Why can’t we be friends? Thoughts on the battle between classical music and pop

Yet another derogatory meme is going round the internet comparing pop and classical music.

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What’s wrong with this? Let me count the ways but in essence mainly two things:

  1. It’s reductive of pop music and shows an immense ignorance of an amazing, rich, varied and deep art form.
  2. It’s exalting classical music as superior and the pinnacle of artistic achievement when it’s not.

This isn’t the first meme comparing pop and classical in a similar fashion that’s done the social media rounds. The below meme spread like wildfire in September last year.

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This is basically saying pop is all showy and superficial whilst classical music is nothing but depth.

Classical music groups on Facebook are full of people agreeing with these memes and I nearly got into an argument on Twitter with someone who said pop music is vacuous and stupid. 

These memes are exactly the kind of thing that make people think classical music is posh, snobby and way too far up its own ass. Way to prove them right.

Before I go further let me say that I produce a classical music radio show. I spent hours every week listening to classical music and researching female composers, I adore classical music. I also listen to tons of pop music, jazz, Chinese electro, bossa nova, Afrobeat and basically every type of music created all across the world. 

Just because music is only based around 3 chords doesn’t mean it’s inferior.

Pop music may be based mostly around comparatively few chords but surely it’s about what is done to those 3 chords?  And the astonishing variety of music created around said 3 chords? 

The I, V, vi, IV chord progression is very common and used in thousands of popular songs including Africa by Toto, The Rock Show by Blink 182, No-One by Alicia Keys, Apologize by One Republic, I Try by Macy Gray, Give Me Everything – Pitbull, Dragonstea Din Tei by O-Zone, With Or Without You by U2, No Scrubs by TLC. just to name a few.

These songs alone have a huge variety between them. The very fact that a 3 chord progression leads to this much variety of music shows how effective something apparently simple can be.

Complexity and depth seems to get confused a lot. Classical music may be more technically complex but that’s not the same thing as deep.  Actual emotional depth cannot be achieved by technical complexity alone.

One of my favourite film lines ever is from 2007 romantic comedy Music and Lyrics. Hugh Grant’s ageing pop star character says:

“You can take all the novels in the world and not one of them will make you feel as good as fast as “I got sunshine, on a cloudy day, when it’s cold outside I got the month of May” That is real poetry, those are real poets – Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, The Beatles”

Pop music is accompanied by the most extraordinary words, words that excite, words that hurt, words that inspire, words that seduce.

Pop music deals with everything about the human experience from being in love (Your Song by Elton John) breakups (Without You – Harry Nilsson) empowerment (Good As Hell – Lizzo), sexism (U.N.I.T.Y – Queen Latifah), protesting war (99 Red Balloons – Nena), illness (Unwell – Matchbox Twenty), death (How To Save A Life – The Fray), substance addiction (The A-Team – Ed Sheeran), and of course, thousands of songs about sex. But hey, even those cover an infinite variety from the sweet to the perverse. 

These songs and many thousands more have deep meanings and possess immense emotional resonance. Just take the chorus of The Show Must Go On by Queen.

“The show must go on, inside my heart is breaking, my makeup may be flaking but my smile, still, stays on” 

I mean come on, that’s just exquisite poetry. The Show Must Go On was written about Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury and his struggle with AIDS. A beautiful song with great depth.

Then there’s all this so-called manufactured pop, pop acts created by music managers like Simon Cowell to make them lots of money. Sure they exist as a money-spinning machine but they wouldn’t exist if the music didn’t have some sort of draw. Take this line from S Club 7’s song Bring It All Back from 1999.

“Don’t stop, never give up, hold your head high and reach the top, let the world see what you have got, bring it all back to you” 

Don’t tell me that isn’t inspiring, don’t tell me words like that, words that make people feel good about themselves, even if only for the 3 minute duration of a song, is vacuous and stupid.

Writing music for money was something those precious classical gods Haydn and Bach did a lot. Haydn worked as court composer for Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy for years and Haydn’s job was to write music that Nikolaus liked to hear. The prince liked symphonies so Haydn just churned them out for him, The 104 symphonies he wrote may resonate now for audiences which is great, it may be beautiful music but the original motivation was purely financial, it was his job to write them.

Bach spent much of his life being employed by either the church or German royalty, many of his compositions were just written for his various employers. Bach is basically worshipped as a god now in classical music and his music provides great joy for many people.

Now think about songwriters such as Diane Warren or Max Martin, who’ve written hundreds of hit songs apiece for other people to bring to life. Their ultimate motivations may be purely financial but it doesn’t mean the music that they create is soulless, repetitive junk.

Music of any genre can have nothing less than a potent effect. I cannot listen to Father and Son by Cat Stevens or The Voice Within by Christina Aguilera without breaking down into tears. The same applies to the 2nd movement of Florence Price Symphony in E Minor, I’m sobbing within 2 minutes every time I hear that. Likewise I can’t listen to more than 5 seconds of Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham or Shut Up and Dance by Walk The Moon without starting to dance.

Now you may want to sit down for this next sentence. Complex does not mean better. 

I’m going to repeat that: COMPLEX DOES NOT MEAN BETTER!

Classical music is not better than pop music, it’s different.

