First impressions of Apple’s epic new Classical Music App

Apple released a new app specifically target at classical music lovers and discoverers earlier on today, making available in excess of 115,000 unique works spanning multiple genres. Many of these recordings are available for the first time in higher quality audio meaning the listening experience is markedly different from other platforms.

Download the Apple Classical Music App from the Apple Store.

It’s a move which sees Apple Music fill a gaping hole in the classical music streaming and broadcast world. Apple Classical Music combines knowledge and expertise in the content with a user-experience that has been designed with classical music lovers needs in mind. The app offers 20,000+ composers, 115,000+ unique works, 350,000+ movements and a catalogue of over 5 million classical music tracks. Such a rich offer is one thing, but that the product is so satisfying to use isn’t an accident. Its evidence that people with knowledge and expertise have come together to design a user-focussed product that seeks to serve both experience listener and curious newcomer.

This isn’t radio using classical music to sell advertising or trying to serve up what it thinks the listener wants. Nor is it classical streaming having to fit into the limited constraints imposed by data architecture better suited to commercial music. Both approaches leave the audience either at best underserved or worst irritated.

Hi-Res Lossless, Lossless and Spatial Recordings

Apple Classical offers lossless and hi-res lossless recordings (essentially albums made available where the compression doesn’t deaden the low or top-end) in Dolby Atmos. If you’re listening to the track with Dolby Atmos compatible speakers, headphones or earbuds there will be a significantly higher quality listening experience. If you’re listening to one of the selection of ‘Spatial’ recordings then you’ll feel like you’re immersed in a live performance.

Even if you don’t have the necessary equipment (more on that in a bit), you’ll still notice a significant difference in detail. I listened to five different albums as a test to see if I could notice the difference compared with Spotify. In every case I’d heard a much clearer sound, a lot more ambient detail (fingers on instrument keys, bows on strings etc) and in the case of one spatial recording – the LSO’s recording of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro – a combination of focussed mixes that helped create a sense of me listening to the solo string quartet and the accompanying string ensemble. Older recordings have what feels like a recording studio quality to them. Dame Janet Baker’s recording of Sea Pictures has a brighter clarity to it compared to its Spotify equivalent.

A word of warning though. You won’t necessarily hear each track in the quality it’s streamed. Every track’s quality is subject to the equipment you’re listening to it through, meaning there will always be a slight reduction on that which is served up by the platform. That said, the differences are still marked. My day’s listening has been ‘conducted’ with multiple speakers, earbuds and headphones. But the most significant point where quality could be reduced will be the connection between the iPhone and the physical speaker you’re connecting to. Both these devices need to be running CODECs (software) for Bluetooth connections that support the transfer of hi-res lossless files. The reduction brought about by any software or hardware inconsistencies is still marginal, in my opinion, however.

50M Datapoints in the Apple Classical database

Apple’s triumph goes further than the quality of audio. The organisation of data is perhaps the greatest of achievements. At the point of launch there are in excess of 50M pieces of data in the database – 50M different elements to describe the music on the server. That makes it possible to both find individual works, tracks, composers, orchestras or artists a whole lot easier, moving the user from intentional search (knowing what it is you want to search for before you search) to moving towards a more serendipitous kind of discovery.

In the press briefing hosted by Apple today, composer Jonny Greenwood highlighted one of the opportunities this development presents – bringing multiple musical genres together, for example providing useful links between non-classical and classical genres in so doing, potentially expanding the potential reach of classical music to a wider audience.


I particularly like the Browse function on the app. Within the composer genre for example, of their works (that which is recorded and available on the platform) are listed, alongside the number of recordings available for a particular piece. For classical music lovers this provides a level of discovery not previously easily available.

Exploring this feature further, just being able to have a list of say all of Yehudi Menuhin’s recordings at my finger tips makes this a phenomenal research tool too. To populate a personal library by a range of different categories including artist, orchestra, work or composer also gives me the user a good deal more control to curate my own experience.

It’s rare that I am quite so wholeheartedly positive about a new development, but in this case I think its well-deserved. It is as though a group of people have wielded considerable resources, researched, listened to users – artists and listeners – and come up with a product that meets their needs and supports the genre.

It will need to keep a close eye on its in-app messaging perhaps. I notice in the Apple Music App that composer Alexis Ffrench presents a Classical Connections Radio Show, introducing the programme by encouraging people not to think of classical music as ‘stuffy’. I’m not entirely convinced reinforcing unhelpful stereotypes about a musical genre are helpful in ‘selling’ the genre to curious newcomers. It is a piece of messaging entirely at odds with what the Apple Classical app leads on. Similarly in Ffrench’s introductory clip to the Apple Classical App there are some odd positioning statements that seek to extoll the app search function, Ffrench’s often over-earnest delivery and misplaced intonation makes it sound as though being able to find “even” Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata illustrates the data architecture breakthrough of the app. I know of no one is has to date found it difficult to find the piece. This kind of unchecked messaging jars with the strong offer of the app.

