What classical music can learn from sub-atomic physics

Classical music is an infinite multi-dimensional labyrinth. The accompanying photos taken from Overgrown Path posts show just three examples of that labyrinth. Seen above are players from L'Orchestre Philharmonique du Maroc performing al fresco in the medina at Essaouira, Morocco as part of the town's 2016 Printemps Musical Des Alizés festival. My second photo shows members of the Britten Sinfonia using classical music to bring positive change to the lives of young people at Larkman Primary School in Norfolk. While in the third photo, senior Tibetan Buddhist monk Kenrap-la is introduced to Jonathan Harvey's Body Mandala for the first time, listening via my iPod as we approach his monastery at Thiksay in the disputed Indian region of Jammu and Kashmir in 2014. 

Sub-atomic physics tells us that all phenomena consist of multi-dimensional energy waves that defy our conventional understanding of space and time. At the heart of quantum theory are the concepts of non-locality and acausality. Classical music is sound, and sound is vibrating energy which obeys the laws of sub-atomic physics. However, despite an abiding passion for reaching a new audience, the classical music industry not only refuses to accept the reality of non-locality and acausality; instead it actively works against these key concepts.

In quantum physics non-locality is the ability of energy masses to interact with physically distant energy masses. Non-locality contradicts the principle of locality: this is the now disproved dogma central to pre-quantum physics which proposed that phenomena can only be influenced by direct surroundings, and not by distant forces. Millennials are the mobile generation, and a defining characteristic of the millennial market which the classical music industry is so keen to reach is non-locality. Covid has accelerated the erosion of historic centres of locality such as shopping malls and offices, with rural replacing urban as the lifestyle choice. Music is now a mobile experience: technology has enabled non-locality, which means streamed music served by data farms thousands of miles away is consumed by the millennials on the move through mobile devices.

The Internet has created many of the challenges now facing classical music, and readers familiar with the origins of the Internet will know it was created to provide a communications network defined by non-locality. Non-locality is a defining dynamic of the zeitgeist, yet the classical music industry remains fixated by locality. Which means the new normal must simply be a reincarnation of the old normal. This erroneous dogma of metro-centric locality dictates that classical music can only be enjoyed when performed by celebrity ensembles in mouth-wateringly expensive city centre designer concert halls. As a result provincial halls with less than Elbphilharmonie acoustics are derided by the superstars, egged on by those who cling to their coat tails on social media. 

Millennials may be deserting London in droves, but that didn't stop a star conductor throwing his Rattle out of the pram when Brexit nuked plans for a new £288 million city-centre concert hall. I was privileged to work in the classical music industry in the days of Herbert von Karajan and André Previn , and I was very fortunate to hear them conduct in the world's great concert halls. But my 'light bulb' moment came at a very early age when hearing a symphony orchestra in Epsom Baths Hall, a venue with acoustics that would make the 'perfect concert hall sound' evangelists die of a heart attack.

Acausality contradicts another traditional doctrine of physics - the causality law of cause and effect. Quantum physics reveals that events can occur without a cause, but the classical music industry's strategy to reach a new audience remains rooted in causality. This finds expression in 'next big thing' thinking which postulates that if you find a big enough cause, it will have an even bigger effect. Remember when the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra and El Sistema were the next big things? Now we have 'Mirga' and Chineke. (Before the Twitter wolf pack starts closing in, I will point out I am not judging artistic merit, I am highlighting exploitation by flawed marketing-think.) 

This 'next big thing' marketing strategy is fatally flawed because it is based on the mistaken thinking that in classical music one size fits all. Classical music's established audience is highly granular and comprised of aficionados from diverse genres - opera, contemporary, orchestral, non-Western classical, early, chamber etc etc. One genre does not fit all of the current audience, and one next big thing will not attract a new audience. In fact one person's entry point into classical music is another person's poison. Some come to classical music via ambient electronics, others come via Gilbert and Sullivan. To adapt to its changing target audience classical music must ditch one size fits all thinking and instead offer many sizes for a many-faceted new audience.

This post started by pointing out that classical music is an infinite multi-dimensional labyrinth. To reach a big new audience classical music needs accept the reality of acausality and non-locality within that labyrinth. It needs to decentralise geographically and generically: my three photos illustrating the infinite multi-dimensional labyrinth of classical music were taken by me on three different continents. Geographic decentralisation must be implemented at both micro and macro level - moving out from city centre museums of sound countries to more accessible venues, and between countries and, indeed, between continents. 

To reach cosmopolitan millennials classical music needs to be far more diverse in the genres it embraces. Classical music needs to stop searching for the non-existent next big thing and instead embrace everything from ambient electronics through non-Western classical music to Gilbert and Sullivan - many sizes for a many-faceted new audience. But this will only happen when the current financially-driven power structures which rely on celebrity ensembles playing Mahler and Shostakovich to a cultural elite in Western city centres are dismantled. To reach a new audience classical music needs to move to a new normal, not return to an old normal rooted in outmoded and increasingly irrelevant dogma.
 

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