Music that took a long time to write may not be better, it may not even be good. It just means longer, complex and time consuming. That’s it. Some complex music is very good but lots of classical music is not actually that good. Much of the literature markets classical music as the greatest music ever written, as if it’s some blanket standard and all classical music played in concerts is of similar value. It’s not. Even the classical music billed as such isn’t all that fantastic some of the time. All genres have bad music and good music. And all of it is subjective, it just comes down to taste. 

Half the classical music fans reading this will burn me at the stake for this next sentence. I don’t like Mozart, he just does absolutely nothing for me. I find his music dull, repetitive and boring. Maybe some of that is because I wasn’t thrilled with him to begin with and it’s been shoved so far down my throat for 3 decades as being the best music ever.  I’m ever more convinced it’s not, especially after spending 2 years researching and listening to hundreds of female composers.

See? Subjective. 

In 2012 I worked as a music sales assistant at HMV. One interesting fact I noticed was so many hundreds of people say they don’t like classical music and yet they buy film soundtracks, particularly Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, in droves.

The music of Star Wars is remarkably ‘complex’, much of the score is written for 100 strong symphony orchestra and choir. Fanboys can trash Phantom Menace if they want but the score is extraordinary. Duel of the Fates is one of the greatest pieces of music ever written (in my opinion) and as for the evaded cadences going into the End Titles? Sends shivers down my spine every time, as do the cadences going into the end titles of every Star Wars film. Work of complete genius.

And the soundtrack to Star Wars: A Phantom Menace only sold a million copies or so, reaching No 3 in the Billboard Album Charts, No 8 in the UK Album charts. Now that is ‘complex’ music that people are lining up to hear. 

People say classical music ticket sales are dwindling but more people than ever are buying movie soundtracks. In addition the movie screenings accompanied by live orchestras are very popular. 

In conclusion, please continue to listen to whatever music you like, please continue to enjoy whatever music brings meaning to you. You don’t have to like pop music or musicals or jazz or classical music but no need to look down on those who do. The world is a scary enough place as it is, governments tearing us apart left and right, people divided on every major issue, Brexit. Do we really need to create more discord amongst ourselves over which awesome art form is better? Especially when all music education and arts funding is being cut across the board.

Why not start celebrating our similarities instead of fighting over differences?

Like “chills down your spine at a song’s blasting finale, or …the hair rise on the back of your neck at a rug-pulling key change.” Benjamin Carlson, The Atlantic, 2010.

These reactions are so universal no matter what type of music it is. Whether that’s the 1st four notes of Tchaikovsky’s 1st piano concerto, the breathtaking bass riff from Supermassive Black Hole by Muse or “how strange the change from major to minor” when Ella sings Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.

Music ultimately is written to bring joy. Bringing joy to the people who listen to it and the musicians who play it, it’s written to bring people together.

Let’s spread the joy.

Elizabeth de Brito

Producer and founder of The Daffodil Perspective

1st ever gender balanced classical music radio show.

 

The real reasons classical music is inaccessible and 10 easy ways to solve them immediately

“I’d like to get into it but I don’t know anything about classical music”

Every classical composer, musician, fan, conductor has heard those words or something similar dozens of times.

Recently cellist Steven Isserlis tweeted:

“It always frustrates me to hear people say that they don’t go to concerts because they don’t know enough about classical music.”

I posted a long thread response on Twitter which I’ll expand on here.

Instead of getting frustrated with people who think they need to understand classical music, we should be asking ourselves why do they think that in the 1st place? What is it about our industry which makes people feel excluded?

There is increased discussion about classical music myths but that is the wrong approach. It’s victim blaming, saying all people need to appreciate classical music is an open mind, open ears, open heart. What this dangerous idea implies is that classical music is already accessible and easily consumable, it’s the responsibility of the listener to bring themselves to classical music instead of the other way around.

The classical music industry is seriously at fault, blinded by centuries of pretentious, rich, privileged, white male superiority.  So much of the industry is relying on hopelessly outdated concepts and archaic views. If we want to reach new audiences we need to change, not make the listener change. It’s not their responsibility to do the emotional and physical labour, it’s up to us. Luckily there are several easy ways to do this immediately, so here are 10 problems with classical music along with the instant solutions.

1. Stop using technical language in classical music literature

The program notes, articles, reviews are mostly written from an academic viewpoint for other academics and people that have studied classical music.

“Self revealing pathos…This work seems more to be about avoiding darkness by underplaying the tonic minor key as much as possible.” Quote from London Symphony Orchestra Programme Note December 2019

There is no way the average person on the street knows what any of that means, that is language only people who have studied classical music can understand. Anyone else, forget it.

Write using emotive language with no technical terms. It’s not hard. All music is about communicating emotions and feelings – heartbreak, anger, lust, magic, death, sadness, joy, sex. These are universal human experiences. It’s not difficult.

The Daffodil Perspective uses no technical language at all, every show is written for everyone to understand. It uses simple emotive language to talk about pieces, language that everyone knows and understands.

2. Stop using pretentious language

Not just technical language but so much of classical music writing is so pretentious and poncey.

“its broad sweeps of diatonic parallel chords…..Phrygian-inflected sighing motifs”

From Presto Music’s description of Vaughan Williams Pastoral Symphony 10th January 2020

So same goes for this, it just sounds like a lot of guff and fluff.

The Daffodil Perspective uses no pretentious, posh and complicated language. Just simple, expressive adjectives to describe the music.