The considerable resource deployed to bring this app to life must surely pay off in subscriptions from people tired of mediated listening experiences or poor user-experiences. The contextual information the app provides compliments the superior listening experience too. Sure, you may need to spend a bit more on your equipment to take advantage of the high-end detail on offer, but that arguably has always been the case.

Ultimately what Apple has achieved is creating a destination for classical music, tacked on to its existing Apple Music offer. In Q2 2021 Apple Music achieved a 15% share of 532.9m total audio streaming subscribers. Amazon was at 13% and Spotify at 31%. Anecdotally, I’m significantly more inclined to drop my Spotify subscription and fully sign up to Apple Music and Apple Classical. I’m wondering how much Apple is betting on other Spotify users doing the same.

Download the Apple Classical Music App from the Apple Store.

Apple Classical is available for all iPhone models running iOS 15.4 or later. A version for Android is coming soon. Existing Apple Music subscribers can immediately access Apple Music Classical at no additional cost.

BBC announces it’s ditching the BBC Singers plus 20% of musicians in English orchestras in a bid to meet shortfall

I see this morning that Gary Lineker presenter of Match of the Day will be ‘spoken to’ by BBC people about his tweet about the Government’s recently announced asylum seeker legislation. He says that the language used in it is reminiscent of 1930s Germany.

He may or may not be correct about that and he’s certainly entitled to hold that opinion, it’s just that BBC guidelines for presenters and staff make it quite clear that expressing that view publically is A Bad Thing as its calls into question the BBC’s impartiality.

It’s not the first time Lineker has caused a bit of a storm in this way. In my memory, he’s often needed to be ‘spoken to’. And yet Lineker’s still there being paid £1.35 million to present football fixtures on Match of the Day.

This is irritating because £1.35million is around about the same amount of money they BBC hopes to save in relation t other cuts its announced yesterday to performing groups in order to help mitigate the Licence Fee shortfall. The announcement was backed up by a report carried out last year investigating the impact the BBC had on the UK musical output. 20% of all musicians in the BBC’s English orchestras will be cut. The entire BBC Singers will be got rid of, just short of its 100th anniversary.

Simon Webb, the BBC’s newly appointed Head of Orchestras (formerly General Manager of the BBC Philharmonic) was on Radio 3’s In Tune and Radio 4’s Front Row defending the announcement, suggesting there was some wriggle room in all of this given that the BBC would now be entering into ‘consultations’ with the Musicians Union over their plans.

In my experience, the BBC person defending unpopular cuts is rarely the person who has taken the decision. Indeed decisions like these are rarely taken in isolation and nearly always form part of an extended series of other changes, including putting someone in post who can then act as a mouthpiece for those unpopular cuts. The collection of decision-makers in such situations is nearly always found higher up the food chain, not being grilled on air, hiding behind a curtain somewhere.

Thus, in the hours that followed the BBC issuing a statement on 20% cuts to BBC Orchestra jobs, and the entire BBC Singers group months short of its 100th anniversary, the question isn’t only why did they thinking cutting the only singing group would be best of clutch of stinky ideas, but what message are you actually putting out? (I’ll come on to this later). Also, who were the other people in the decision-making process? Do they know anything about classical music? Why didn’t any of them make a stand and come up with a more creative solution, or even a more progressive idea?

Arguably this is just the next step in a long series of steps which started a few months ago, signalled by the departure of various people from the BBC’s classical music ecosystem. First, the news of the intended departure of the Head of PR and Comms for the BBC Proms and Performing Groups in 2022. Later, the departure of the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s General Manager Paul Hughes followed by the creation of the Head of Orchestras role.

In the past few months, Radio 3 Controller Alan Davey has signalled his departure, his replacement Sam Jackson has been announced, and most recently producer and Proms editor Edward Blakeman has retired. The timing of these departures isn’t a coincidence and the order of those announcements was important too. Presumably, some saw the writing on the wall and felt it wasn’t something they wanted to be associated with. Or maybe they began to realise that their advocacy wasn’t being listened to and that they risked being associated with a spot of cultural vandalism.

There is I learn a lack of understanding of the contribution the BBC’s performing groups really make to the UK cultural landscape, with more of a bias towards pop which is presumably for those decision-makers a whole lot ‘easier’ to understand. How could someone who appreciates the genre think this decision made sense?

Maybe the writing was on the wall when that person was put in post (see the announcement of Lorna Clarke’s appointment here) by Chief Content Officer Charlotte Moore who herself is on £430,000. Maybe it was this reorganisation that signalled why so many key managers started to abandon ship, therefore making it easier to implement a strategy that was intended all along. It’s just a theory.

