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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Not only have I fallen into the trap of being an incensedmiddle-agedwhite male barking online about a performer’s concert attire, but I’ve managed to pitch myself deftly and efficiently as a classical music fan who is part of the very problem classical music is trying to rid itself of.
And I’ve achieved this in a short series of Tweets posted shortly after I left the Albert Hall last night, before I reached South Kensington tube station (which was closed, by the way).
Last night’s Aurora Orchestra was something I was looking forward to following rave reviews of the band’s Saffron Hall ‘sister concert’.
What took me a little by surprise and subsequently drew my eye throughout the first work was Pavel Kolesnikov’s bright orange Nike trainers. Rarely has concert attire drawn my eye quite so much, triggered so much thought and reflection, and in so doing distracted me from the sole purpose of the event I was attending in the first place.
Pavel’s footwear was, I understand from incoming correspondence, a clear sign to reach out to younger audiences to make classical music appear more approachable. From my seat in the stalls it feld oddly contrived and a bit arch. It was a distraction.
Even writing that now … in.an.actual.blog.post … gives me the fear a bit. I can hear the shouts across the internet heading my way. I can see whatever reputation it is I have disappearing down a plug hole.
Maybe one of those correspondents was right when she asked whether I might consider deleting my Tweets.
But then again. Maybe she wasn’t. My comment wasn’t rude. It wasn’t offensive. I was hardly spreading misinformation about COVID or vaccines. I was just expressing an opinion in the moment. I think that’s still OK. We should all of us be able to do that.
There is for me a good reason why everyone on stage by and large wears all one colour (a uniform if you like) or a pallet of colours. It’s to reduce distraction. I’m not advocating penguin suits or dinner jackets, nor evening dresses (these always strike me as distinctly uncomfortable to wear at a point in time when performers need to be ‘freed-up’). But against a neutral backdrop of players on stage at a venue like the Royal Albert Hall say, it’s hardly surprising that the introduction of a bright pair of trainers is going to draw the eye – to the feet rather than the keyboard.
I can now see producers rubbing their hands together with glee, others rolling their eyes with derision. Those with a proven track record in passive aggression will also be looking at this and no doubt thinking, “Well we had to wait a long time but it paid off – he’s finally made an idiot of himself saying this. He really is part of the problem.”
What Aurora’s concert has highlighted to me is that I’m surprisingly and comfortably conventional and orthodox. I’m attuned to contrivance. And I’m reminded that I’m less inclined to think that appealing to a younger audience is best done through fashion choices.
I still hold that the music should speak for itself. It’s just music. Listening is all that’s required. That and a properly funded music education system that introduces music at primary school level. That would help a great deal.
News arrives at Thoroughly Good of the appointment of Suzy Klein as Head of Arts and Classical Music TV at the BBC.
BBC Radio 3, TV and Proms presenter Klein takes on her new role in October 2021.
Thoroughly Good can’t think of anyone better to take on the role. Suzy’s path has taken in a range of roles in TV and radio in production, direction and presentation. Her knowledge and experience is considerable and her authority and sincerity on air (and in real-life) makes the appointment as exciting as it is reassuring.
“If my appointment represents something,” said Suzy Klein in the BBC press release, “it is a long-term commitment to the transformative power, inspiration and joy that the arts bring. That’s something I can’t wait to share with my brilliant commissioning team, as we work together to create the most compelling, unmissable programmes for audiences across the UK.”