Fending off the battering rams
March 29, 2007 by Norman Lebrecht
In its endless quest for harmony and balance, the BBC put me between the hip-hop artist Tor and the former Hear’Say singer Myleene to discuss the pop-ularisation of classical music, in front of an audience made up mostly of radio production staff.
My role, I discovered, was to be the patsy. Tor and Myleene want old music to get real. Tor told of her great day out as soloist with the BBC Concert Orchestras; she wondered why the symphony bands weren’t doing more hip-hop (perhaps because that’s not what they are trained for).
Myleene, a former member of the Hear’Say pop group, kept banging on about young people (she is 29) having no patience for long pieces; the only way they will respond to classics is in short bits, and why can’t the BBC and people like me come towards them?
We batted inconsequentialities to and fro for a bit until I lost patience and demanded to know why classical, alone among all musical forms, is being urged to reform. I hear no demands for clubs to employ string quartets and rock stations to play sonatas. No-one’s telling P Diddy to put an ‘oud in his act.
I listen to and enjoy most musical genres; what I can’t accept is that one single form is being victimised on spurious grounds of elitism, exclusivism and aloofness.
Classical music, I raged on, is a museum culture. Museums are thriving with record attendance numbers and no concession to fashion (except the Victoria and Albert, which displays Kylie Minogue’s nightwear). Museums are where we find our common human roots. There is a desperate need to conserve these fortesses of civilisation from the battering rams of ephemeral fads. That’s what great art is there for, take it or leave it.
My hip-hop neighbour nodded sagely (I will definitely catch one of her gigs), and the session ended before popster Myleene could formulate a comeback. Was anything achieved? You tell me.
Meanwhile, Myleene’s battering ram has breached the walls of EMI Classics … read on.
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