These plans are it seems to me only the overture. All eyes should be on the Proms line-up announced in a few weeks’ time. I can’t believe they’ll escape unscathed (although interestingly the changes there will be more difficult to discern and criticism easier to bat away). Presumably, there will be further cuts down the line too. After all, a group of decision-makers who don’t care about classical music are surely going to look at three English orchestras as over-providing and cut it right back to one.

In the meantime, there is one lasting message communicated by this announcement: the BBC doesn’t really understand classical music. It doesn’t really care about it. It doesn’t really care that we know it doesn’t care either. Thus, making the decision to cut an entire performing group a relatively straightforward decision to take.

It shows that the BBC has fallen in line with the Government. Music isn’t important. It has no value. It is just an on-demand service. That’s why it feels able to ditch the BBC Singers. They’re happy to pay for Lineker and repeatedly risk its organisational reputation, than make a stand for its own heritage. For music. For the future.

Spineless ignorant fools.

Update (12 March 2023)

Whilst Lorna Clarke no doubt carries an enormous amount of the responsibility here for some mind-bogglingly stupid decision-making, there is one other person whose cone-headedness plays an important role in the clusterfuck too.

Back in 2010 Davie was interviewed by John Plunkett, defending his decision to cut 6Music. There was an almighty outcry when the then Head of Radio and Music sought to cut a well-loved radio station. The resulting audience and industry led-campaign was the bête noire of the Press Office and BBC Radio. 6Music was eventually saved.

Thirteen years later the former ‘Pepsi Boy’ has amongst his senior team people who seek to cut one of the BBC’s core performing groups and 20% of its orchestral players contracted to English orchestras.

All this whilst attention is focussed on a sports presenter who pulls in at best 2.5m viewers for a football magazine programme, the same person who has sailed close to the wind publishing personal views on government policy. The arguments for Lineker’s case seem much easier to understand now.

Davie must be – despite appearances in his interview – nervous about what might transpire. Who goes? Will it be Davie or Lineker? It surely can’t be both.

Arguably, Lineker doesn’t need the money the BBC throws his way. The irony is that the former Pepsi Marketer thinks that cutting a significant number of BBC musicians is a far more effective way of cutting costs. It seems he displays as much knowledge about the classical music industry as he did about the 6Music audience 13 years ago.

Whether Lineker goes and the BBC Singers remain or vice versa, there is one thing for certain. Just like last year (assuming he’s still in post) you can be guaranteed that Davie will take his seat in the stalls at the First Night of the BBC Proms this year, just as he did last year. (I sat in the row in front of him).

As in previous years pre-pandemic, the First Night is a potent opportunity to ‘sell’ the BBC to policymakers and MPs. It is the DG’s night. I do so hope that every person on the guest list makes a point of reminding Davie how he and his senior advisers want to cut by 20% the very orchestra playing the opening night they’re all settling down to watch.

I have shifted my position on Lineker. Nearly seven days after Simon Webb and Lorna Clarke’s laughable ‘New Strategy for Classical Music’ was released, I’m thinking that it would be better to keep Lineker and wave goodbye to Tim Davie. At least that way we might stand a better chance of saving the talent that provides the most value to the most people for the most time.

This post was updated on 12 March 2023 after having researched more about previous decisions executed by Tim Davie.

Prioritise relevance over deference

As Ruth Hartt espouses, we need to offer classical as relevant to all manner of people in manner of ways, not command people respect it

Arts marketer Ruth Hartt achieves a rare thing in her post about how arts administrators need help ‘outsiders’ understand how art can ‘offer them the transformation they seek’. The direction Hartt provides triggers thinking, and drives forward momentum.

At its simplest level it useful advice – it has been very useful for me and very well-timed.

It’s also old-school in the way that it offers insight. Just like the internet used to be – not just reactionary judgment and scathing criticism. It offers a solution. It’s a way of thinking that can be transposed to any sector. Stop telling people they should be doing something. Think instead of how your product might help.

This basic principle is a fundamental principle of being an entrepreneur too. Don’t expect people to come to you for help with a problem they’ve got – they may not even realise they have a problem; instead propose a solution. It was what I heard endlessly from experts and other seasoned professionals when I took redundancy and went it alone five years ago. It is incredibly reassuring to see someone else articulate the same principle from her own perspective and for a specific audience (thereby manifesting the very principle she espouses).

The bottom line is that classical music features in the lives of others in a variety of different ways. Showing how it can play a part in the lives of different people is key.

There are a myriad of ways we connect with music in its widest sense, whether it’s the impact creativity has on those with severe mental health issues (as I learned from a Baring Foundation report), whether it’s for self-discovery, reflection or increasing self-worth, or whether it’s to aid focus and establish a ‘flow state’.

Philip Pullman take note. Stop thinking this is something we must be deferential to. It is something we need to constantly communicate the relevance of.


Selling classical music to new audiences isn’t as difficult as you might be led to believe. Just be sincere. Genuine. Access something personal to you. Be an advocate.