3. Stop using the word libretto to mean lyrics

Every other genre of music on the planet uses the word ‘lyrics’ to describe the words that accompany music. Yet, classical music still insists on using the Italian word ‘libretto’ to mean opera lyrics. Operas are just sung through musicals. That’s it – just like Les Miserables and Rent. It makes no sense to use a separate word when all the words in opera are song lyrics. Using different words just compounds the idea of exclusivity and inaccessibility.

Also I’m just going to say it – arias are just songs, that’s it.

From now on The Daffodil Perspective will always use the word lyrics when talking about opera.

4. Stop using Italian in piece descriptions.

This one I’m prepared to admit is a bit more complicated and requires more effort to change.

The practise of using Italian is so archaic and outdated. The problem is some of it is useful to classical musicians but some of it is really quite pointless and completely unhelpful to non-classical musicians and makes classical music completely unfathomable.

Let’s start with the piece descriptions and speed markings (tempo). We use Italian words to describe the different speeds – Largo, Andante, Moderato, Allegro etc but they have equivalents in every other language. Large just means slowly, Allegro just means quickly. It makes no sense to learn specific language when we have perfectly good words in English (and French, Swahili, Hindi etc) to tell us how to play.

More problematic is when we use the descriptions in the piece titles themselves. These descriptions are what every listener sees when reading the titles on websites, books and in programme notes.  When they see a bunch of incomprehensible words it makes them less likely to be interested. Who the hell knows or cares what Scherzo means? I certainly don’t and the average person on the street doesn’t either, To non academics and non seasoned classical fans it means nothing. But say playfully, jokey, we know what that means.

Also it doesn’t help us understand classical music. These words are saying whether the music is fast, slow, etc. It’s giving really important information, giving us a clue to what the piece might sound like and if we might want to listen. If we don’t understand what the clues say then we won’t know what it might sound like and don’t know whether we want to listen. Sometimes we want to listen to fast, frenetic music and sometimes we want some chilled vibes, if we scrapped this use of outdated language it would make it easier for us all.

Some contemporary composers are doing it differently. Eleanor Alberga’s String Quartet No 1, the 3rd movement is called Frantically Driven Yet Playful which is great. No complicated translation needed with this, anyone could see this on a programme and immediately get a sense of what the music is about. Same with Jonathan Dove – His Orchestral piece Gaia Theory – the 3 movements are called Lively, Very Spacious and Dancing. Anyone could read this and be interested.

And as for the thousands of dead composers. Just pointing out that they’re dead and don’t care what happens. Does it really matter if we translate all the Italian into English? The music stays the same.

Like I said this one requires more effort to correct but still it’s pretty simple to stop using Italian in piece descriptions and a lightning fast way to immediately make all classical music more comprehensible.

5. Stop disparaging other music genres

Classical music fans and musicians are more to blame for this than fans of every other genre. There’s so much trashing of pop music music all over the place, it comes from legitimate institutions as well as listeners. Just look at this meme that did the rounds in September last year.

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There were a large number of people who supported this meme, this stupid idea that classical music is all depth and pop music is all showy and superficial. Lots of people disagreed with this meme but the fact that a statement like this can gain wide support today says more about the classical music industry. Even Classic FM got the wrong end of the carrot while trying to disprove the meme.

Why listen to classical music when the current classical listeners just disparage the other music genres you like?

6. Stop raising classical music further up by saying it’s the greatest music.

On the opposite end of the spectrum stop pretending classical music is the greatest music ever. Classical music is no better, no more important, no greater than any other genre of music. All music is wondrous and special to those who enjoy it. Classical music is awesome. It is, but so is jazz, pop, grime, calypso and pretty much everything else that’s ever been created. I know because I listen to all music (and I do mean all). Stop pretending classical music is somehow better. It isn’t and just makes you seem like a snobby idiot.

7. Stop disparaging people who do create accessible music

Still the same vein but separate point. Some musicians do make classical music more accessible and easy to listen. Andre Rieu is a brilliant example of this, his music is bought  in the thousands by ordinary people, not usually classical fans and it’s fantastic, melodic, easy to listen to and just fun.

Yet just last week someone on a Facebook classical music group posted:

‘I think of all the thousands of people enjoying the music of Andre Rieu and think about how sad and deeply confused these people are.’

Some people will chalk this up to internet trolls but these are ordinary people on the internet saying these things. Their opinions are often supported by many others, ignore it at our peril.

Why trash Andre Rieu. He’s doing a brilliant job and actually more classical musicians should be following his lead. He makes classical, orchestral music fun and relatable.

If we want to make classical music more accessible we need to support people who actually do it.

8. Stop trashing classical music that uses melody.

Music that uses melody is the most accessible and easy to listen to. Just think of the popularity of Star Wars, Eliza Aria (that Lloyds advert), Also Sprach Zaruthstra (Theme from 2001 Space Odyssey). Most other genres of music are based on melody and we know ordinary people like melodic classical music. Think of the Nutcracker, Clair de Lune, Fur Elise, Ride of the Valkyries, all very popular.

So, play more melodic music, market it for non-classical audiences and stop disparaging music that uses melody a lot. No-one’s winning any favours by being mean about music that people actually like.

