Dumb, dumber: NY pop star to present BBC classical music series

Dumb, dumber: NY pop star to present BBC classical music series


norman lebrecht

March 16, 2023

The blood Orange pop star Devonté Hynes has launched a 12-part series about classical music on BBC Sounds and BBC Radio 3.

Three episodes of ‘Composed with Devonté Hynes’ are streamed on BBC Sounds from today; all episodes will be broadcast weekly on Radio 3.

We wonder whose commission this was, Lorna?

Obviously much better use of resources than saving the BBC Singers.


  • Adrienne says:

    This is beyond ridiculous.

  • Kharega says:

    Hold it!
    I checked the playlist of one of the programs at random. It is called “THE PIANO: Pieces that spark joy and creativity”
    Here it is:
    Respighi: 6 Pezzi
    Debussy: Pour Le Piano
    Ravel: Sonatine
    Harold Budd: Pulse Pause Repeat
    H Hunt: Wrong I
    Ernest Bloch: Piano Sonata
    Poulenc: Sonata for Piano Four Hands
    Julius Eastman: Evil N*****
    Nils Frahm: All Numbers End
    Harold Budd: The Kiss
    Nina Simone: Another Spring
    Philip Glass: Etude No. 18
    Morton Feldman: For Bunita Marcus
    Lili Boulanger: D’un Vieux Jardin
    Bach: Prelude in E Minor
    Nothing wrong with it so far…

    • Bud says:

      That’s a fantastic playlist, and covers a lot of ground

      • RH says:

        noticeably missing eighteenth- snd nineteenth century composers, but if the show devotes itself to contemporary and 20th-century music, it is indeed a thought-provoking selection. But the Bach choice is very odd.

    • William Evans says:

      I agree. If the series engages the ‘yoof’ market and prompts the younger generation to explore even a few areas of the classical repertoire, I must be a good thing. I only hope the series (quite a lengthy one, it appears) doesn’t swiftly ‘dumb down’ as it proceeds.

      • Helen says:

        Yes, Western ‘yoof’ are so bored with their smartphones that they’re just dying to find something that requires them to sit still and concentrate quietly for 20 minutes or more.

        They must have already tried books without success.

        The future, I’m afraid, is in the East, with much reduced interest in the West.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Oh boy, you’ve got that right about the East (Asia, I presume). They’re eating the competition – and that’s just the entree. What’s not to love??!! The “yoof” haven’t noticed either!!

  • A.L. says:

    This is where we are headed. Nah, where we are. The dumbest, the most vulgar the better. There is no dignity left in the classical music biz. This is of course an existential predicament of their own making. And they, the powerbrokers and gatekeepers, just won’t listen or learn. They deserve what they get. And we do, too.

  • Curious says:

    Interested to know why having a very successful artist from a different genre of music giving their perspective automatically constitutes dumbing down… Apart from being a completely lazy and clichéd response that is. Of course, it’s easy to surmise NL’s thinking…

    • Adrienne says:

      In that case, are we going to see Rattle, Pappano, or Gardner etc being brought in to comment on pop or hip hop? Of course we aren’t.

      I think you know perfectly well that he is being shoe-horned in because he is black. Apart from anything else, I find that extremely patronising.

      • Joseph says:

        False equivalence. The genres you cite exist commercially and don’t need ‘help’ to widen their audience.

        Though if the conductors you mention had an interest (and indeed if they were thought to increase the audience/influence of pop or hip hop), I’m sure they’d be asked.

        As for your other point I’m sure he was asked because he has a large following, has an interest, and seems to be an engaging communicator, rather than ‘shoe horned.’ Why don’t you have a listen then decide.

        • Adrienne says:

          No false equivalence. It could be argued from the BBC’s standpoint that a conductor/composer/classical musician commenting on pop/hip hop could actually improve the image of classical music. Furthermore, as few people listen to classical music on BBC radio, it would probably have a wider reach.

          But, as I said, it won’t happen. This is part of a BBC trend that is getting out of hand, patronisingly promoting black people (like me) to the point that it is on the verge of becoming counter-productive. I detect a growing irritation with this relentless campaign across the BBC, and TV generally.

          And I did listen.

      • Max Raimi says:

        And he showed up on this site because he is Black; provoking the usual spasms of vitriol from the usual suspects in the comments. I enjoyed the interview, and enjoyed his video. Thanks, Norman, for introducing me to Blood Orange.

    • Bone says:

      Agreed. Classical music needs to build an audience from the ground up; if a successfully pop star can be a powerful advocate, why would this decision be derided? There is just no pleasing some people.

    • Barry says:

      “a different genre of music”

      Excellent idea. I look forward to a “perspective” from traditional folk, country, western, heavy metal, prog rock etc

  • Patrick says:

    He has a concert at the Barbican with the LSO! This orchestra has gone woke, or rather, culturally aware. Anybody else agree?