For the past twelve months, I’ve been working with a UK orchestra helping them build their digital presence. Building the confidence of their content producers, artistic planners, and marketers so that their successes translate into a story played out across their digital channels. Email me if you’d like further details. In the meantime, know that I’m proud of what they’ve achieved.

My key message to them, like that to the international journalists I’ve been working with over the past few months, has been simple: don’t just tell me the story, tell me why I should care about it. Make me care and I, as a user, reader or digital consumer (how ever you want to label me), will do whatever you want.

If in the process of marketing your project or event you access something that is personal to you, you give your advocacy a level of authenticity that is difficult to overlook. Your message then has clout. Maybe even heft. That is the secret to making me care.

In doing so, you let the content you’re advocating speak for itself. It is in these moments however that you have to act instinctively. Good content demands instinctive decisions.

And sometimes you need to have the nerve to draw on that passion and act in the moment.

Earlier this evening, I was reminded about a situation where I found myself having to make a decision ‘on the hoof’. It’s pertinent to share here, I think.

Some years ago, around the time of the BBC’s previous Charter Review I was working in BBC Communications and PR. I was on a bus back from somewhere or other. I remember I had a bottle of wine in my bag and an open can of M&S Mojito in my hand.

Earlier on in the day, a colleague I worked with in the press office at the time spoke of a statement given by the DG being published on the press office website and ‘Could you retweet it on the About the BBC Twitter account?’ (I and a couple of trusted colleagues were running the ABBC Twitter account at the time.)

I agreed to ‘post something’ when the @BBCPress account had put something out, trying hard to keep my bitterness that my colleague had ‘got the story’ before me. There was it seemed to me almost certainly an ‘About the BBC’ angle on it if only someone had had the presence of mind to think of it before now. (I was liable to bitterness back then. Still now even.)

Heading back from the event I’d been in attendance at earlier in the evening, I scrolled through my Twitter feed and discovered the @BBCPress tweet pushing users to the statement in question. There buried at the bottom of the webpage was a link to a PDF displaying a graphic comparing the BBC’s output now with 20 years ago.

That was the story, I thought in my mildly tipsy state. The PDF the DG’s office had put out on chairs during a journalists briefing earlier in the day, was the thing that would get the eyes. This was what needed to be tweeted. NOT a link to a press statement. Why, in fact, was something that was so punchy buried so deep in a statement? Why wasn’t the graphic the lead for crying out loud?

So, on the 202 from Catford Station to Torridon Road, possibly a little tipsy, I screengrabbed the PDF on my shit out-of-date iPhone and posted it on the About the BBC Twitter account. And it’s still available on the internet now.

Clearly, 2,307 retweets isn’t a great deal by today’s standards. But it was then. Certainly in BBC Digital Comms standards it was too. Rarely had any tweet by BBC Comms reached this kind of organic reach (unless it was Doctor Who or Strictly related).

Many people commented on this the morning after when I headed into work at Broadcasting House the morning after, including the Head of Press who was both surprised and appreciative as I recall.

I can’t lay claim to the graphic – it was already in existence. But I do see how in the moment I’d accessed something personal which led me to posting: first seeing a message that resonated with me communicated in a far more concise manner visually than in text, and then acting on that instinct.

I recall this anecdote now because it highlights one key principle of doing digital marketing well. Advocacy.

If I hadn’t cared about the BBC (I did and do a GREAT deal) I wouldn’t have been interested. Arguably there was a bit of competition fuelling things too. But underlying all of this was – counter-intuitively – personal stuff.

Advocacy – even for a brand – needs to originate from somewhere personal. Gimmicks don’t work. Audiences are savvy. Why? Not least because the audience has lived with social media for long enough. They know better than you when something is fake.

So, don’t be fake if you’re looking to appeal to someone’s sensibilities. Be real. Speak from the heart. Make every action – even if it’s just doing a screengrab of a PDF on your phone on the 202 from Catford station – speak from the heart. People buy authenticity. It is the most valuable currency.

But there’s a flipside. To do authenticity means that digital marketers have the toughest job: they need to respond to and act independently of all the ‘expertise’ that surrounds them.

They need to act on their own passion at the moment, to serve the brand they’re representing. In this moment these trusted individuals want to speak of the best because they see the best. These people need to be daring. They need to be brave. They also need to be trustworthy.

A lonely place.

Advocating a niche musical genre depends on education, of course. Catch ’em young and we’re in a much better position. It appears to be the case according to Richard Morrison in The Times this week, that right now we can’t rely on education.

So, instead right now we need to rely on the advocates. Don’t overcomplicate it. Think beyond skills and strategy. Think mindset.

Blunders beset Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra‘s change of programme

Up until 10pm last night I was unaware there was a Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra. Thanks to a BBC Music Magazine tweet (this was my route into the story but I see BBC News online published two hours before) and article (now updated) highlighting an amended concert programme I’m now aware of the CPO, it being an amateur band, and it having a limited social media following. Never before has a change of programme for an amateur orchestral concert garnered quite so much attention.