9. Stop only playing music by dead, white men.

Britain is made up of 50% men and 50% women plus 15% people are not white. In London the proportion of non-white people is much higher. The classical music industry on the other hand plays 98% men and maybe 0.1% music by black and minority ethnic composers.

The current music played by the classical music industry does not reflect the general population. Society isn’t just made up of old white men, why should classical music only be written by old white men?

The Daffodil Perspective plays 50% female composers on every show and between 8 and 16% music by black and minority ethnic composers on every show (this is going to be consistently 16% going forward). The proportion of composers is an accurate reflection of our society.

This is one of the most simple to do. There is so much amazing music by women and BME composers from throughout the history of classical music. And it’s really easy to find and incorporate. I know this because I’ve been doing it for over a year. (See the complete 1st year stats here

10. Get off your complacent high horse and do the work

This is the overriding reason why classical music is so inaccessible.  Not enough people are actually doing the work needed to create change. The classical music industry is so completely stagnant and complacent on its ridiculous pedestal.

Just the fact that we talk about classical music novices and the uninitiated. It’s like a cult, worshipping at the altar of genius white male superiority. We need to knock classical music off its pedestal, bring it down to earth.  I’ve not even expanded on the horrific sexism, racism, the slut shaming in practically all historical operas and so many other problems with the classical music industry today.

I’ve had numerous conversations with individuals and organisations over the past year who refuse to admit the problems and refuse to do the work needed.

So, there you have it. 10 of the reasons why classical music is inaccessible and the 10 easy ways to solve them immediately.

There is a lot of work to be done, The Daffodil Perspective is doing it, making the radical changes that need to be made.

Elizabeth de Brito

Producer and founder of The Daffodil Perspective, the 1st ever gender balanced classical music show, broadcasting every fortnight on Mixcloud.

 

 

 

 

 

The Daffodil Perspective’s Classical Recordings of the Year 2019

Recordings of the Year aren’t just about being good or amazing. Everything I play on the show is brilliant. Plus I’ve showcased over 40 new releases on the show this year, all fantastic. Recordings of the Year have to be really special. We’re talking new trailblazing recordings, long lost marginalised music finally recorded, innovative and socially conscious pieces, recordings with a great story behind them.  In short, they have to be remarkable in every way.

Of course it’s always difficult to pick just 10. I spent a long time thinking about which recordings to choose, My perfectionism and indecision threatened to blow the whole operation halfway through but I persevered and I’m thrilled to announce the 10 Recordings of the Year 2019! Not specific rankings, just 10 of the best.

  1. Margaret Bonds – The Ballad of the Brown King

822252241327First on the list is the long overdue world premiere recording of The Ballad of the Brown King, Margaret Bonds’ extraordinary crowning glory. The stunning Christmas cantata details the story of the 3rd king, Balthazar. Margaret Bonds was a major figure in the Chicago Renaissance and one of the 1st black composers and performers to gain notoriety. The Ballad of the Brown King was premiered in 1954 and combines jazz, blues and calypso music into traditional European classical music. The result is one of the most stunning works in existence and needs to be in every choir Christmas repertoire. The album was spearheaded by conductor Malcolm J Merriweather and harpist Ashley Jackson, the leading authority on Margaret Bonds. The recording features The Dessoff Choirs and Orchestra along with soloists Laquita Mitchell, Noah Stewart and Lucia Bradford, all amazing international stars. Along with The Ballad of the Brown King the album is rounded off wonderfully by several songs by Margaret Bonds.

As well as the long overdue world premiere, the stunning orchestration and amazing story in this album, the recording is also a fantastic showcase of black people in classical music. This album was composed and directed entirely by black people which is really cool. Margaret Bonds set the cantata to words by her good friend Langston Hughes, leader of the Harlem Renaissance. In addition the conductor, harpist and soloists all happen to be black.

  1. The Lost Women of Music 

28948174393This stunning album received almost no press attention and searching for information about it on Google is a nightmare, despite it being one of the most groundbreaking albums ever made. The Lost Women of Music is the first ever album to feature a completely all-female team. Everyone front and back of house: conductor, performers, engineers, producers, all women. It’s truly remarkable.

Everything about this album is trailblazing. The Lost Women of Music, released on International Women’s Day, is a celebration of women’s suffrage, featuring instrumental music and songs by some of the radical and revolutionary suffragettes.The album was directed by the brilliant Alice Farnham who conducted the appropriately named Suffrage Sinfonia in this landmark recording. Along with the more well known Ethel Smyth, the album features music from Alicia Needham, 1st woman to conduct at the Royal Albert Hall, Susan Spain Dunk and many more brilliant and brave women who fought discrimination head on. Interestingly the album also showcases several pieces of spoken word poetry, brought to life by some of the most extraordinary women today including broadcaster Clare Balding and actress Dame Penelope Keith.

Much of this music was indeed ‘lost’, kept in dusty archives around the UK. This music, now found, needs to stay this way. In this day when women are still tackling discrimination and sexism in the classical music industry and elsewhere, it’s comforting to know we stand on the shoulders of all these phenomenal women.

  1. Black Composer Series

71Vh4i9deNL._SL1200_This extraordinary 10 album collection is actually a re-release from the 1970s. CBS Masterworks released a 9 album set on vinyl, it’s finally been remastered from the original analogue and released by Sony Classical in stunning digital quality for the 21st century along with a bonus tenth disc.

