Going with the flow is not always a good idea
In 2007 ago I wrote an enthusiastic post about the newly released CD Angels of Jonathan Harvey's choral music sung by Les Jeunes Solistes directed by the Algerian conductor Rachid Safir. It was the first time I had written about Jonathan's music and I didn't know him at that time, but he sent me the following email:
I was delighted to find such a passionate advocate of my and other contemporary music forging his own path (not so overgrown!) clearly in opposition to most current trends. I've always felt that it is and will be strong enthusiasm that will change the world! Thank you so much... all best and bon courage ~ Jonathan HarveyThose typically astute observations about the importance of passionate advocacy and of not being afraid to go against current trends are even more relevant ten years later. My post that Jonathan Harvey responded to dwelt on his preoccupation with Buddhist themes. Gautama Buddha used the terms 'middle way' or 'middle path' to describe the route which leads to enlightenment. In a similar way the path leading to musical enlightenment is the middle one between the two extremes of going with the flow and standing in opposition to current trends.
Reading that email again ten years later - a period during which Jonathan, sadly, left us for his beloved Pure Land - prompts me to suggest that classical music is now too ready to go with the flow and too reluctant to oppose current trends. For me it is not a problem that Classic FM has a large audience, and, despite people trying to put words of 'outrage' into my mouth, I do not despise the music it broadcasts. But I simply do not find Classic FM to my taste and as a result I do not listen to it. Moreover it is my view that the importance of the cross-over between easy listening classical and mainstream classical audiences is considerably overstated; a view incidentally the BBC now holds*. It is also my view that the audience demographic for Classic FM has no more relevance to the future of mainstream classical music than that for other easy listening stations such as Smooth FM - a station, it should be noted, with an audience similar in size to that of Classic FM.
If I had expressed the foregoing views ten years ago they would have provoked little comment. But today professing anything other than passionate enthusiasm for Classic FM is likely to trigger a social media fire storm; with respondents underlining their street cred - as one recently did - by flaunting their music PhDs as well as their advanced tastes in smooth classics. I wrote recently about how classical music's 'next big thing' obsession is misguided. Right up there at the front of the new wave of next big things is going with the flow. Leading the charge is the new generation of writers who have progressed from unpaid online writing to paid gigs. Backing the current trends and going with the flow means more paid writing gigs, thereby creating a not so virtuous career circle.
I am now well into retirement and should be spending my time on Saga over-50s cruises browsing my iPad and having my comfort zones challenged by the young Turk music writers. Instead I find myself fuming as yet another writer flaunts their passion for Classic FM and brags about their country house opera comps. Yes, classical music needs to go with the flow sometimes. But it also needs to oppose some particularly pernicious current trends. In a desperate drive to avoid elitism classical music has lost that vital ingredient which differentiates art from entertainment - aspiration. Where are the new young passionate advocates and contrarians? Is Petroc Trelawny explaining the secret of Classic FM's success in The Spectator really the only game changer in town?
Let me finish on a more positive note by essaying a little passionate advocacy that brings this overgrown path full circle. I would like to commend a concert in London's Festival Hall on 14 Oct 2017. In it the Ensemble Intercontemporain conducted by Matthias Pintscher performs Pierre Boulez's ...explosante-fixe... (In memoriam Stravinsky) for flute with live electronics, 2 flutes & orchestra, Philippe Schœller's Hermès V for large ensemble, and Jonathan Harvey's Bhakti for ensemble & quadraphonic tape. Classical music needs a middle path; so please could the young Turks among the music writers show the same enthusiasm for that concert as they showed for recent 'going with the flow' concerts such as the Oklohama! BBC Prom.
* BBC Radio 3 may have finally realised that "Strictly and Sherlock audiences fail to stick around", but instead is now selling 'slow' radio - the bastard child of smooth radio - as the next big thing.
So what is the link between the CD artwork for Eliane Radique's Triptych and this post? Take your pick from the Buddhist connection, her music deserves passionate advocacy, the subliminal message of that lack of bums on seats, or Eliane Radique's willingness to go against current trends. 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.