And bile too. Calls of ‘absurd’ and ‘idiotic’ and ‘cancel culture’. Why? Because the programme consisted of works by Russian composer Tchaikovsky. Cue hoards of classical music ‘fans’ painfully low on curiosity calling out ignorance and demonstrating a level of self-righteousness that hasn’t had an outing in recent months.

As it turned out, there was a little more to it than first met the eye. No clarification was sought as to the thinking regarding the decision. Had it been then it would have been more easily understood. It was later confirmed that it was the militaristic musical material – 1812 Overture and March Slave – and the second symphony known as ‘Little Russian’ which for some Ukrainians is problematic because of competing Russian identities in Ukraine around the time of the collapse of the Russian empire. Oh, and there’s a player in the ‘non-professional’ band with family in Ukraine.

So, a reasonable decision-making process for an orchestral concert by a group I was unaware of that I’m even less likely to attend has triggered all sorts of people who should have known better, not least the author of the article who saw traffic in their eyes at the point of hitting publish.

A fuller statement in an image posted on social media would have been the best route. Seeking comment for the originating article would have been the appropriate course of action too. Keeping the article merely about the Cardiff Philharmonic and not aligning it with the Gergiev ‘resignation’ might have been good too.

But perhaps more than all that pausing to think whether the story was worth it given that the orchestra’s amateur status might have been the more respectful thing to do. Because what I’m reminded of now compared to yesterday is there’s quite a lot of sneery people in the classical music world that makes the classical music world it’s own worst enemy.

Classical music in the top ten of BBC Sounds music mixes

BBC Sounds today shared their quarterly top ten podcasts, downloads and on-demand requests for Q4 2021. Seeing classical music feature prominently in the Top Ten Music Mixes surprised me (in a good way).

It will no doubt be grist for Torygraph’s Ivan Hewett’s mill who last year bemoaned the growing number of curated music mixes on BBC Sounds as evidence of the dumbing down of a treasured art form at the hands of the cultural vandals the BBC currently has on its payroll.

Bad Jon. Behave.

I argued last year that curation on BBC Sounds was a listening experience offered to users who have come to expect similar from other streaming platforms. To offer such curated lists showed how the BBC digital types understood what needed to be done in order to be competitive.

That the ‘Mindful Mix’ (a list largely made up of similarly paced core repertoire and under-represented piano music interspersed with the occasional birdsong track) is high up in the list shows that BBC Sounds is delivering what its audience wants. It’s also what the wider audience wants – that’s why the likes of Classic FM and Scala Radio offer a similar product in their linear schedule (though Scala’s ‘In The Park’ never really reached as high in the fledgling classical station’s monthly streams as compared to Mark Kermode’s weekly Film Music love-in).

Mindful Mix from BBC Sounds like Classical Focus (also in the top ten list) isn’t especially original, but it shows the BBC catering for what the audience wants right now.

True to form the BBC is cagey about just how many downloads there are of any given programme, podcast or mix, revealing only the broad top-line figure of 364 million plays across the platform in Q4, 5.2 million of which were for all of the music mixes combined.

But where BBC Sounds undoubtedly succeeds compared to its rivals is its basic user experience.

Open the BBC Sounds App and search for the music mix in question and it comes up; select ‘Classical’ as genre, and the music mix is the first to be returned.

And, a quick test on my Alexa demonstrated BBC Sounds superiority over rival broadcasters offering similar content.

Call out ‘Alexa BBC Sounds’ and you’re prompted for a show title. Request ‘Mindful Mix’ and Alexa picks up where I left off in the bath listening (whilst I drafted this post). The transition between devices is smooth. And the listening experience I get in the end meets my expectations, also comprising some music with which I’m unfamiliar. The user experience is efficient, the listening experience strong on discovery.

Scala Radio in comparison needed me to call ‘Planet Radio’ in order to offer me the chance to call a ‘show’ and even then only after a lengthy announcement and an instruction to link my Planet Radio account. It said it would send me a link to do that (as Alexa clearly picked up on my irritation) but as yet it’s not arrived. That said, I was able to play Scala Radio live. Fortunately, it was piano music.

Users or listeners not familiar with the way Bauer Radio (Scala’s owner) is set up would have to be pretty committed to listening to any bonus curated content the station had to offer. Until Bauer sorts out what it calls its products then access comparable products is going to be (to coin an Alan Partridge phrase) a long and drawn-out affair.

Classic FM has an advantage over Scala Radio – its parent company is known a little better to me because I listen to LBC quite a bit. There was no extraneous announcement once I’d called up Global Player although Alexa struggled to recognise any of Global’s classical music playlists (Global’s equivalent to BBC Sounds Music Mixes).

So, the music mixes BBC Sounds are putting out work. They’re catering well for an on-demand audience. The content combined with an efficient user experience lacking in any flummery makes these mixes winners for me.

