Thursday, June 06, 2019

Classical music cannot see the woodwind for the trees


Slipped Disc claims more than 164,000 daily page hits, and there is no doubt that Norman's blog accurately reflects the classical zeitgeist. So two Slipped Disc stories that are currently trending with the classical cognoscenti are worth drilling down into. The story below reports how in the programme for the newly-refurbished Fairfield Halls in the London suburb of Croydon "there is hardly any orchestral music in what was once a cornerstone concert hall". Despite self-identifying as 'a leading cultural commentator' Norman makes no attempt to explain why orchestral music is in short supply in Croydon and elsewhere. But the tone of the story implies there is a conspiracy abroad in south London to short-change classical audiences. Which fits neatly with the widespread conspiracy theory peddled by classical music's great and good that dark forces are persecuting their beloved art form.


Now cut to the story seen in my header image. This was published the following day and gave Slipped Disc readers the opportunity to watch for free a live concert stream of Mariss Jansons conducting the Vienna Philharmonic - a combination of orchestra and conductor far beyond the budgetary possibilities of the Fairfield Halls. Or cut to any of the other celebrity ensembles - Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra for instance - streaming their concerts live and at no charge on YouTube, Facebook and elsewhere. Or cut to the Alladin's Cave of classical riches made available via Spotify and other streaming services by the major labels at minimal cost.

Could it be that classical music's conspiracy theory is very wide of the mark? Could it be that classical music is a threatened species at the Fairfield Halls and elsewhere because of the suicidal digital distribution strategies of an industry which allows audiences to watch world class musicians for free in the comfort of their own homes? And could it be that the flourishing celebrity culture which provides so much Slipped Disc click bait has priced top flight classical ensembles out of suburban venues? Could it be that classical music cannot see the wood for the trees?



Now let's turn to the Slipped Disc story above. In it, after a typical blast of hubris, Norman laments how the London Evening Standard "fired [its] last two theatre critics... supposedly to save money". Again no attempt to explain why a newspaper needs to save money in the current media environment; but - and once again - the clear implication of a widespread conspiracy to marginalise the arts. So cut to Sinfini Music, a free online resource transparently targeting the readership of print media such as the Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine. And who was the cheerleader and contributing critic to Sinfini? Norman Lebrecht of course - see below. Print-based media has been devastated by free online content; that devastation continues and is the reason why, sadly, the livelihood of excellent journalists and critics is threatened. Yes, there is a conspiracy, and Slipped Disc and indeed, in its modest way, On An Overgrown Path are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

These two examples from the de facto mouthpiece of the classical industry are just more evidence that classical music cannot see the wood for the trees. Whether we like it or not, disruptive technologies such as streaming and free online content are here to stay. So let's get real and work out how to live with the consequences. And let's stop whinging about them on Slipped Disc.



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1 comment:

Graeme said...

It is quite sad. I remember when I was growing up in the 1970s in Croydon that there were regular concerts by the big orchestras under conductors such as Jochum, Previn, Bernstein, Abbado etc. I also remember with great pleasure performances by stars such as Oscar Peterson and Peggy Lee as well as George Melly. It is a shame that such a hall, with such a history and such a marvellous acoustic should be deemed surplus to requirements. I also recall a radio interview with Carlo Curley where he spolke about how much he was looking forward to playing the organ there.