The collection features a wide range of black male composers: historical composers like 18th century Chevalier de Saint-Georges and Jose Garcia, turn of the century Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, 20th century Fela Sowande and several contemporary composers including Adolphus Hailstork (best composer name ever right), George Walker and David Baker. The composers don’t just span the centuries, they almost span the globe with music from the US, Panama, Nigeria, France, Brazil, Britain and more. As well as featuring black composers all original nine LP’s featured the trailblazing black conductor Paul Freeman.

Just to warn you, this is a gateway to a serious internet music rabbit hole, you could spend hours discovering all the other music written by these guys, although that’s the whole point, right? My only issue with this collection is the complete lack of black female composers, not even Florence Price or Margaret Bonds. That being said it’s a phenomenal achievement and 40 odd years on all of these composers are still marginalised because of their skin colour and should be performed way more than they currently are. 

  1. Black Swans – The First Recordings of Black Classical Music Performers.

71IkH-LRXYL._SS500_This incredible album is a compilation of some of the 1st recordings ever made by black classical music performers, dating from 1917 -1922. An extraordinary labour of love by producer Leslie Gerber of Parnassus Records, Gerber tracked down all these recordings, transferred them from 78 rpm records, sound engineer Steve Smolian conducted digital cleanup on the audio, spending several hours on each piece. Most of the recordings on this album have never been re-issued before and haven’t been heard in a century.  

This album is a reminder that black people have actually always been performing classical music. As we work to create a more inclusive present we need to give the performers on this album their proper place in music history as well.

  1. Post-Haste Reed Duo – Donut Robot! 

a4158269396_16Music for wind instruments constantly gets shoved aside in favour of the vast swathes of violin and piano repertoire saturating the classical music landscape but there is hope. Hope in this case is Sean Fredenburg and Javier Rodriguez, together they are The Post Haste Reed Duo, a dream team combo of bassoon and sax that are shaking up the contemporary classical scene. Donut Robot features all new, all amazing music written for bassoon and sax, 6 pieces by 6 composers including 2 women which make up 32% of performance time, not too bad. The album brilliantly showcases the entire emotional range of the two wind instruments and the vast sound worlds available. There’s bold and bright tones, folk influences, introspective parts and experiments with microtonality. It’s really a brilliantly well conceived collection of music, also this album has the coolest classical music album artwork of all time, courtesy of Adam T Davis.

  1. Pauline Viardot – Le Dernier Sorcier

IMG_0198The world premiere recording of an eco-feminist salon opera holed up in a private collection for 150 years? Yes, it is as badass as it sounds, actually even more so when the opera is brought to life by the amazing Camilla Zamora who assembled some of the coolest classical music stars around including the incredible Jamie Barton, Eric Owens and world class accompanist Myra Huang. Truly an incredible work of vision to give us this stunning chamber opera by 19th century composer and singer Pauline Viardot, a completely unjustly unsung heroine of Romantic classical music. The opera is just beautiful, a complete Romantic gem.

  1. Pan Pacific Ensemble – Feng

34061176824A very exciting debut album from Pan Pacific Ensemble, a wind quintet dedicated to performing music by Asian composers and composers of Asian descent. Feng features classical music from across South East Asia including Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore.  The album has 4 pieces commissioned by the ensemble as well as the title piece written by the always extraordinary Chinese composer Chen Yi. In total there are 8 composers including 3 women, women making up nearly 40% of performance time which is pretty good going. Lots of incredible music on here and a wide range of different styles.

  1. Erika Fox – Paths

5023363025423Erika Fox – A chance mention of her name led to one of the most exciting musical events this year: 82 year old composer gets debut album. Erika Fox was once well known in the 70’s but her music fell off the map until Kate Romano and her Goldfield Ensemble brought it back from oblivion, releasing this incredible collection of Erika Fox’s chamber music, the collection spans 25 years of composition and is nothing short of breathtaking. An extraordinary debut and hopefully the start of resurgence in popularity for the octagenarian.

  1. Laura Kaminsky, Mark Campbell & Kimberley Reed – As One

ttalb01690358The world premiere recording of the extraordinary groundbreaking opera features just two singers: Hannah before (baritone Kelly Markgraf) and Hannah after (Sasha Cooke), sharing the part of a sole transgender protagonist, they are accompanied by the Fry Street Quartet. Laura Kaminsky wrote the music, the libretto was written by Mark Campbell and Kimberley Reed, the accompanying film was also written by Kimberley Reed.

It’s not about being deliberately sensationalist, making money from the experiences of a marginalised group of people. It’s not a transgender opera or the story of every trans person. The whole concept is done with sensitivity and care, the resulting recording is a powerful portrayal of one person’s journey and the struggle with identity. The music is incredible, reflecting the protagonist’s journey and emotional struggles they encounter with a similarly vast range of sounds. Soaring and expansive lines with fraught and tortured sections.

This stunning recording is a part of this unique opera, the production needs to be mentioned here. It’s not just the content which is trailblazing, the creative team specifically encourage the hiring and training of transgender people for the roles and backstage work, they’ve also produced comprehensive marketing and production guidelines to ensure their work is interpreted correctly and handled appropriately, including costumes, gender free bathrooms and community resources.  On the As One website they also provide a list of organisations that support the transgender community.

