Wednesday, September 30, 2015

And this is what all the fuss is about...

Revelations about Grigory Sokolov's objection to joining Norman Lebrecht as a winner of a Cremona Music Award continue apace. But, somewhat surprisingly, nobody has asked the question as to what exactly the Cremona Music Awards are. So as professional journalism, or otherwise, is at the heart of the debate, I thought I would exercise some due diligence and share my findings with readers.

The Cremona Music Awards were instigated in 2014, which is when Lebrecht won his. The four annual awards have the aim of promoting "the commitment and work of artists and journalists who provided a real contribution to the ever increasing role of music in the culture of entire populations and individuals". This is a very laudable objective; but the awards also have the objective of generating interest in Cremona Mondomusica. This is an annual string music instrument fair held in Cremona in September, at which the awards are presented; after which the fair is repeated in New York . The Italian exhibition is held at the Cremona fair ground; this is managed by CremonaFiere S.p.A, which also manage the music awards. The music instruments fair is just one of the major events presented by CremonaFiere S.p.A at the fair ground, the other high profile events include the International Dairy Cattle Show, Italian Pig Breeding Show, International Poultry Forum, and Food Waste Management Conference.

Livestock fairs are big business for CremonaFiere S.p.A and my photo comes from their website. It shows a concert by "three international renowned musicians" organised by CremonaFiere to test the effect of music on milk production, which gives a whole new meaning to 'churnalism'. There is no Cremona Music Award for new audience development, so I can reveal exclusively - sorry Norman - that the audience for the concert was 100% bovine. If you must you can watch the video of the 'happy cow concert' - their words not mine - here and read about the results of the test here. And that dear readers is what all the fuss is about.

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Classical music's new audience is multi-sensory

In India the Sanskrit word sangita now means music; but it originally meant drama and dance as well as music, and all three performing arts are closely associated. But Western art music is viewed primarily as an aural artform with only very limited exploitation of the the visual element. Which means that, to date, the kinesthetic component - gestures, body movements, and positioning - has been ignored. Which is a mistake, because music is a complex blend of the aural, visual and kinesthetic, as my header image shows. It was taken by me on Sunday during the 91 year old Marshall Allen's impressively engaging set with his Magic Science Quartet on the Barbican's Freestage. Marshall Allen, who is a disciple of Sun Ra, was performing in the Barbican's 'Transcender' weekend. The centrepiece of this was a concert by the celebrated Pakistani Sufi musicians Sain Zahoor and Faiz Ali Faiz; an event which, incidentally, sold out months in advance.

Readers will know I have championed the introduction of kinetic art into concert performances, and the good news is that the kafi and qawwali of the two Sufi master musicians was accompanied by a light installation created by British Pakistani artist Zarah Hussain. The not-so-good news is that Zarah Hussain's computer generated fractals left me distinctly underwhelmed: at the best they added very little to the music, and at the worst were a distraction. Norman Perryman's work combining kinetic art and music has featured On An Overgrown Path several times, and Norman is adamant that visuals must be an integral part of the performance. But Zarah Hussain's geometric patterns were not synchronised to the frenetic Sufi music, which meant they were no more than asynchronous digital wallpaper. And things were not helped by the doggedly binary hi-res computer graphics being at variance with the deliciously analogue sound of the Sufi musicians.

In the West the ear gave way to the eye as the most important receptor of information at the time of the Renaissance, when the printing press and perspective painting were developed. In a paper titled Acoustic Space - Explorations in Communication Edmund Carpenter and Marshall McLuhan explained that most of our thinking is done in terms of visual models, even when using an auditory one might prove more efficient. Since that paper was published in 1970, the swing from the auditory to the visual has been accelerated by the universal adoption of graphic interfaces for computers and smartphones. Yet the classical music industry has defied this trend by adopting sound-only music streaming as its promotional platform of choice. But wiser heads enthusiastically embraced the visual and the kinesthetic in the past: Scriabin famously experimented with synaesthetic effects - follow this link for stunning visuals accompanying his music - while La Monte Young's partner Marian Zazeela added movement to his early forays in minimalism using mobiles and lights. (It is surely not a coincidence that La Monte Young studied Indian vocal music with Pandit Pran Nath). Balletic antics on the podium are frowned on by the purists, but Leonard Bernstein's kinesthetic excesses undoubtedly enhanced his audience appeal.

Considerable credit goes to the Barbican for taking art music into the multi-sensory realm. Sain Zahoor and Faiz Ali Faiz were quite superb, but I'm afraid Zarah Hussain's installation rather missed the mark. Sorry if that sounds harsh; but the flawed application of kinetic art weakens the case for what I still believe can be a valuable tool in reaching classical music's new multi-sensory audience.

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The music industry deserves some portion of its ill fortune

It might be foolish to pine for some bygone golden age of journalism - the industry has always had its challenges and its discontents. But one can say that the advent of digital media has done little to improve the journalists' lot. Fewer jobs, less pay and stability for those who remain (unless you're an executive), no separation between work and home life (a condition cemented by the expectation to be always on social media), declining rates for freelancers, and a general societal disregard for the value of journalism - these are the conditions of journalism in the social-media era. For every newly minted digital journalist establishing his personal brand with ten or twenty thousand Twitter followers - with time that could be spent reporting or writing for his employer rather than Twitter Inc - many others face unemployment or a version of the old joke: "Sure, we lose money on every article, but we make it up in volume."[]

The existential anxieties surrounding the journalism profession are real. But the forces of digital disruption don't justify the kinds of cynical plays for attention found here. Journalism's embrace of social media has been accompanied by the adoption of social media's data-driven feedback systems and its privilege of relevancy above all else. The result is a new-media landscape that prefers to give people not what they want but what will keep them on the platform and contentedly clicking. Should this trend continue, journalists may indeed - as many of us fear - find themselves replaced by automated algorithms that synthesize the latest press releases, box score, earnings reports, and crime statistics into articles. If that were to happen, however, we would be forced to admit that the industry deserved some portion of its ill fortune by placing so little value on quality work, originality, and the intelligence of its readers. When a writer becomes simply a fabricator of content, one station of its digital production line, then it is only natural that he, too, will one day be made superfluous
From the chapter 'Churnalism and the Problem of Social News' in Jacob Silverman's Terms of Service.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Churnalism is destroying classical music