And, I imagine that over time rather like Netflix, BBC Sounds will start recommending things based on my listening preferences too. The challenge then becomes reinforcing in the mind of the new listener that they are actually listening to classical music and linking that-up to the idea of attending a live concert experience. Quite some challenge. Worth keeping an eye on.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

GoDaddy UX Service Designer Zach Manzi writes about the reasons that led to his disillusionment with the classical music industry in the US on Medium this week.

“The problem I found was that as much as I loved music, the professional world of classical music was not giving me what I was looking for in a career.”

Manzi’s post has been doing the rounds. Some comments I’ve read have articulated a sadness about how his dissatisfaction with the industry led him to ultimately reject it. I concur. It’s a sad thing.

I read his analysis – perfectionism, high expectations, and arguably a less than effective marketing department at the orchestra he used to be a member of – as par for the course. Not inevitable for anyone in the classical music world you understand, rather just a fact of life for anyone embarking on the first steps in their professional life.

Manzi shares personal anecdotes of how his desire for innovation was dismissed by authority figures at conservatoire (only for his ideas to subsequently be made full use of). I’m reminded of two hard lessons I’ve learned over the years: there’s no copyright on ideas, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

But he’s wrong about there not being much experimentation or innovation in the sector (though I happily concur it may be different in the US). I look about me in the U.K. and see OAE Night Shift (still doing their thing in pubs), Aurora at Printworks, Bold Tendencies in Peckham, Fidelio Orchestra Cafe in London, and the Multi-Story Orchestra too. None of these endeavours were embarked upon because they were easy, they were pursued because they were hard.

There is too a sense that many performance organisations have a commitment to their existing audience. I enjoy a variety of experiences, but I’m mindful that the vast majority may not. If you’ve got a home crowd easy to satisfy why wouldn’t you seek to satisfy them first?

What I read in Zach’s post is a wholesale dissatisfaction with an industry extrapolated from personal anecdotes that spotlight ineffective professionals and the dubious values of education types who really could have been bolder and braver in their mentorship.

But don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. And don’t burn bridges. We’ve all of us pursued a career path that later turned out to be a mistake. The strength comes in celebrating what each experience contributed to the whole. Be gracious. Show some humility. Recognise this is all a journey. Avoid blame.

I’m more interested in seeing how a few years of experience at GoDaddy helps develop Manzi’s vision and classical music format production in the future. Because businesses innovate because they attract a variety of experiences from a variety of sectors. Who’s to say that years of experience in digital service delivery won’t in the years to come benefit another industry, say like classical music?

And quite apart from anything else, just because I became disillusioned with arts management in the mid-90s and became an IT support engineer, or the brilliant bassoonist I used to book for gigs later became an airline pilot, or a brilliant Baroque violinist later became an artist and coach, doesn’t mean the classical music is doomed to failure.

It means that me and those people and plenty of others alike saw they had gone as far as they wanted to and wanted to achieve something else. Maybe we weren’t the right people in the right place at the right time. But we might be in the years to come. And it might even that there are some in the industry right now who absolutely are.

And as much as there seems to be a never-ending race to crown the next iconoclast, at least existing concert formats are in some parts of the world not only bringing pleasure to a certain demographic, but also keeping musicians in gainful employment.

This opinion reflects the views of its author Jon Jacob. It is not intended to attack, belittle or demean the originating author.

Twenty-four hours later

Yesterday I wrote about a disparaging article on The Critic about pianist Yuja Wang. Even for me in my world, the response was surprisingly noisy. My mentions timeline went a bit mad.

What took me by surprise was how the act of drawing attention to the piece in the first place and the follow-up, exposed things I hadn’t been prepared for. Insights you might even say.

Reflecting on what I read (and in some cases what I responded to) I noticed that there was a division between those who thought the action of highlighting what I saw and felt annoyed by was valuable, versus those who saw it as a foolish way of giving oxygen to someone who uses his writing to crave attention.

In one thread I saw someone saying that there wasn’t really very much point in calling it out because others had done so before and it hadn’t worked, so what was the point in doing so now?

One influential commenter described it as a ‘brouhaha’. Another sought to draw attention to the number of years and the regularity they had been writing about it, almost as though there was a sense they were disappointed they hadn’t seized on the opportunity themselves.

I was surprised (and still am) about how isolated I’ve ended up feeling as a result of it all. Odd, given that the intent was to highlight something that didn’t sit right, not just within the context of the music sector, but also in that of our wider cultural experience.

I’m still left wondering – what was the best course of action? To not draw attention to it, or to point to it? Did I in fact do the wrong thing? There was a time – when I first started working in digital – when the mantra for managing communities was that the community would eventually correct itself. Not so.

Is there something I regret? Yes. I should have done just a screengrab of the post that rattled me rather than linking to it. That was a bit of a fail on my part.  

But what I’m left with is something a little darker and perhaps even fundamental.

