Don't shoot the conductor

Sakari Oramo's BBC Proms performance of Mahler's Second Symphony, which I heard via the Radio 3 broadcast yesterday, was unusually satisfying. My guides in appreciating the symphony were Klemperer on disc and Solti and Haitink in the concert hall, and Oramo's interpretation measured up well against those lofty benchmarks. The playing of the BBC Symphony Orchestra was a reminder of how good this band can be if the planets are fortuitously aligned. And the commendable Radio 3 broadcast balance gave the music room to breathe, although it was slightly marred by the usual spotlighting of solo lines and some noticeable gain riding in the final pages. Thankfully the participation of the now notorious Proms audience was minimal, and there was even enough unsullied applause at the end to allow me to mute the sound before Petroc Trelawny gatecrashed the party.

That performance was evidence, if any were really needed, that the most powerful promotional tool at classical music's disposal is the music itself. Ironically Sakari Oramo was one of the principal figures in the latest manufactured Brexit PR stunt, and he has been involved in other silly promotional stunts including the 2014 BBC Proms photo shoot above. In fact his participation in silly spin goes back a long way to some ill-judged remarks about authoritative interpreters of Elgar during his tenure at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

It is probably unfair to put all the blame for these gratuitous exercises in spin on Sakari Oramo. He is managed by the Harrison Parrott agency, which together with Askonas Holt - home of Daniel Barenboim and Simon Rattle - is a leading proponent of the theory that musicians now need equal measures of skill and spin to reach the peak of their profession. Classical music does not need these silly PR stunts. Far from enhancing the art form they cheapen it by reducing it to just another tawdry entertainment. Anshel Brusilow was a student of Pierre Monteux, associate concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell and concertmaster of Eugene Ormandy's Philadelphia Orchestra. His book Shoot the Conductor: Too Close to Monteux, Szell, and Ormandy is a coruscating indictment of both the manipulative power of management agents and the opportunistic behaviour of celebrity maestros. But in Shoot the Conductor Anshel Brusilow is also optimistic about the future, and classical music's spin doctors and marketing experts should heed his valedictory thoughts:

I've been a little promiscuous about music, quick to enjoy tunes that make me want to dance or sing along. Almost any type of music can make me feel happy or sad. But it is classical music, with its intricacy and large structure, that plumbs the depths of human feeling. It's not a pretty house-it's monumental architecture. The shortsighted are always saying classical music is dying. It won't. It will never be set aside or forgotten. We will die, and a new generation of music lovers in another corner of the globe will discover it and add to its canon.
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David said…
Give Oramo a break. On Brexit he has always been honest, and the publicity shot was de rigeur to launch the Proms - what's the problem? He's a very decent and honourable man, and as you intimate a remarkable conductor.
Pliable said…
David, there are more than enough other writers in the UK bloggers mutual admiration society giving Oramo a break. Is it really unacceptable even in these remorselessly politically correct for there to be one nuanced dissenter?

Sorry, but I cannot accept that any publicity shot, no matter how banal, is "de rigeur" for someone who seems quite capable of thinking and speaking for himself.

As you acknowledge, I state that he is a remarkable conductor. So, as you also say, what's the problem?

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