There are many, including this writer, who experienced schadenfreude at the news that Grigory Sokolov has refused the 2015 Cremona Music Award because Norman Lebrecht is a previous winner. But allowing ourselves anything other than a quick chuckle would be a mistake. Because Grigory Sokolov's brave gesture does not just lambast Lebrecht: it also criticises everyone in an industry that has replaced artistic integrity with gimmicks and sensationalism. In his immensely important study of social media Terms of Service Jacob Silverman defines churnalism as "cheap, disposable content repurposed from press releases, news reports, viral media, social networks, and elsewhere, all of it practically out-of-date and irrelevant as soon as someone clicks Publish". If that sounds dreadfully familiar, read on as Jacob Silverman describes how:
More toxic than this focus on quantification has been the way in which digital media has adopted the general tenor of the viral Web - its speed and wayward attention, its unrelenting profligacy, its treatment of every piece of content as another bit of ephemera to consume, without context or much explanation, before moving on to the next one. With rock-bottom advertising rate, journalists must produce immense amounts of content and flog it relentlessly on social media, where hyperbole is standard practice. Quick takes on the day's news are praised as "must-read." The word "breaking" is thrown around indiscriminately, usually all in caps, as if each micro-scoop is revelatory and must be read immediately. "Exclusive" is another widely used bit of inflationary rhetoric; what it usually means is that the reporter re-wrote the press release before any other outlet or that a PR rep turned to him first, expecting favorable coverage.
Yes, that describes Slipped Disc very well. But it also describes the music industry with painful accuracy. The BBC - Lebrecht's sometime employer - treats every piece of music as another bit of ephemera to consume before moving on to the next one; with BBC Radio director Helen Boaden declaring that "the creation of snackable access to classical content is the key to audience engagement". Lebrecht has achieved his dubious preeminence with the full support of many prominent musicians. Will they now be principled enough to defend him by declaring that Grigory Sokolov is wrong? Universal Music - another Lebrecht employer via Sinfini Music - has perfected the art of tilting the creative playing field to its own advantage. Will Sinfini run the Sokolov story? Coming to that, will Slipped Disc run the Sokolov story?

Not only is churnalism destroying music journalism, but the zeitgeist of the viral Web is also destroying the integrity of classical music. Lebrecht's debased journalism was not a disaster waiting to happen: it was a disaster that had already happened back in 2007. When will the classical music industry wake up and realise that its obsession with churnalism, gimmicks and sensationalism may well trigger a much bigger disaster?

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Monday, September 28, 2015

I raise my hat to Grigory Sokolov

Dear Mr. Bianchedi, ladies and gentlemen of Comitato Artistico di Cremona Mondomusica e Piano Experience.

I refuse to receive the prize, Cremona Music Award 2015. According to my ideas about elementary decency, it is shame to be in the same award-winners list with Lebrecht.

G. Sokolov
Good to see that at least one fine musician has his principles and is sticking to them. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Slipped award

A story is circulating based on a website report, that Grigory Sokolov has refused the 2015 Cremona Music Award because Norman Lebrecht is a previous winner. But, in an example of supreme irony, there are doubts as to whether the story is true.

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Saturday, September 26, 2015


Since no one really knows anything about God,
those who think they do are just
That poem is by Daniel Ladinsky. It is inspired by Rabiʿa al-Basri (c717-801), the female Muslim saint and Sufi mystic whose teachings are thought to have influenced Rumi, and it comes from Ladinsky's Love Poems from God. My recent listening has included Renaud García-Fons' new album La Línea Del Sur which includes three songs with lyrics inspired by Rumi performed by flamenco virtuoso Esperanza Fernández.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Pilgrim's Progress

In my twenties, I used to fret that I could never seem to feel at home in any spiritual tradition. It stirred me deeply to take part in Sufi movements in London, but it didn't mean I was a Muslim. I appreciated sitting in silence with the Zen people, but was equally reluctant to call myself a Buddhist. Yet I always felt I must be missing something, that I was a spiritual window-shopper who was reluctant to get more than his toes wet. As I have grown older and come to trust more the promptings of my own inner world, those concerns have fallen away. What is free of concept and image, as Hafez would say, is sheer alive presence - the love that ultimately burns us away. My faith is in that and in the aspirations of secular humanism; together they make for a secular spirituality. The equality of men and women, human rights, education and the democratic progress, environmental research - achievements like these surely embody some of the best of what it means to be human. They are exercises in practical compassion, a greater leap forward for the daily welfare of humanity than anything achieved by the medieval hierarchies and rituals of religion. Secular spirituality works for the betterment of this world while acknowledging the immanent mystery inherent in everything.
That compelling argument for secular spirituality is taken from Roger Housden's Iranian travelogue Saved By Beauty. The 1971 EMI recording of The Pilgrim's Progress*, which radiates immanent mystery, was the product of two great secular humanists, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Sir Adrian Boult. RVW - whose achievements included co-editing the English Hymnall - was a declared agnostic, while Sir Adrian Boult did not adhere to any established religion. Hours before his death in 1983 Sir Adrian to listened to his own recording of Vaughan William's Sea Symphony, a setting of poetry by the humanist Walt Whitman. At Sir Adrian's request there was no funeral or memorial service, and he bequeathed his body for the purposes of medical science. In his will Sir Adrian left a bequest to Manchester College, Oxford, which had a history of religious nonconformity and was then linked to the Unitarian Church. Today Manchester College Oxford Chapel Society welcomes worshipers of all faiths or none. The Chapel does not require adherence to a fixed creed, believing that religion is wider than any one sect and deeper than any one set of opinions. It is a fundamental belief of the Chapel congregation that unity lies in a shared search for truth, reverence for life, and a mutual respect for sincerely held beliefs.