It’s not that people disagree. People should disagree. Or they can agree. I don’t mind what side of the fence you’re on. Not really That’s because where music-making has taught me discipline, the study of music has helped me learn the importance of considering a variety of different views, and a willingness to adapt your own views as a result.  

It’s not the content then of what people say (ie whether they agree or disagree). Nor necessarily the ‘how’ they communicate their content. Rather, what’s darker for me is the intent behind some people’s behaviours.

A real-life illustration will help here.

A few years ago I went to the Edinburgh Festival. I saw Mitsuko Uchida play at Usher Hall. It was the first time I’d ever heard her play live and it was an incredible experience. Throughout the concert I struggled to get comfortable. The rows of seats as I recall were narrow meaning I was from time to time moving around in my seat. This didn’t go down well with the man sat behind me who, at Uchida left the stage for the interview, using a pointed knuckle thumped me in the shoulder and whispered in my ear, “We sit still here. So should you.”

I picked up my bag and left the auditorium. I missed the second half.

Reflecting on it now, I see a connection. His action wasn’t the painful thing, it was the intent he brought to the interaction. I felt and ‘saw’ rage actively expressed in a physical act – a behaviour he clearly believed was appropriate and proportionate. I was shocked that someone (understandably irritated by me shifting around to get comfortable) would choose the intention to physically make a point.

Similarly, some of the comments from yesterday came with clear intent to condescend, belittle or patronise. It was the intent behind the act which I saw, not necessarily the content of what they were saying. This deflected from their message and their original starting point. Their motivations were louder than the meaning they were trying to convey.

There are I suspect many who will quietly have looked on yesterday as evidence of  me attention seeking. I’ve always experienced a certain level of shame whenever I’ve spoken my mind, though never quite so intently as I have today. It is a much deeper feeling of disappointment than I’ve experienced before. This of course overlooks those who recognised the intent I demonstrated and appreciated the resulting sentiment and overlooks their generosity of spirit.

But I’m left feeling oddly isolated, reminded again of how the digital space struggles in this day and age (far different from when I first started blogging in 2005) to accommodate a range of views because of vested interests and deep-set insecurities.

The reality is that because of the voices of the minority who I’d hoped would be ‘better’, I find myself less inclined to speak up in the future. And maybe even reticent to be quite so vocal advocating a musical genre that means so much to so many.

Classical music has at its heart a striking contradiction: voices who don’t manifest the joy themselves the art form brings about in its audience.

Stand up and call it out

Earlier this week, new London Chamber Orchestra managing director Jocelyn Lightfoot announced a new policy on dress code for players at the orchestra’s season opener in Cadogan Hall.

“Every musician who plays with LCO is hand-picked for their professionalism and skill. When our orchestra walks out on stage, we celebrate the individual personalities and backgrounds brought to the performance by those musicians. Each person is a unique and valued ingredient that contributes to a magnificent whole. 

A significant part of achieving this is removing the anonymity of a uniform or dress code. We encourage the musicians to reflect the culture they identify with and how they interpret the occasion for which they are performing. This will enable them to be free to perform authentically and enjoy the experience to the full.”

Extending the invitation beyond the platform, Jocelyn said, “We urge our audience to reciprocate. It is crucial that we mirror the community that joins us at our live events and the beautiful variety of people that includes.”

Making an active decision to adopt a different approach to what players and audiences wear is an interesting and unexpectedly invigorating idea. That LCO have seized on it naturally helps them in raising awareness of their individual brand. It’s very LCO too (which makes me like them even more).

But the announcement also reinforces an insight I’ve learned over the past couple of years thanks to the work of Chineke! for example: the first step towards greater inclusion, diversity and representation is to see it illustrated on stage.

It’s an announcement that will no doubt prompt ‘critic’ Norman Lebrecht to reach for his keyboard.

Just this week he’s rattled off more nonsense to add to his growing oeuvre, this time focussing his sights on pianist Yuja Wang and the outfits she chooses to wear in her concert appearances.

Lebrecht’s personal attack on Wang’s appearance hints at something a little more unsettling.

Maybe, I’m thinking, he doesn’t find her as annoying as he professes; maybe privately he has a bit of a thing for her. Maybe we should read instead his critique as the words of an ever-hopeful sugar daddy, a self-proclaimed arbiter of sartorial good taste. “If Yuja Wang were to strip everything right down to the music, I have a feeling she could be a sensation.” Or maybe as one commenter has responded, its an article outlining Lebrecht’s ever-reliable strength of holding the music business to account, a sector that apparently treats her as ‘tinsel’.

Pianist George Fu responded:

This woman has scaled the heights of her industry and is one of the best pianists in the world, and clearly, all she is missing is the opinion of a very mediocre man

Originally tweeted by George Xiaoyuan Fu (@eyepitydafu) on 28th October 2021.

