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Education: Rotterdam Conservatory, Cambridge University // Activities: composition, writing

Monday 14 August 2017

Orchestral erosion

Nowadays, there are orchestras - including orchestras with an impressive history of serious music making and with a tradition of programming high-quality classical repertoire - which begin to explore the commercial, easy-listening music as can he heard to 'illustrate' TV commercials, and which is cultivated in musicals for the masses, and which is especially enjoyed by people with enough musicality to appreciate simple tunes but without the sophistication to hear more than the sound a serious work makes. Orchestral programming increasingly includes works by young composers who grew-up with pop music in their ears, translating it into some simple orchestral garb, and presenting it as 'contemporary music' - because, pop music is, for them, the ultimate and only new music there is around. All this shows a shift in the nature of the symphony orchestra from a cultural institution as something benefitting society, towards a commercial enterprise serving a clientèle, like a restaurant. To some extent, an orchestra is serving an audience, but it is supposed to be a 5 star top enterprise and not a fast food hub. But in the new populist commercial perspective, a 'new' audience is addressed, an audience without any understanding of classical music and which, like the aforementioned composers, have grown-up with pop music in the ears, as the only reference framework as far as music is concerned. The classical music audience is perceived as shrinking, and in an attempt at survival, orchestras are trying to get younger, still innocent listeners, into the concert hall, or to get their attention in parking lots, jazz clubs, railway stations or any location other than something like a concert hall.

Gradually, professional management staff at orchestras are leaving the working place, due to age or other job prospects, and younger staff is coming-in, who have studied at university or some other institution where music has been touched upon as a subject, but who also have pop music in their ears. Instead of focussing on classical music, where the symphony orchestra has been developed for, they are only too relieved to see the opportunity to use the pressures of finance and building new audiences as an excuse to follow their own pop music tastes, so that they can combine the necessary with the personal pleasures, so much more attractive than the burden of cultural heritage and the fight for artistic quality.

Here, the lack of music education across the educational board results in the erosion of one of the greatest cultural phenomenae the world has ever seen. Since politicians have also gradually been replaced by the pop loving breed, from that side there is not much appetite to support what in their eyes is merely a dying culture, for which they never had any interest anyway. And the populist mood of our times dictates gestures towards its demands of gratification, and not support for 'privileged, elitist, expensive toys for the happy few'.

What can be done? Education, information, and exploring the real nature of classical music as an art form and not as a commodity merely serving market demand. But that means a far more assertive fight against populism than is currently realized.

Thursday 10 August 2017

Understanding the future

How important is the past for our self-understanding, and for the understanding of a possible future?

“The English historian B H Liddell Hart wrote in Why Don’t We Learn from History? (1944): ‘There is no excuse for anyone who is not illiterate if he is less than 3,000 years old in mind.’ This is less an admonition to learn from specific events in the past, and more a reminder that our own mighty civilisation exists at a specific time and place within the grander sweep of history. The Roman rhetorician Marcus Tullius Cicero, writing in the first century BCE, put an even finer point on it: ‘To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.’”