* When On An Overgrown Path struggled into life eleven years ago potential conflict of interest with my professional work dictated that I adopt a nom de plume. The handle Pliable, which lingers on today, was taken from the character in Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. In Bunyan's allegory Pliable travels with Christian; he hopes to take advantage of the Paradise that Christian claims lies at the end of his journey, but Pliable falls into the Slough of Despond en route where Christian abandons him.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Why audience growth at any cost is the wrong strategy

I sort of come to this conclusion at the end of every Prom season having had most of the concerts I've attended ruined by some buffoonery or other. Attending concerts isn't just parking your posterior on the seat and listening; there are all the attendant costs, financial and otherwise that have to be considered. Booking the concerts, fixing holidays at work, paying for the seat, travel, hotel and meals. I'd hazard a guess that I spent well in excess of £1000 at this year's Proms and when I have concert after concert ruined by coughers and other avoidable distractions I have to ask if it's worth it. It never used to be like this.
That comment is part of a discussion on the Radio 3 Forum which includes a reference to my recent post about buffoonery in the concert hall. Similar sentiments are being expressed elsewhere about the Proms audience; a group reputed to be one of classical music's best behaved audiences. My post was sparked by a serially-interrupted concert in Marseille two weeks ago. Since then I have attended another concert where the irritating dribbles of applause between movements, which are now a regular feature of concerts, developed into staccato bursts of clapping at any point where there was the briefest pause in the music between or within movements. This and the occasional mobile phone held over a concertgoers head, came close to short-circuiting the vital electricity that flowed between the fine players making the music and the audience appreciating it. (Elsewhere in the Radio 3 Forum discussion the very sensible suggestion is made that: "It would also help if the conductor or house announcer gave a steer. A few years ago, Yannick Nézet-Séguin asked us to refrain from applause until the very end of a Bruckner concert he was performing at the RFH: Christus Factus Est - Symphony 9 - Te Deum. Worked perfectly".)

Any discussion of these problems is derailed by unhelpful arguments as to whether elitist legacy audiences or disrespectful new audiences are to blame for the tensions that are marring live classical music. Neither group is to blame: it is the prevailing 'audience growth any cost' thinking within the classical music industry that is to blame. A perfect storm of demographic and technology change means that the demand for live classical music is not growing at the present time. Basic economics teaches that when demand falters, first you try to revive that demand. Then, if demand does not respond, you curtail supply and cut costs to compensate. It must now be accepted that the increasingly outlandish attempts to revive short-term demand for classical music are, at the best, not working, and, at the worst, are actually having the opposite effect to that intended by driving away the core audience - see header quote.

Both the Chinese economy and the Volkswagen Group are currently providing sobering case studies of the danger of pursuing growth at any cost. Yet, with just one exception, nobody in the music industry is challenging the prevailing 'audience growth at any cost' strategy. The danger presented by the over-supply of classical music is well illustrated by the ongoing saga of Simon Rattle's new London concert hall. As was widely reported, Rattle prefaced his appointment as designate music director of the London Symphony Orchestra with a demand for a new London concert hall. At no point did he explain what was to happen to the three existing major concert venues - Festival Hall, Royal Albert Hall, and Barbican - nor did he dwell on the fact that another concert hall would increase capacity in an already over-supplied market by 33%.

In June the Architects Journal reported that the present site of the Museum of London is the preferred location for the new Rattle/LSO concert hall. This highlights the cavalier disregard for oversupply: because the distance between the London Museum site and the existing Barbican Hall is precisely one quarter of a mile. (At this point I will simply note what is in the public domain: that the chairman of Askonas Holt - which manages Simon Rattle - is Michael Cassidy, who is also chairman of the City of London property investment board, and has previously held positions including chairman of the Museum of London [2005-2013], chairman Barbican Arts Centre [2000-2003], and is also a past planning chairman of the Corporation of London. In addition he is a non-executive director of the Swiss investment bank UBS, which sponsors the London Symphony Orchestra. I also note that Mr Cassidy has practised law in the City of London for 40 years.)

Coughing, mobile phones, intrusive applause, and other distractions are the result of a wrong-headed 'audience growth at any cost' strategy. All markets are cyclical, and that for classical music - both live and recorded - is no exception. Those who preach that classical music must change or die are right. But the problem is that they are advocating the wrong kind of change. Only when it is accepted that classical music is in the downturn phase of a demand cycle, and only when the core problem of over-supply, excessive costs and self-interest are tackled, will things change for the better.

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Beyond boundaries

'When people believe in boundaries, they become part of them.'
That quote comes from Don Cherry who is seen above with Manfred Eicher. It was taken in 1978 at Tonstudio Bauer in Ludwigsburg during the recording for ECM of Codona, the first album in the classic Codona Trilogy.

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Je suis inconsistent

Classical music's prosecco activists tweeted 'Je suis Charlie' in fervent support of the right to publish a cartoon that is clearly offensive to an ethnic group. Now the same activists are howling in protest - "stupid, crass and inexcusable" - about the publication in a BBC Proms programme of a cartoon - see above - that is questionably offensive to another ethnic group.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

There is too much of the wrong kind of classical music

Last week I was distinctly underwhelmed by a classical concert in Marseille. This week I was distinctly overwhelmed by a modern dance performance in the city's Théâtre National de La Criée. 'Extremalism' has been created by Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten for the Ballet National de Marseille and ICKamsterdam, with music by Bjork collaborator the Icelandic composer Valgeir Sigurdsson. It is a ninety minute exercise in testing creative comfort zones which subscribes to the admirable philosophy that art should be dangerous: see production photo above and video via this link. The performance I attended was rapturously received by an attentive and near-capacity audience with a demographic that contrasted sharply with that for L'Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille playing Mahler, Liszt and R. Strauss the previous week. Yes, the contrasting ambience of the two performances was very striking. But what was even more striking was how 'Extremalism' pushed the creative envelope, while so much classical music meekly licks the same envelope in the futile hope of reaching a mass audience. Classical music's problem is twofold: not only is there too much classical music, but there is also too much of the wrong kind of music.

