Friday, December 05, 2003

CLASSICAL GAS: What's wrong with Classical Music, eh? You might be tempted to suggest that the malaise at the heart of the posh end of the music store is in part a tendency to promote stunt acts like Vanessa Mae ("oh look, all my clothes have fallen off"), Bond ("oh look, all our clothes have fallen off") and Myleene Klass ("oh, I shan't bother to put any clothes on") as a way of making the music "accessible", which of course just gives the impression that once you get past the stuff played by nubile nymphettes it's going to get a bit tricky and uncomfortable. Myleene, however, doesn't see herself as part of the problem, but part of the solution, and has been lecturing away at how Classical Must Change. She wants it to borrow tricks from pop to make it edgy and dangerous, and thus attractive to the young people with their Playstations and flashing ballpoint pens. Since Myleene's experience of the pop world is being in a band with Noel whose career consisted of one hugely over-promoted hit and then a rapidly dwindling interest rating, we'd hope that classical music chooses to thank her for her contribution and then quickly lose the piece of paper they've written her recommendations down on.

She's wrong for so many reasons. The first is her assumption that people need to have classical and opera re-packaged to make it alluring for them, which is disproved time and time again - what made a success of Nessun Dorma, and the Bryn Terfel album and Kiri TeKanawa when they had their crossovers wasn't the music getting a boyband style repackaging, but merely chance meant it came into contact with the public. Classic FM might be sniffed at by the purists, but it's built a huge audience despite its presentation (Simon Bates at breakfast?) and not because of it. Nobody's going to think "I'll watch some Classical TV on the off-chance there'll be an edgy music video with some hot chicks in it" when they could be guaranteed of seeing that (or at least Christina Aguilera) on MTV, TMF or The Box. What might prompt them to tune in would be the chance of hearing that one off the State Funeral of Thatcher. To borrow a phrase from Clive James: We don't need a lolly to suck.

The piece of classical music most designed to make yer actual high culture 'easy' for the masses is, of course, Peter and The Wolf. And yet the dismal way the piece is used, the earnest explication of the themes and the ultimately well-meaning but misplaced enthusiastic belief that The Kids will "respond" to the piece means nearly every time the record player is brought out in a classroom, the end result is twenty-five more people who've been taught to hate classical music. (Or forty-nine, for inner-city schools.) I was kind of lucky in having a teacher who tried a different tack, bunging on Carnival of the Animals during one PE class and getting us to leap about like loony monkeys all over the place; rather than trying to get us "into" classical music, she just threw the music at us and let us explore it for ourselves.

But anyway, Myleene has her mission, to make classical music something like a Jim Carrey film, and she has a plan: "Donning a leather jacket doesn't just suddenly make you accessible, it is the whole package," Klass told BBC World Service's The Music Biz programme. (We don't often feel sorry for Nigel Kennedy, but in this case we'll make an exception, since being ticked off by one of the 'I'm playing my piano - in a bikini!' crowd for confusing costume with clothing seems a little unfair)
"I think that's what the classical world needs to give. Let's get everything to the same edgy degree that the pop world's got at, because it looks stronger on the television - none of this soft-focus classical nonsense. Let's make it edgy, let's make it current, let's make it exciting."

We're presuming the odd wispy shots of wind billowing behind Klass as she stands at the top of a staircase in her flapping robes must have been achieved with vaseline rather than soft focus, then. And how does she actually propose making the 1812 Overture current? Renaming it the Y2K40vrtr? Ah, she's thought of this - apparently - and this might just blow your mind - composer were the pop idols of their day:

"[Mozart] was the Justin Timberlake of his time, and that's the closet thing that people can relate to. As soon as you say that, Beethoven would probably have been the Liam Gallagher of his time. It's just about putting it into a box that people can understand it in, without necessarily putting it into a classical box."

But this - the musical equivalent of "Shakespeare would be writing for EastEnders if he was alive today" nonesense - is just rubbish. Klass worries that people don't realise that "Mozart was an ordinary bloke, not a Saint," which means all those millions of rentals of Amadeus had all been returned to Blockbuster unwatched; but to think that the audience needs to have composers spelled out in terms of modern figures is patronising at the very best, and, worse, she's not even chosen examples that work. Mozart the Timberlake? If anything, he'd be more likely to be the Pink of his time, refusing to repeat earlier work to try something more difficult. Or maybe the Bowie - fame at an early age, then an experimentalist. But in what way is Justin "Here is a mainstream song I produced to satisfy six of Clear Channel and MTV's top criteria" Timberlake the modern day heir to the roistering, unhinged, life-shagging Mozart? And Liam as Beethoven? I'm unaware of Beethoven covering up a paucity of talent by riding on his brother's slightly more talented shoulders, and I can't quite picture the European Union choosing to adopt Songbird as its anthem in 200 years time.

Still, we wish Klass luck. She's recorded a Linkin Park song in a classical style - that'll get the kids in, won't it? "Hey, Mum, a not very good pop star has recorded a not very good rock band's track with some piano on it. Let's have Radio Three on…"

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