Pop goes the classical world – out goes the quality control
This week finds us at the Brit awards, not the awful rock/pop one but the classical one. Everything is the exact same (everyone looking for a person called “Charlie”) except that the music acts at this one go on for a very, very long time and nobody really dances to them.
As with rock/pop, the classical people have had their own problems lately – nothing to do with downloading and everything to do with “a lack of compelling new repertoire, of charismatic new artists and of public tolerance of long-winded classics”, according to classical expert Norman Lebrecht.
Revolver wouldn’t normally care about any of this except that for the last few years the classical world has been desperately trying to appropriate aspects of rock/pop music to sex up their calcifying genre.
Take this year’s classical Best Album award: it was a two-horse race between Paul McCartney and Sting. Surely some mistake. While elsewhere, deserving acts such as the composer George Fenton, violinist Ruth Palmer and the stunning soprano Anna Netrebko were picking up gongs, what were these two rock refugees doing being nominated?
It transpires that the Best Album award was the only one that was not voted for by the usual classical music experts and critics, but by a public vote. It would be churlish to deny the classical people the right to bring some rock ’n’ roll razzmatazz to their event, but you just get the feeling that McCartney and Sting would get nowhere near the awards ceremony if their category was voted for by classical experts.
Sting’s Songs from the Labyrinth, based on the works of the Elizabethan composer John Dowland and featuring (very Spinal Tap this) a Bosnian lute player, is a dreadfully ponderous work that you sense would have been laughed out of it were it not for Sting’s box-office draw. McCartney’s Ecce Cor Meum is a bit better, but that still didn’t stop the respected Gramophone magazine reviewing it thus: “a pseudo-classical project . . . the result is a creakily Victorian four-parter, both short-winded and constipated, hopping disconcertingly from one episode to the next in shades of grey”. Despite reviews of this nature, McCartney won the best album award on the night.
For Steve Abbott, the manager of violinist Nicki Benedetti, who was also up for Best Album (and even I know that Benedetti should have walked the award), diplomacy was the name of the game.
“Nicki is straightforward classical and she does not do any crossover at all,” he said. “I must admit that I grinned when I saw that Sir Paul and Sting were nominated. But you need to welcome artists of their profile into the competition because that will spur people on to buy classical records. Their nominations may start a chain of events that mean people turn into classical fans.”
In many ways, the classical people began digging this hole for themselves with the arrival of Vanessa-Mae a few years ago. With a carefully choreographed wet T-shirt marketing campaign that repositioned the violinist as a “page 3 stunna”, Mae (with plenty of help from the tabloids and lads’ magazines) went on to sell an average of three million copies an album – whereas before the average in this genre would have been around 50,000.
This will all end in tears. Once you start going down the “crossover” road, you will end up with Ant and Dec’s Oratorio and Kerry Katona’s Operatic Arias. The music may not be that great but think of the coverage you’ll get in OK! magazine. And why stop there? Why not get Jordan to host the ceremony and have exciting new categories such as “fittest-looking oboe player” and “soprano I’d most like to shag”. Stop This Madness Now.
Sting: he’s got too much lute