'Extremalism' tickets for my wife and me were bought at La Criée box office. Any 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.

Look who is collecting the Benjamins from Abu Dhabi

Prompted by my post about the rise of champagne activism in classical music, a reader points out that the "the ever ultra chic Kronos Quartet, allegedly founded by a dissenter form the Vietnam war, has no problem with collecting the Benjamins from Abu Dhabi" - see above. To which I would add that Ivan Fischer, who is in the news for appealing to the EU for generosity towards refugees, has also been collecting the Benjamins from Abu Dhabi - see below. Presumably the hectic schedules of Maestro Fischer and the Kronos did not allow them to read this section of the Human Rights Watch 2015 Report on the United Arab Emirates:
Nearly five years after Human Rights Watch first revealed systematic human rights violations of migrant workers on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, a development project which will host branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums and New York University, some employers continued to withhold wages and benefits from workers, failed to reimburse recruiting fees, confiscated worker passports, and housed workers in substandard accommodation. The government summarily deported Saadiyat workers who went on strike to protest low pay after their employers contacted the police.
I accept the argument that to survive, classical music must form uncomfortable alliances with rich but despotic regimes and ethically compromised corporations. However I would also argue that we need at least one commentator to point out who is collecting the tainted Benjamins from Abu Dhabi and elsewhere.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Classical music must beware of the Facebook mindset

In his eye-opening analysis of the impact of social media Terms of Service, Jacob Silverman observes that the fundamental principle of Facebook is that everything - dating, browsing photos, playing games, and listening to music - is better with other people watching. Now the frightening success of Facebook - a highly profitable $12.5 billion turnover business that proves the tech adage that if you're not paying for the product, you are the product - has been seized on by classical music's new gurus. So I am told by the Southbank Centre's head of music Gillian Moore that if the person in the seat next to me breaks her eminently sensible suggested concert etiquette by using a mobile phone to tell friends they are in a concert, I should simply "be nice to them".

Now Ms Moore is quite right in restating that, unlike social media, civility is a fundamental principle of concert etiquette. But, in my view, she is quite wrong in surrendering to the Facebook mindset. For practical reasons, live classical music - like air travel - can only be experienced in the company of a lot of other people. But appreciating great music is essentially a solitary experience that depends on direct transmission from composer through musician to listener, and this solitary experience is a very brittle one that is all too easily fragmented by intrusive distractions. There always have been, and always will be, unavoidable distractions such as coughing. But today these are being overshadowed by avoidable intrusions such as mobile phones and gratuitous applause, which we told to tolerate in the name of reaching new audiences.

The fashionable Facebook-derived doctrine of the classical music gurus is that concertgoers are there not only to provide an audience for the music, but also to provide an audience for the audience. Gillian Moore is quite right that I should be nice to the person next to me who repeatedly uses their mobile phone in a concert - as happened last week. But she has overlooked the very important point that the least confrontational way for long term audience members such as myself to be nice to that guy on a phone, is for us to stop going to concerts and, instead, enjoy distraction-free classical music from recordings and streaming services. As I asked yesterday; what price classical music's new audience?

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What price classical music's new audience?

At a recent concert by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille in the city's uber-cool but acoustically atrocious Silo auditorium - see photo above - I found myself sitting behind two parents and their three young children. Now the youngsters were as attentive as you can expect sub-teenagers to be during a performance of Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn; but the same cannot be said of their parents. For the first fifteen minutes of the song cycle the father answered emails on his smartphone. He then proceeded to unwrap a picnic with much rustling of paper, and consumed - among other culinary delights - a large and very crunchy baguette stuffed with seriously malodorous cheese. This Marseillaise audience was now on a roll, or rather a baguette; so they followed the fashionable example of Proms audiences by not waiting until the end of the Mahler to express their appreciation. But they were less familiar with Des Knaben Wunderhorn than their London counterparts. Which meant they applauded during, rather than between, the song settings; which prompted conductor Yaron Traub to raise his hand in admonishment. But at this point the audience was three goals up over the music, and victory was sealed by another killer move. Liszt's First Piano Concerto came after the interval, and during the Concerto the mother's phone rang loudly. She then proceeded to answer it, following which she discussed the call with her husband - all while the band played on.

Now I may be a grumpy old concertgoer; but this is not the first, second or third time that my appreciation of a concert has been destroyed by the intrusive behaviour of audience members in general, and by the curse of the mobile phone in particular. Over the years I have attended very many concerts and contributed a lot in ticket revenue; but it is coming to the stage where I am questioning whether it is now all worth it. Of course classical music needs new audiences. But at what price? For every benefit - new audience members - there is a cost. And one of the conveniently overlooked costs of the 'democratisation' of classical music is the loss of the core audience. Once again there has been much trumpeting about the number of first-time concertgoers at the BBC Proms - 37,500 in 2015. But this means that with attendances flatlining, 37,500 people - around 9% of the total Proms audience - who had previously attended a concert did not come back. As classical music audiences are likely - at best - to remain static, much more focus is needed on the 'churn' - replacement of core by new concertgoers - within the total audience. Understanding this churn is very important because it can be proposed that the audience that is being displaced was loyal, while the new audience is fickle. The problem is quite simple; in the frantic drive to attract a new audience, the classical music community has conveniently forgotten that it also needs to retain its loyal existing audience.

I paid for our two tickets for the Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille concert. Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Can champagne activists really change the world?

Champagne activism has joined 'Jerusalem' and 'Rule Britannia' as one of the great traditions of the Last Night of the Proms. Don't get me wrong: gender equality is badly needed in classical music. On An Overgrown Path was saying precisely that years before the female cause was taken up elsewhere, and Marin Alsop's advocacy at the Last Night of the Proms is to be applauded. But attitudes within the musical establishment are at the heart of the problem, and figures such as Marin Alsop - who is heading for the million dollar club of U.S. music directors - and fellow Last Night activist Joyce DiDonato - who has made herself one of classical music's most valuable brands - are very much part of the establishment.

