall conventions and dumbing down classical radio, the self-appointed classical music experts should be searching for the digital equivalents of the great animateurs of the past who exposed the sub-teens to classical music. But, as Allen Ginsberg told us, walking on water wasn't built in a day. So, to protect classical music in the short term, the industry should finesses its core audience instead of driving it away, while also tightening its belt by driving oversupply and profligacy from the supply chain. The header image shows my first classical record, the story of it is here.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).