Laura Kaminsky, Mark Campbell and Kimberley Reed created a wonderfully inclusive and insightful piece of opera for the world we live in now. As One is a socially conscious opera which tackles important issues head on, supports the experiences of transgender people and encourages us all to be a little kinder.

10. Coming Up For Air – Kathryn Williams

5060217670200What can be communicated in a single breath? The answer? Quite a lot. This extraordinary album is a reaction against centuries of thoughtless composers writing mean parts for wind players that appear not to require breathing. Sadly wind players do need to breathe on occasion. Flautist Kathryn Williams explores the vitality of the breath on this album, featuring 40 compositions from a huge range of contemporary composers including Chaya Czernowin, Brian Ferneyhough, Angela Slater and Oliver Coates. These compositions all span just a single breath and give us the entire musical spectrum from the most traditionally melodic to the most experimental. In addition the gender balance on the album is to be applauded – 23 female composers, 19 male composers and 1 non binary composer.

That is it, the 10 Recordings of the Year 2019 as chosen by The Daffodil Perspective.

And just to reiterate, these are not specific rankings, just 10 of the best classical albums in 2019.

These 10 recordings are all truly outstanding and remarkable. Here in the UK this week  and around the world we’re going through some dark times. These 10 albums are wonderful lighthouses, guiding us safely to a better, more diverse and inclusive world.

Happy listening.

Here’s to a more gender balanced and diverse classical music industry!

If you enjoy The Daffodil Perspective, please consider supporting it with a donation so it can continue championing women, celebrating diversity and creating a more inclusive classical music industry. All funds going towards setting up The Daffodil Perspective Awards, celebrating recordings of marginalised music and musicians.

DONATE HERE

Many thanks,

Elizabeth de Brito, Creator and Producer

 

 

 

The Daffodil Perspective Needs Your Help

The 1st gender balanced show needs your help to continue. The Daffodil Perspective is the 1st of its kind, championing female composers and diversity in classical music. In the 1st year each show featured 4 times more pieces by women than the BBC and overall twice as much music than all the greatest orchestras in the world combined. Full stats available here

The Daffodil Perspective is a one-woman show. I do in-depth research, script write, curate the content, source recordings, produce and present every episode. This is a lot of work and is done voluntarily.

If you enjoy the show and the site please consider donating today. It will do so much to help champion the huge number of female composers and create more diversity in classical music.

Money raised will be used for setting up the new Daffodil Perspective Awards which will celebrate recordings of marginalised music and musicians. The funds will also go towards a new website and setting up other resources to help others create diversity.

All donations will be much appreciated.

Elizabeth de Brito

Creator and producer of The Daffodil Perspective

DONATE HERE

 

The Daffodil Perspective 1st Year Stats

And the stats are out. 1 year of a gender balanced classical music show, how did it go?

1 year, 42 shows, 55 hours of music.

409 composers including 204 female composers, 155 living composers and 40 BAME composers/composers of colour.

33 hours of music by women composers, 13 hours of music by living women composers, 6.75 hours of music by BAME composers/composers of colour

584 pieces including 339 by female composers.

14 pieces per week on average including 8 by women, 3 by living composers and from May onwards every show had at least 1 piece by a BAME compose/composer of colour.

Most Played Composer: Florence Price (14 times)

Mozart was played twice, Bach twice and Beethoven once.

See the full infographic report here: The Daffodil Perspective 1st Year Analysis

And see the complete tracklist here

 

Elizabeth de Brito

Producer and Presenter

The Daffodil Perspective

Open Letter to Classic FM

Hi Classic FM. 

I just saw your post on 10 quotes from female composers that prove the struggle is real. It’s incredibly disappointing that you write this but you really don’t practise what you preach. How many of these unbelievable composers have you actually played on your station ever? Listening to your station and going through your playlist I can never see any. 

The struggle is real, you are correct. It would be a lot less bad if you, one of the biggest radio stations in the UK, would actually play some music by women composers on a regular basis. And not just relegated to an occasional series like Sounds and Sweet Airs. Female composers need to be played consistently if there is to be lasting change.

I’m appalled that these composers are not played on a daily basis on your station. I’m even more appalled that you keep writing about them, talking about how marginalised they are, yet by not playing them on a daily basis you are continuing to marginalise these composers. You are contributing to the centuries of institutionalised sexism that keep these amazing composers out of the history books.

I’d also like to add that you had a Best of British show a few weeks ago, an entirely all male lineup- failing to play Dame Ethel Smyth or Rebecca Clarke, (whose quotes both appear on the aforementioned article of 10 quotes by female composers), also failing to play the many other amazing and influential women composers from Britain. 

I’m the producer of The Daffodil Perspective, an online classical radio show which is proud to be completely gender equal. I would be more than happy to consult with you on ways to incorporate the hundreds of women composers on your station. I have a wealth of experience and knowledge regarding the centuries of women composers and how they all fit into the current biased version of classical music history. Just last week I showcased the music of the incredible and very important 20th century British composer Ruth Gipps, a student of Gordon Jacob and friend of Malcolm Arnold. 

Again I must reiterate my utter horror that you talk about the struggle of women and do nothing to actually change this. It’s absolutely shameful and hypocritical. As such a large radio station with a huge listenership you have an amazing opportunity here. Integrating women composers on a regular basis would only lead to a more robust and diverse listener base and would lead to greater appreciation of music history. 