By an auspicious coincidence, while Marin Alsop was pleading the female case at the BBC Proms last night, six musicians from the other side of the celebrity tracks were pleading the same case elsewhere. The all-women jazz/world music ensemble 'Les Jeunes Antigones' - seen in the photo above grabbed by me at the concert - is the result of a residency at the Villa Méditerranée in Marseille. This is a new international centre for promoting dialogue in the Mediterranean region, a mission that has been made compellingly relevant by the terrible humanitarian crisis triggered by refugees crossing the great inland sea. The residency by 'Les Jeunes Antigones' is part of a project showcasing and promoting the role of women in the cyber-activism and digital dialogue sparked by the current refugee crisis in the Mediterranean region. The ensemble takes its name from Brecht's adaption of Sophocles' tragedy 'Antigone', and the musicians are drawn from countries surrounding the Mediterranean. They come from Syria, Tunisia, Spain, Morocco and Palestine, and include noted Turkish/German blogger, journalist and Islamic feminist Kübra Gümüşay, and star of the Berlin club scene DJ İpek İpekçioğlu - project-in-progress video via this link.

You are unlikely to find 'Les Jeunes Antigones' at the Last Night of the Proms in the near future; because their edgy mix of music, poetry, and grassroots activism would have the corporate hospitality guests in their private boxes choking on the canapés and Moët & Chandon . Of course Marin Alsop is quite right in asserting that music can help change the world. But to change things we need action a lot more radical than well-meaning media-friendly speeches by fully paid-up members of the music establishment.

I didn't pay for tickets for my wife and me at the Villa Méditerranée because admission to te concert was free. Any 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.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Indian music is not an art, but life itself

The performing arts are so much part of Hindu culture that the poet W. B. Yeats was moved to write that Indian music is ‘not an art, but life itself’. To understand that assertion fully we must ponder on the two seemingly simple, but in reality almost unanswerable questions of what is Hinduism? And what is Hindu music?

Hinduism and its sub-traditions
Contrary to popular belief, the word Hindu does not have a religious root. It originated as the Indo-Aryan name for the Indus River that flows through the north of present-day India and Pakistan. The Persians used the name Hindu in the eighth century to describe the people living beyond the Indus River, denoting their geographic location rather than their religion. Today, however, the term Hinduism is used to describe a heterogeneous religious tradition which has evolved on the Indian subcontinent over thousands of years. This tradition is now practised by around one billion Hindus, not just on the subcontinent but in the regions settled by the Hindu diaspora, as far afield as Africa, Indonesia and the Caribbean. Hinduism is a multifaceted and developing tradition that does not exhibit the defining characteristics usually associated with major religions. Unlike the three great religions of the book, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, Hinduism has no founder and is not prophetic; it does not have a creed and its practice is not dependent on adhering to any particular doctrine or dogma. Hinduism does not impose a single moral code and it lacks the central authority of the established churches that are found in the other great faiths. There is no dominant single tradition of Hinduism, but rather a complex set of overlapping sub-traditions. This presents a problem to tidy Western minds, because trying to categorize Hinduism into neat groups such as Vedanta, Shaivism, Smartism and Shaktism simply does not work, as these various sub-traditions overlap and intermingle. But if there is any single root for Hinduism it is Vedanta.

Sacred texts
The body of Sanskrit texts known as the Veda are among the oldest sacred writings, with the earliest dating from 1700BCE. The provenance of the Vedas is unknown, but it is believed that they were originally revealed to sages and only written down after being transmitted orally through generations of teachers. Their status as revealed teachings places them alongside other great sacred writings such as the Torah, Old Testament and Quran. But they predate these other revelations by several millennia and their great age has given rise to the belief that the Vedas were a spiritual instruction manual for the earliest members of the human race. Of the four Vedas, the earliest, the Rig Veda, the ‘Hymn of Creation’, is also the best known and contains prayers and hymns used in worship rituals. The three other Vedas are the Yajur Veda and Sama Veda, which interpret the Rig Veda for priests, and the final Atharva Veda, which contains more hymns and incantations.

The Vedas are important but arcane teachings, concerned primarily with ritual worship. To clarify and communicate their meaning, a new body of texts known as the Upanishads was created starting in the 600BCE, which have been expanded by new additions over the centuries. The Upanishads are sometimes referred to as the Vedanta, meaning the ‘Last Part of Veda’. Together with the Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads form the triple canon of Vedanta. The Brahma Sutras are a systematic explanation of the central teachings of the Upanishads and the 700-verse Bhagavad Gita forms part of the epic Mahabharata, which is thought to have been composed between the fifth and second centuries BCE. The Bhagavad Gita recounts the debate between the warrior hero Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna, who is actually the Supreme Being. Arjuna has despaired at the prospect of fighting to the death in an internecine dispute and the Bhagavad Gita tells how Krishna wins him over to the cause of fighting a just war, irrespective of the consequences.

The Bhagavad Gita is the most celebrated of the great Hindu texts – Vishnu’s declaration, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds’, was famously quoted by J. Robert Oppenheimer following the Trinity atomic bomb test in New Mexico in July 1945. Writing about the Bhagavad Gita in his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi tells how ‘just as I turned to the English dictionary for the meaning of English words that I did not understand, I turned to this dictionary of conduct for a ready solution of all my troubles and trials’. The continuing appeal of the Bhagavad Gita is due both to its inspired poetic imagery and its contemporary relevance to the conflict between ethics and action. Krishna’s teaching that selfless action opens the path to knowledge has a timeless appeal, reaching far beyond the Hindu community. Voltaire, Carl Jung and Herman Hesse, Henry David Thoreau, Aldous Huxley and Ralph Waldo Emerson are among those who have been influenced by the Bhagavad Gita. T.S. Eliot’s biographer, Philip R. Headings, has observed that ‘no serious student of Eliot’s poetry can afford to ignore his early and continued interest in the Bhagavad Gita’, while Philip Glass tells the story of the Gandhi’s emergence as a political activist in South Africa through the text of the Gita in his 1979 opera Satyagraha.