What has been interesting over the past twelve hours at least is who has engaged with the tweet I put out last night (flagged by double bass player Leon Bosch over on Facebook late last night). There has undoubtedly been a groundswell (in terms of my account activity) which has been reassuring. But amongst most (though not all) my ‘usual circle’ of friends, fans, artists, colleagues and business contacts, a surprising lack of engagement. It is as though they don’t want to be seen to comment on the content of Lebrecht’s words.

And that got me thinking this afternoon. Why wouldn’t people stand shoulder to shoulder and call this stuff out. Why wouldn’t they amplify a key underlying message that those who have engaged have mostly coalesced around?

The answer might be that they don’t want to be seen to rock the boat.

If classical music has an image problem (I get that this isn’t necessarily a widely held view) then it is quite possibly down to the gatekeepers, commentators, or mediators – those who write and talk about it. The image of the sector is created by those who seek to retain convention and tradition, preserving the live classical music experience as a kind of museum piece. Added to that they communicate another requirement, something I’ve long denied to be the case but find it difficult to ignore now: knowledge is a pre-requisite, so too educational background. If you neither of those then membership of the club is denied. Criticising the way a woman dresses on stage (or a man for that matter – though I imagine you’ll rarely hear that) is the privilege bestowed on those who see it as though prime responsibility to preserve this tradition, increasingly projecting it as irrelevant.

The irony is that the classical music world like that of the wider arts, has embarked on a journey to increase inclusion, representation and diversity in its workforce and its output. It’s not been an easy ride nor is it a journey that is over. By not engaging with criticism of an obviously sexist, misogynistic and ageist piece of twaddle, those with the power to bring about change are not only condoning and legitimising the content of such a view but reinforcing the position the commentator in question has appointed himself to.

If you’re committed to opening up classical music then why on earth wouldn’t you stand up to the person who continues to pedal the stuff that makes your work even more necessary?

The answer, I fear is that the person in question has skilfully created a dependency. The classical music world thinks it needs these kind of commentators, far more than the commentators respect the world on which they commentate.

As long as that goes unchallenged, the longer the problem persists.

Is it ‘selfish’ to be unmasked at a classical concert?

In an opinion piece on Bachtrack Mark Pullinger says that “the government could – should – decree that audiences have to remain masked or, even better, that they have to prove vaccination status/ immunity/ negative test. But they won’t. They’re afraid of being seen as the “nanny state” and would prefer to devolve difficult decisions.”

Of audience’s responsibility he writes “don’t jeopardise the recovery through your own selfish behaviour. Test yourself on the day of a performance and… mask up!”

I’ve been to a range of concerts over the summer where different mitigations have been required, mandated or advised.

At the Proms in particular (you need only to look at the Last Night) the wearing of masks wasn’t consistent. Sometimes I wore mine, sometimes I didn’t. Quite how much more risk there is sitting amid a largely silent seated audience without a mask on I remain unconvinced about, nor the actual effectiveness of a mask anyway.

In Dubai, the experience at the InClassica festival was entirely (and even outside at the fountain display). Security and front of house staff were quick to tap you on the shoulder even mid-performance to remind you to apply your mask, even if it was slipping down your nose. This in an auditorium with restricted seat sales.

In Scotland, at Lammermuir the instruction was clear – masks on all the time for the distanced audience, plus staggered entry to the venue. The hotel I stayed in made a point of completely clearing down a table I absent-mindedly moved away from at breakfast because I wanted to sit someplace else, but told me not to worry about having forgotten to don my mask to enter the breakfast room. In Dubai at the chain hotel I stayed at, breakfast was a fairly laid back affair with distancing a thing of the past in the relatively cramped canteen – a stark contrast to the Downtown Dubai where zealous police kept a keen eye on everything.

These inconsistencies don’t bother me as perhaps they might do for Mark Pullinger at Bachtrack.

I recognise that the opening up of live events presents an opportunity to build new audiences, a chance for the existing audiences – the genres advocates – to bang a different drum, tell a different story and project a different image.

The Government has consistently utilised the Populist Playbook throughout the pandemic just as it is right now with the lorry driver shortage.

If you tell people not to do something they will do it. If they do it, then the Government can blame the population it told not to do something when tighter restrictions are subsequently deemed necessary. If the government doesn’t mandate mitigations then that plays to the Governments advantage in the future.

That’s called gaslighting.

But what results is the population or audience squabbling, finger-pointing and blaming one another. Turn the population on itself in order to deflect attention from a hopeless Government.

Which is why the line about indicating that non-mask wearers in the auditorium are somehow ‘selfish’ is unhelpful. Those are people who are exercising their right to choose based on their own judgment of risk.

The only thing that is achieved by pointing the finger at some members of the audience is establishing what the perceived classical music cognoscenti regard as the unwritten expectations of the audience. That’s a short step from a clique. And cliques are what some arts managers, audience members and commentators regard as one of classical music’s biggest challenges.