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Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
Head to head: Selling classical music
The Mediaeval Baebes
Opera singer Sir Thomas Allen recently denounced classical "crossover" artists - such as the Mediaeval Baebes - for highjacking the music and threatening the integrity of the profession.

But others said the use of clever marketing strategies helps boost the audience for classical music, especially among the young.

BBC News Online presents the arguments of two leading figures on either side of the debate.


Tony Fell, chairman of the Royal Philharmonic Society:

The problem with all this new wave is that it has taken the spotlight because it's sexy and because it's brilliantly marketed. It's in serious danger of diverting the record companies' attention away from great music, and that would be a very serious thing.

It also suggests to a lot of people that this is classical music - they think that's all there is.

I don't think people like Russell Watson winning at the Classical Brits is helpful. I see the awards as a marketing tool for the record companies, and I don't think they're really about classical music at all.

Tony Fell
Tony Fell: "Children are not being exposed to great music"
Artists like Russell Watson and The Planets have sort of created a 'third way' between classical and pop, but I don't actually believe that they have done anything for classical music. They've created a market for themselves - I don't believe that has spilled over to making more people buy classical CDs or going to concerts or operas.

The 'traditional' classical music market - the people who buy records and go to concerts and operas - want the absolute best.

They're looking to hear Tom Allen, not Charlotte Church or Russell Watson. Russell Watson doesn't cut any ice at all in that market because he's not good enough.

I am very sceptical that they attract more people to the genre. I'd love to think they were, it would be wonderful if suddenly record companies were selling classical CDs and concert halls were overflowing, but I don't actually think it is.

Russell Watson
Russell Watson: "Doesn't cut any ice"
The attention spans of the audience that buy those records and listens to them is pretty short, and I can't see any of those people sitting down and listening to a 15-minute movement of one of the Mahler symphonies. This is an almost unbridgeable gap, and it's unbridgeable because of the failure of our music education system, which is a very serious problem.

Children are not being exposed to great music or taught how to listen.

I'm all for inclusiveness. It's terribly important that we reach that young audience and invite them in. I don't believe in ivory towers, God forbid. I don't think one should ever say - we're the only chaps who understand this. That's a terrible attitude.

What I'm saying is - let's get our education system geared up so that they're all dying to go to concerts and to get their parents to buy classical CDs. In the 1960s, music education was available to everybody, irrespective of their income and background. We were producing a fantastic quantity of good musicians of every kind, and it was a golden age.


You must preserve standards of excellence if classical music is going to survive

The decline in music education in the Thatcher years - the fact that they cut and cut the education budget - was very damaging, and I think we're suffering from it. There have recently been real efforts to improve the situation, but it's going to take years to get us back to that period.

Simon Rattle and people like that came out of that generation. You need to inspire young people.

I don't have a problem with this 'third way' - if people are enjoying it and they're selling records, well, fine. But I don't think people should confuse it with classical music. And you must preserve standards of excellence if classical music is going to survive.


Barry McCann, managing director of EMI Classics:

If we take what is loosely called 'crossover' music, you will tend to find that all record companies view these artists as being incremental to what they do - not a substitution of the core classical music that's being recorded and made available.

Of course, crossover is important to us in terms of classical sales today, but our catalogue goes back 100 years.

And as far as diverting people away from what some people would call 'true' classical music, I really don't see how these two things are mutually exclusive.

Orchestral musicians
Classical music still has a core following
Some people think that crossover started in the last 10 to 15 years or so, but that isn't the case.

Only the other week we were putting out DVDs from the 1940s and 1950s and I saw some fantastic footage of the violinist Jascha Heifitz, and in the middle of the film they showed a young lady brushing her hair - so the glamorisation of classical music is nothing new.

And there are definite signs of people moving deeper into the classical catalogue after hearing crossover music.

We get letters saying 'thanks very much for the introduction' - and it may come from the oddest sources.


If something is extremely successful there seems to be an automatic reaction that it can't be art

I myself I remember seeing 2001, A Space Odyssey and being introduced to Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra. And when I was a student I was listening to Frank Zappa, and one of his influences was Edgar Varese. So influences can come from all kinds of places.

It may be that the attention span of modern listeners is getting shorter and shorter, aided and abetted by all sorts of media. But Mahler is selling more these days than he has ever done, so that seems to fly in the face of all this.

And in schools, I would certainly agree that education into serious music - and that doesn't just mean classical - has been lacking for some decades now.

That has been a problem for us in the music business, no question.

But if something is extremely successful there seems to be an automatic reaction that it can't be art. To me the true crossover music is music integral to itself, but which happens to sell a lot.

Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa: A way into classical music?
I've never bought that argument. It's as if the public and the audience has no say - but they have the ultimate say.

So the whole idea that music shouldn't be colourful, shouldn't be glamorised, I find very strange - this area of marketing and music is not original, is not new, and it certainly shouldn't be threatening other areas of the market.

See also:

17 May 02 | Entertainment
17 May 02 | Entertainment
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24 Apr 02 | Entertainment
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