An evolving tradition
Despite being rooted in some of the oldest known texts, Hinduism is a constantly evolving tradition that is more thinking process than religion. The emphasis on the free flow of thought and inclusiveness, encapsulated in the Rig Veda maxim, ‘Aano bhadrah krtavo yantu vishwatah’ (let noble thoughts come from all directions), is one of the reason’s for the tradition’s appeal in the West. The law of karma is one of the most familiar tenets of Hinduism. It states that our present life is the outcome of past actions; this locks sentient beings into the eternal cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth called samsara, a concept shared with Buddhism and Jainism.

Hinduism is often denounced for being polytheistic, because it is thought to encourage the worship of many gods. This is an incorrect interpretation, because monism, the doctrine of interdependence that denies difference and duality, introduced in the early Upanishads, is one of Hinduism’s guiding principles. Hinduism is a monotheistic tradition that embraces divine unity through multiplicity. It teaches that there are many routes to a single god and that there should be no discrimination between those different routes. It is an affirmative faith that does not identify infidels or heretics and preaches non-violence, ahimsa. Mahatma Gandhi affirmed ‘it was through the Hindu religion that I learnt to respect Christianity and Islam’. However this holistic aspect is undermined by the caste system, which creates untouchables, if not infidels, and Gandhi fought long, hard and not totally successfully to overturn the entrenched caste hierarchies. Hinduism, with its reverence for all forms of life, has strong environmental credentials and it portrays Mother Earth as the consort of Lord Vishnu. This synthesis of spirituality and the environment finds expression in the sacred powers attributed to rivers such as the Ganges and mountain ranges such as the Himalayas.

Sound is god
Just as Hinduism is a heterogeneous and difficult to define religious tradition, so Hindu music is a heterogeneous and difficult to define artistic tradition. Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of wisdom, music and all the arts. Together with Lakshmi, goddess of beauty, and Parvati, goddess of love, she assists the divine trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in their work of creation, preservation and transformation. The Sama Veda notates the hymns first recorded in the Rig Veda with melodies that were sung by priests during ritual worship. Shabda Brahman (transcendental sound) is referred to in the Brahma Sutras and the sacred properties attributed to sound find expression in the Sanskrit nada Brahma (sound is god). In the West the best-known example of nada Brahma is OM; this sacred mantra encapsulates the essence of the universe by combining the audible resonance of the atoms with the music of the spheres. In the Upanishads it is explained that ‘whoever speaks this mantra 35,000,000 times […] shall be released from his karma and from all his sins. He shall be freed of all his bonds and shall reach absolute liberty.’

Variants of nada, the Sanskrit word for sound, found in the Rig Veda include nadi, which translates as ‘stream of consciousness’; this illustrates how in the Vedic tradition sound is linked with the inner self. The creative force in the trinity of gods that together form the single theistic peak of Hinduism is Brahma. He is the creator of all things and is often depicted with four heads looking towards the four cardinal points of the universe. The principle of monism, denying difference, means Brahma is both the creator and created; in Hinduism the manifestation of Brahma known as Brahman provides the prime power of the universe and of the inner consciousness of all living beings. The concept of nada Brahma means that in Hinduism the performing arts are not a mere transitory entertainment, but an integral part of life itself. In the words of Swami Hari Puri Baba of the Naga Baba Hindu sect: ‘when we sing bhajans, hymns to the gods and goddesses, we are inviting their spirit into us so that we may know them and in that way receive their knowledge’.

In Hinduism, the ultimate goal of human existence is the release of the atman (self) from the cycle of life by spiritual enlightenment. The worship of sound, nadopasana, is one of the disciplines used to reach this goal and the liberating power of sound is manifested through sound yoga, nada yoga, which can transport the practitioner to the highest musical experience of ananda (divine bliss). Music has been a valued art form in India for more than 3,000 years and the Hindu art music that we know today is the product of a line of oral transmission that originated in the Vedic texts, passed through the Imperial age of the Gupta dynasties in the fourth to sixth centuries CE and was then transmitted through generations of guilds of hereditary musicians to be heard by 21st-century audiences. Until recent times, the public concert was unknown in India; art music was the product of patronage in an aristocratic society and only performed by court musicians for select audiences. This is a complete contrast to the West where there is a strong tradition of communal amateur music-making.

At this year’s Salzburg Festival, musicians from the classical Northern Indian (Hindustani) and Southern Indian (Carnatic) traditions performed ragas for the break of dawn and sunrise, as well as Hindustani vocal music and instrumental music from the Dhrupad and Kyal genres. The British-Ceylonese art historian and metaphysician Ananda K. Coomaraswamy may have been exaggerating when he wrote that for a listener to appreciate Indian music ‘he must enter into the inner spirit and must adopt many of the outer convictions of Indian life’. However an understanding of the fundamental differences between Western and Indian music greatly aid appreciation of the music of the subcontinent.

Indian music depends entirely on melody and the only harmonic accompaniment is a drone; traditionally this was supplied by a tanpura, but increasingly electronic tanpuras (tone generators) are used as a substitute. The absence of implied harmony makes Indian music sound unfamiliar and ‘difficult’ and this difficulty is compounded by the use of a different tonal language. Key changes are an integral part of Western art music and to facilitate these the equal-tempered scale evolved. This reduces the tonal possibilities to 12 fixed notes by merging very similar intervals such as D sharp and E flat. By contrast, there are no fixed scales in Indian music. Instead the pitch of a note depends on its relation to other notes in a progression, not on its relation to a tonic. The 22 microtonal intervals (shrutis) in Indian music are simply a summation of the notes played; a chromatic scale spanning the 22 intervals is never heard in performance and there is no use of modulation. As performance convention dictates that scale notes are not played in succession, the microtonal interval is a nuanced rather than prominent feature of the music. Another differentiating characteristic of Indian music is the prolific use of ornamentation; this adds the light and shade that would otherwise be missing due to the absence of conventional harmony.

