How to alienate classical music's new audience
Does it make sense for a critic whose usual fare is Edgard Varèse and Harrison Birtwistle to review a concert by Ludovico Einaudi? Does Philip Clark's Guardian review of Einaudi's Barbican concert, with its mandatory pop at Boris Johnson, do anything other than play to the ingrained prejudices of Guardian readers? Is it helpful to imply that the entire audience for seven sold out Einaudi Barbican performances are undiscriminating idiots? If classical music really wants to reach a wider audience it must first understand that audience. Would it not be better to devote the review to exploring the mysterious but magnetic appeal of this neo-classical pianist, who, incidentally, cites Philip Glass as a primary influence?
Ludovico Einaudi and Boris Johnson are not my cup of tea. But neither is the new classical elitism that finds expression in Philip Clark's Einaudi review and in Michelle Assay's Gramophone review of Jeremy Denk's new album. Nothing is permanent. Tastes, cultures, and technologies are changing, and so are audiences. So to rejuvenate itself classical music also must change. Ludovico Einaudi may not represent the future. But intelligent journalism exploring why Einaudi can attract a Barbican audience of more than 7000 over seven days and why he has sold almost two million records may help map out a healthy future for classical music. Good criticism is the art of objective appraisal. Philip Clark's Guardian review is highly subjective click bait dressed up as criticism, and all those who gleefully retweeted it have self-identified as members of classical music's new reactionary elite.
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Classical music's new reactionary elite are a growing force.
Surely a reasoned review would say "for this critic there's nothing to listen to".
That dismissive sign-off line, which is typical of the whole review, gives no recognition at all to the fact that 7000 Barbican concertgoers and almost 2 million record buyers have found something rewarding to listen to in Einaudi's music. That something may evade the reviewer and it may not stand up to rigorous musicological analysis. But dismissing the obvious engagement of a very large number of people in this way is unreasonable and unhelpful.
Increasingly I have come to realise that tastes in music vary, and that the notion of 'good' and 'bad' music - a notion which pervades this whole review - is both misleading and meaningless. For me, a reasoned review would accept that tastes in music vary, and that the tastes of an impressively large number of Ludovico Einaudi followers cannot simply be dismissed as an infantile aberration.
The thing is, the money men around Einaudi know full well it’s pap they’re flogging (as does the man himself, no doubt) but they’re happy to piggyback off of the respectability and prestige of being in the same market as the people using the Barbican to showcase technique and craft. Sure, have a big Einaudi concert but why not somewhere like Wembley Arena, with your Ed Sheerans et al? Having him in the Barbican is like the Michelin guide reviewing McDonald’s (and presumably even Ron’s most fervent admirers don’t kid themselves they’re eating quality cuisine).
This reminds me somewhat of the stir in the poetry world caused by this article:
The poet was subjecting McNish, Tempest and Kaur to a similar scrutiny as Einaudi above. It ignited similar accusations of snobbery but again I sympathise more with the reviewer than the target and their fans.
It’s also important to note the money in all this. Don Paterson is probably the most erudite and well-read poet alive, and certainly in possession of an astonishing amount of craft and skill. He has written a 700 page book on poetic theory. He knows these spoken word poets are not even attempting to do anything along the lines of, say, Robert Frost. But as their editor he is financially obliged to sell it alongside the real deal. He may well have also changed his mind about spoken word’s worth, but I highly doubt he’d be publishing them if there weren’t millions of customers lining up.
Overall, my sympathies lie with those who know what they’re taking about, who have paid their dues and learned their craft.