I hope you’ll consider what I’ve said here and I look forward to your speedy response.

Elizabeth de Brito

The Daffodil Perspective Producer

 

 

 

Gatekeeping in the classical music industry

Post any article championing women or calling for diversity in classical music on one of the various classical music groups on Facebook and you’ll likely get a slew of sexist comments and narrow minded conversations.

One common sexist argument is that no-one is actively avoiding programming music by women.

The classical recording retailer Presto’s Recording of the Week is a brilliant example of an active, conscious decision to do exactly that.

Guess what Presto Classical’s recording of the week is?

Yet another recording of Beethoven complete symphonies!

Seriously, how can this pass for the most exciting recording this week?

James Longstaffe at Presto who chose the recording said:

“With a plethora of recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies currently available, any new performance that wishes to stand out from the crowd must have something pretty special to bring to the table.”

At this point the only way to make a recording of Beethoven symphonies in any way  pretty special is to have the flutes play the violin part, bassoon play the cello part, euphonium play the double bass part and vice versa.

Or screw it, why not just get the BBC Singers, divide them all up and get them to hum each part. At this point that is the only way you can get a recording of Beethoven’s complete symphonies worthy of being Recording of the Week.

Really James? You couldn’t find anything in the past decade, hell, even the past century that’s worth shouting about?

The Presto team also do a New Release Round up every week.  This week they have: Mahler’s 4th, Wagner, Schumann, Schutz and Cavalli. Basically nothing composed in the past 70 years and everything composed is by a well known, well recorded white male composer.

In picking the Recording of the Week James Falstaffe would have looked through the exciting new releases featuring women, the cool contemporary music and deliberately ignored them all to feature the most well known classical music on the planet.

And they do this every single week. Every week there is a deliberate choice between exciting and perpetual, new and old, diverse or patriarchal, change versus stagnation, heard or unheard.

The recordings that caught my eye on Presto this week were:

  1. Piano Miniatures by Female Composers – Viviane Goergen. A brilliant cross section of piano music from the past 150 years. Everything from Mel Bonis and Marie Jaell in the 19th century, Germaine Tailleferre and Vitezslava Kapralova in the early 20th century to living composer Alicia Terzian. All immensely talented composers and stunning performance from Viviane Goergen.
  2. Kaleidoskop: Works for Contrabassoon – Hans Agreda. Contrabassoon is one of these instruments lost in the sea of violin repertoire. It has a gorgeous sound and is not performed enough. So exciting to see a great musician showcasing works for this underrated instrument.

There have been over 60 recordings of exclusively women composers released on Presto so far this year (pales in comparison to the number recorded by men but still), there’s been at least one new recording every week, sometimes many more (see week of 8th March). Many of these releases were world premiere recordings and all are absolutely brilliant.  The only one Presto took any noice of was debut release by latest hotshot pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason, she released a CD of Clara Schumann’s piano music.

There’s all this talk of classical music dying, orchestras getting shut down but what can we expect when the mainstream industry is entirely based on obsessively championing overplayed, over-recorded music from nearly 200 years ago?

There are legions of brilliant women composers from the past two centuries and more musicians than ever are championing these great women composers, creating many wonderful albums that are redefining our entire knowledge of classical music history.  All these recordings are being completely ignored by the classical music establishment. You can check out all the amazing recordings made this year alone here.

Then there are hundreds of really amazing contemporary composers creating new music all the time and some people are willing to put it out there. NMC Recordings have been putting out great recordings of British contemporary music for 30 years, plus record labels Navona Records and Divine Art are putting out high quality recordings of amazing contemporary music all the time.

But what is going to happen to all these recordings if they aren’t talked about?

What’s the incentive for new composers to keep creating when all the music industry wants to talk about is the same few composers from the 18th century?

Composer Stephen Hough wrote a recent article in the Evening Standard talking about the Proms saying:

“The composers whose works we play were often radicals and outsiders”

Note the past tense. It’s so common for people to think of classical music as past, all the music got created long ago and it doesn’t exist anymore.

Mozart and Beethoven together make up just over one third of all classical performances (statistics from Bachtrack here). Add the next 4 most played composers – Bach, Brahms Schubert, Tchaikovsky and they make up 78% of classical performances. Over 400 years and hundreds of amazing composers but nearly 80% of all performances are of just 6 white male composers that all died over a century ago?!

Is the past tense any wonder if that’s the only music being performed?

There’s a current call for more audience diversity, and talk of dwindling ticket sales, people saying they should do things to attract new audiences but what’s the message you are sending them? Come and hear the same 6 dead male composers at every concert. There are almost no women composers, no black composers, hardly any living composers. It’s an entirely monochromatic experience of a stagnant art form.

That’s what is currently being shouted at through current programming.

If you want to attract new audiences, new people from all walks of life you will have to change the message.

Classical music is not just written by a handful of dead, white male composers. It never has been but that is the message that people are being sent.

So how do we change this?

Do we either need to get through the current gatekeepers or do we need to create new gates?

 

Elizabeth de Brito

Producer of the The Daffodil Perspective.