Although the raga is the best-known form of Indian music there is often confusion as to what a raga is exactly. The word raga translates as ‘shades of colour’ and ‘mood’ and a raga is the schematic that improvising Indian musicians follow. Indian music is said to be in a particular raga in the same way that Western music is said to be in a specific key; but whereas the Western key signature is limited to defining pitch, a raga defines both relative pitch and rhythm. The rhythmic basis of Hindu music, both instrumental and vocal, is taal. This provides the pulse of the music and, in a raga, the defined rhythm is repeated in cycles. In Indian music the convention of summing beats means that a taal can specify a maximum of more than 100 beats and within these complex rhythmic patterns the emphasis is placed on the first beat, which is known as the sum. The tabla – a pair of drums consisting of a small right hand drum called the dayan and a larger metal one called bayan – is the most common rhythm instrument in Indian music.

Pitch is the second component of a raga. A raga is a sequence of five, six or seven notes; but whereas a Western mode is limited to defining key, a raga also specifies progressions between the notes and identifies a home note to which the musicians repeatedly return. A raga has two parts: the alap is performed by the soloist without rhythm, introducing the main arguments and moods of the piece; the gat that follows is a rhythmic development of these arguments, increasing in speed as it follows the specified rhythmic cycle of the taal. Within each raga there are multiple raginasragina being the feminine form of raga – which summarize and develop the main theme of the raga. Mathematically, the number of possible ragas is almost infinite. But tradition has narrowed the possibilities down to more manageable numbers. In the Hindustani tradition ragas are linked to specific themes – time of day, seasons, sacred, geographic etc. – whereas in Carnatic music ragas are defined more by mathematic possibility. The raga is an evolving art form and contemporary masters have contributed new examples; one is the Raga Mohan Kauns, which Pandit Ravi Shankar composed in 1948 in memory of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Indian musician Gita Sarabhai declared that ‘the purpose of music is to sober and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences’; ragas remain devoted to this purpose, whereas Western classical music has increasingly become a way of expressing existential angst. Ragas, with their subtle connotations of colour and mood, are often associated with specific times of the day and night and it is believed that these ragas only work their true magic if performed at their allotted time. Ragas to greet the break of dawn and sunrise were performed at this year's Salzburg Sumnmer festival in the Kollegienkircheat six o’clock in the morning, while there were also concerts of Dhrupad and Kyal music at more conventional times.

Dhrupad is the oldest form and most elaborate form of Indian classical music and comes from the Hindustani (Northern Indian) tradition. It originated with the chanting of Vedic hymns, but gradually evolved as an independent genre which follows the alap and gat structure of the raga. Dhrupad is deeply spiritual and meditative and its performance is considered to be a form of nada yoga. However the art of Dhrupad is under threat due to the global shift away from musical as spiritual sustenance and towards music as entertainment. This means that today there are only a few remaining Dhrupad practitioners of the highest order, such as the young Dhrupad musician, Uday Bhawalkar who played in Salzburg.

By comparison with the venerable Dhrupad style, Khyal has evolved comparatively recently and gives the musicians greater freedom to improvise. The word Khyal comes from Arabic and means fantasy. Khyal is a Hindustani tradition that has its roots in Dhrupad and uses the raga structure, but it has also absorbed elements of the qawalli style from the Sufis of the Muslim world. This incorporation of influences from Islam was important to the development of Khyal and two of the instruments most closely associated with Hindu music, the sitar and sarod, have their origins in Muslim Afghanistan. Possibly because of this multicultural component, Khyal has proved more resilient than Dhrupad; today it is the most popular genre of classical vocal music in Northern India and also exerts a strong influence on Hindustani instrumental music. As part of the Salzburg Festival’s survey of Hindu culture, acclaimed Indian classical singer Shruti Sadolikar performed Khyal supplemented by Stotras (Sanskrit hymns), Bhajans (religious songs) and Abhangas (mystical songs).

Today in India the word sangita means music, but it originally meant drama and dance as well and all three performing arts are closely associated with spiritual life. Hindus believe that Shiva, in the form of Nataraja Lord of Dancers and King of Actors, is the creator of sangita. Shiva is the cosmic dancer and the sculpture of him dancing in an aureole of flames over the demon Apasmara is one of the iconic images of Hinduism. The classical Southern Indian dance style of Bharatanatyam originated as a temple dance and was revived as a secular art form in the mid-20th century using temple sculptures depicting the various movements, karanas, as reference points. Today Bharatanatyam is a form of natya yoga (dance yoga) that transmutes the physical into the spiritual. Performing Bharatanatyam during the Salzburg Summer Festival was the dancer and choreographer Alarmél Valli who has said that ‘for me dance is a prayer for my entire being – a transforming experience, a joyous celebration of life’. In Scent of the Earth she drew on eclectic sources ranging from ancient Vedic hymns to pre-Aryan Sangam poetry. Her performance were be introduced by a fanfare played on traditional instruments from Southern Indian temples.

Indian theatre is represented by the Kutiyattam tradition from Kerala in Southern India. Kutiyattam, which translates as ‘playing together’, is one of India’s oldest living theatrical traditions and brings to life through dance stories from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Kutiyattam originated more than 2,000 years ago and its synthesis of Sanskrit classicism and Southern Indian culture uses a stylized and codified theatrical language of netra abhinaya (eye expression) and hasta abhinaya (the language of gestures) with spectacular costumes and masks. The traditional venue for Kutiyattam was the theatres called Kuttampalams found in Hindu temples. But like Bharatanatyam dance, performances have migrated from sacred to secular venues. However a sacred dimension is retained in the form of an oil lamp placed on stage to symbolize a divine presence. Kutiyattam is the only remaining traditional Sanskrit theatre form on the entire subcontinent and performances are rare because less than fifty actors and musicians practise it in India today. The musical impetus comes from a range of rhythm instruments, including massive copper drums which provide a sonorous bass line. Kutiyattam wasbrought to Salzburg this year by the Ensemble Nepathya, directed by Margi Madhu Chakyar and his wife. The Ensemble Nepathya is one of the small academies keeping the ancient dance tradition of Kerala alive today. Kutiyattam involves complex improvised elaboration and in its extended form a single act can last 24 hours and a complete performance more than 40 days.