  • BP says:

    A popular singer sharing his passion for classical music is not the problem. Destroying the ensembles that actually play that music is.

  • Carl says:

    Enjoyed the clip here of the Philip Glass episode. Mr. Hynes may not be a hard-hitting interviewer but they have an easy rapport, it seems. Not sure why this constitutes “dumb and dumber.”

    If we want to preserve classical music for future generations, we need people who can cut across boundaries and speak to different segments of our society.

    • Douglas says:

      Indeed, it is actually a really nice interview.

    • Andy says:

      In that case, in order to maximize the chance of success, wouldn’t it make more sense to bring in an E Asian presenter?

      But we all know that E Asians don’t tick the right boxes.

      • Bud says:

        East Asians already have a high level of engagement with classical music. This has the potential to reach a new audience, which doesn’t seem like a problem to me.

    • David says:

      Been hearing this for at least twenty years, but have yet to see evidence that it works as promised.

  • Bulgakov says:

    There‘s nothing ‘woke’ about any of this. Unlike most orchestra/pop crossover concert events, which I don’t think really hook young people onto classical music the way it is hoped, this series could be a very effective gateway. There‘s nothing dumbed down about the playlist, that’s for sure.

  • Mystic Chord says:

    Please tell me why that Philip Glass interview is dumb?

  • Thornhill says:

    Classical music fans are particularly unique in their outrage over anything that might help them music form pickup more listeners.

    Concert halls throughout the world are struggling to just fill 60 and 70 percent of the seats. Ensembles are going under because of a lack of ticket sales and donations.

    But Devonté Hynes using his popularity to promote Philip Glass is bad for classical music how exactly?

    • Matias says:

      ‘Classical music fans are particularly unique in their outrage over anything that might help them music form pickup more listeners.’

      No, it’s just that they’ve been around a while and their BS detectors are finely tuned.

      As David, above, says, we’ve heard it all before. And if the BBC is so concerned about the future of the genre, why has it wound up its choir and kept that moronic soccer player?

  • Couperin says:

    If this inspires ONE Black kid (or any kid for that matter) to try listening to Debussy or any of the other featured composers, how is it bad?

    • RH says:

      it wouldn’t be bad, particularly, but spending all this money just to win over one child? Ultimately, this is probably going to be a zero sum game, like the work of US classical marketing people who know little to nothing about classical music. Nice as always, though, to see Phil looking well.

  • Affreux Jojo says:

    BBC BLM… Not anymore?

  • Mystic Chord says:

    I note that both of Devonté Hynes’s forthcoming concerts at the Barbican with the LSO are sold out. Good for him and good for the Barbican.

    Last night I enjoyed a tremendous Mahler 3 at the Festival Hall – I don’t want to lose the kind of repertoire that I love but these kinds of venues need a diverse approach to survive. Imaginative programming *done right* could mean a way forward that allows the classical music world to flourish. It does mean getting the balance right though, so that no audience feels neglected or irrelevant.

  • Colin says:

    When subsidies are stretched and orchestras, choirs etc have to work harder to actively market their music, it might be wise to learn from mistakes made by the retail industry over several decades. The sector is littered with chains that have moved away from their core customer base in order to chase the youth or some other market, failed miserably, and alienated their traditional customer base in the process. Waitrose appears to be the latest to lose the plot. No doubt some here will object to the retail analogy as being too commercial and vulgar, but I think the lessons are valid.

    If orchestras insist on going down this route, perhaps to appease the Arts Council, and choosing a target audience on ideological rather than logical grounds, they are in danger of suffering the same fate. IMO they would be wise to seek expansion in areas that already show promise rather than chase narrow groups of people who wouldn’t be seen dead in a concert hall. People who already venture into theatres, concert halls and town halls for other genres might be a good place to start. Unfortunately, they don’t tick the right ideological boxes for the Arts Council. Efforts in the past concentrated on social classes which were less involved. Sir John Barbirolli was a great advocate, but the BBC in particular seems to have run out of patience with social class in favour of psychodramas imported from America. Now it’s all about race and youth, as if these demographics could not be reached by an approach based on social class alone.

    If orchestras and choirs don’t get this right, they will find themselves in deeper trouble than they are already.

  • MMcGrath says:

    Hey, if it’s “diverse” it’s imply gotta be better!

  • Robert Holmén says:

    If he wants to be dumb and dumber he’ll have to lose the accent. He sounds more classical than the classical radio hosts we have in Texas.

    From the one episode I can sample on the internet, it sounds like he is hosting a show where he plays music most people would not have otherwise encountered. No harm done.

  • Barry Michael Okun says:

    You all know that Hynes has had non-pop compositions played by actual classical/New Music ensembles, right?