Pop goes the classical world – out goes the qual­ity con­trol

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

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

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