In Hinduism, the ultimate goal of human existence is the release of the self from the cycle of life by spiritual enlightenment. Music and the other performing arts are so closely integrated into this striving for release that they become, as W.B. Yeats explains, not art but life itself. In his collection of essays, The Dance of Shiva, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy expresses the view that each race contributes something essential to the world’s civilization in the course of its own self-realization and that the essential contribution of India is simply her ‘Indianness’. This year’s Ouverture spirituelle at the Salzburg Summer Festival, with its programme of Hindu music, dance and theatre was a vivid portrayal of that unique gift.

That text is a slightly amended version of the essay I contributed to the programme book for this year's Salzburg Summer Festival. The accompanying photos were taken by me in Kullu in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. My essay was accompanied by the following footnote: 'Author Bob Shingleton has retired from a career with the BBC, EMI and other media companies. He now spends his time pursuing his interest in music and comparative religion. In 1976 he married his wife Sorojini in accordance with Hindu rites.'

On An Overgrown Path will now take a break while I am travelling - take care.

Text is (c) Bob Shingleton 2015. Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Don't let the facts get in the way of a self-serving story

The BBC has today set out proposals for its own future as part of the Royal Charter review debate. Coverage of a speech by director general Tony Hall - seen above - is given headline status on the BBC news website and states that*:
The BBC is expected to ask the government for money to fund the world services - which it will match with funds raised by commercial enterprises such as BBC World News. Licence fee income will not be used. The World Service proposals are part of an ongoing battle against state-sponsored news organisations such as Al-Jazeera, China Central Television (CCTV) and RT (previously Russia Today), which command huge resources and now broadcast to viewers in the UK.
Al-Jazeera is controversially funded by the Qatari government, but, despite this, has won a slew of awards. The network does not publish budget figures; but informed estimates of the "huge resources" it commands place its annual budget at around £66 million ($100 m). By comparison the BBC World Service annual budget is £245 million ($373m). Of course we need a strong and independent BBC. That is why its present bloated and self-serving structure must be changed.

* Two hours after I uploaded this post the story on the BBC News website has been modified and the passage I quoted deleted. Confirmation that the passage originally appeared is given by the screengrab below taken at 12.00 BST today and this coverage. We certainly do need an independent BBC.
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Sunday, September 06, 2015

Wagner's Buddhist dream becomes reality

Jonathan Harvey described his acclaimed opera 'Wagner Dream' as "a fantasy, based on fact but following it way beyond what is known". The opera is a fictional account of the last days of Wagner's life; but it is informed by historical knowledge of Wagner's interest in Buddhism and the existence of his short prose sketch for a Buddhist themed opera titled Die Sieger (The Victors). 'Wagner Dream', which dates from 2007, is the best known musical conflation of Wagner and Buddhism; however, my research recently uncovered another little-known conflation dating from almost a century earlier.

Paul Carus was born at Ilsenburg, Germany in 1852 into a Protestant family. He studied in Germany and served in Bismark's army, but his increasingly liberal views prompted him to emigrate to the United States in 1884. As managing editor of Open Court Publishing, a publisher devoted to philosophy, science, and religion, he wrote pioneering books and articles promoting interfaith dialogue. Buddhism was a particular passion, and Carus' 1894 book The Gospel Of Buddha played an important role in the introduction of Buddhism to the West. When the influential Zen teacher D.T. Suzuki - who numbered John Cage among his disciples - first came to the States in 1897 he lived and studied with Paul Carus, and was an editor at Open Court Publishing for eleven years. Carus' goal was cultural translation, and to this end he produced a Buddhist hymn book setting texts from the Dhammapada and other sources. In the introduction to the hymns he wrote:

I have set some of these Buddhist poems to music, which, as I am fully conscious, is a bold innovation, but may be welcome to some musical friends of Buddhism. Music is a comparatively recent invention, but the religious services of ancient India at an early time were possessed of a melodramatic recitative, or better, a chanting, which came very near to being real music and may be characterized as the initial stage of sacred music.
'Buddhist Hymns' was published in 1911 by Open Court Publishing and is available online. The sixteen "bold" settings are to music by, among others, Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner and Carus himself, with the 'Bridal Chorus' from Lohengrin accompanying Carus' own Buddhist-inspired doggerel - see header image. Compared with Jonathan Harvey's 'Wagner Dream' and Holst's 'Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda', these Buddhist hymns are mere trivia. But we should not dismiss them because of that. The Dalai Lama's Twitter account, which is nothing more than a trivia mill, currently has 11.8 million followers. If a recording was made of 'Buddhist Hymns' and just a fraction of those 11.8 million followers bought it, the album would become an instant classical best seller. Universal Music or Warner Classics, what are you waiting for?

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Saturday, September 05, 2015

Forgotten music

Writing in the Guardian Gavin Plumley draws attention to the performance of Franz Schmidt’s Second Symphony on Sept. 10th at the BBC Proms. Not only is this the first time that Schmidt's Second Symphony has been heard at the Proms, but it is also only the second performance of any symphony by him in the one hundred and twenty year history of the concerts. Gavin concludes his persuasive advocacy by drawing attention to "the constant need to reappraise, rewrite and enrich our account of music during the first half of the 20th century". This message resonates strongly with my musings on how audiences need permission to like different music, and with Alex Ross' lament that today's orchestra culture excludes so many deserving symphonies. Gavin Plumley wrote the much-missed Entartete Musik blog, and in a post last year I proposed that we need to widen the definition of forbidden music. Access to music is now controlled not by authoritarian regimes, but by corporations and celebrities with self-interested agendas. So, instead of forbidden music, we now have forgotten music. All credit to Semyon Bychkov and the Vienna Philharmonic for challenging this new cultural despotism by bringing Franz Schmidt's forgotten symphony to the Proms.

The other Franz Schmidt symphony performed at the Proms was his somewhat better-known Fourth in 1998. The header image shows my 1972 Decca LP of the Fourth Symphony. Any 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.

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.

Sampled photo of the abandoned Holley High School, New York is by Chris Luckhardt and comes via Erudition Hub. Any 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.