The Daffodil Perspective is pleased to be completely gender equal. On the show this year I’ve played 16 of these new releases of women composers as well as playing contemporary music every week. Also in 8 months of doing the show I’ve played Beethoven once, Mozart twice.  Every week I make the choice to find as much exciting, varied, previously unheard music out there. Head to the Listen page to see the full tracklist. Classical music is alive and kicking on my show with a vibrant, diverse range of awesome music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is 2020 really just the year of Beethoven? 5 other important birthdays to celebrate this year

While the majority of the classical music world is losing their s**t over Beethoven’s upcoming 250th birthday, let’s remember there are 5 other very important birthdays we should be celebrating this year.

  1. Barbara Strozzi’s 400th birthday

Barbara Strozzi, baptised 6th August 1619, was one of the first women to publish under her own name. Strozzi was said to be the most prolific composer of secular vocal music in Venice at the time, she was also an accomplished singer. Her music is simply stunning, full of poise and precisely written.

 

2. Clara Schumann’s 200th birthday

The infinitely cooler member of the Schumann family turns 200 on 13th September 2019. Clara Schumann was a brilliant composer and one of the first virtuoso pianists in the world. She toured all over Europe, was at the very epicentre of the European music scene, knew anyone who was anyone and was hugely influential, Brahms was said to be madly in love with her. For much of her life she was the chief breadwinner in the Schumann family. She maintained a busy concert tour schedule all while being pregnant most of the time and caring for an increasingly ill husband. Her compositions, while comparatively few, are masterpieces of the Romantic era, full of drama and passion. Her output includes a piano concerto, piano sonata, tons of songs, trios and romances.

 

3. Galina Ustvolskaya’s 100th birthday

Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya (17th June 1919 – 22nd December 2006) would be 100 this year. Dubbed ‘The Lady with the Hammer’ her music was said to have “the concentrated light of a laser beam that is capable of piercing metal.”  Ustvolskaya wrote immensely heartfelt pieces which initially seem brutal and harsh but are deeply moving. Her teacher Shostakovich said of her: “It is not you who are under my influence, it is I who am under yours.” She publicly acknowledged 21 pieces she wrote from 1944 to 1988, disregarding the Soviet patriotic pieces she was grudgingly forced to write. These 21 pieces include 6 piano sonatas, 5 symphonies and chamber music with various unusual but effective instrument combinations. This Composition No. 1 was written for piccolo, tuba and piano.

 

4. Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata turns 100!

The poor viola is the middle child of the string family, stuck between the ever popular, (overused?) violin and the low, mellow cello, somewhat the hipster instrument of the orchestra. Rebecca Clarke was a violist though so it was only fitting for her that she write a true masterpiece for her instrument. I give you her Viola Sonata, premiered at the Berkshire Music Festival in 1919.

 

5. Dorothy Howell’s Lamia turns 100!

Dorothy Howell’s symphonic poem Lamia was premiered by Sir Henry Wood at the Proms on 10th September 1919, he liked it so much he conducted it at the Proms 4 times in the next 8 years. In this centenary year get down to the Proms on 22nd August to hear it performed live by CBSO and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla.

 

So there you have it – 5 other important birthdays we should be celebrating this year.

And that’s just the historical composers. Groundbreaking film score and electronic composer Wendy Carlos turns 80 this year and Eleanor Alberga celebrates her 70th birthday.

One final note – celebrating means a special occasion, doing something out of the ordinary. Beethoven is the most performed composer every year, along with Mozart and Bach. Most concert seasons feature around 10% Beethoven. In 2017 out of 17,741 performances, 3,000 of those were Beethoven (according to Bachtrack, full stats here.) That’s 16%! Hundreds of incredible composers across the world and Beethoven makes up 16% of all performances! 2019 is the same boring percentage of Beethoven they trot out every year, hardly extraordinary.

It’s like when your parents take you to McDonalds for your birthday as a child. It’s such a rare treat and it tastes so good. Then when you leave home you get Maccy D’s every Friday night at 1 o’clock on the way back from the pub. Suddenly it doesn’t taste that good. It does the trick alright, I mean it fills you up but that lovely taste, that memorable connection just isn’t there anymore.

Let’s bring back that loving feeling. 8 months into The Daffodil Perspective radio show and I’ve played Beethoven once. There’s so much other awesome music out there. let’s celebrate it all.

 

Elizabeth de Brito

The Daffodil Perspective Producer

 

 

Classic FM Hall of Fame 2019 – Where are all the women?

The Classic FM Hall of Fame is the biggest poll of classical music tastes in the UK but is it really listeners’ choice?  Where are all the women and why?

. These are the top 20:

  1. Ralph Vaughan Williams – The Lark Ascending
  2. Sergei Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No. 2
  3. Edward Elgar – Enigma Variations
  4. Ralph Vaughan Williams – Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
  5. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – 1812 Overture
  6. Ludwig van Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 5 (‘Emperor’)
  7. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake
  8. Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony No. 9 (‘Choral’)
  9. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker
  10. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Clarinet Concerto
  11. Samuel Barber – Adagio for Strings
  12. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Requiem
  13. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – The Magic Flute
  14. Jean Sibelius – Finlandia
  15. Gregorio Allegri – Miserere
  16. Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony No. 7
  17. Ludwig van Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata
  18. Edward Elgar – Cello Concerto
  19. George Frideric Handel – Messiah
  20. Edvard Grieg – Peer Gynt

See the full list here.

Let’s be honest were there any real surprises here?

Why are these the most popular pieces every year?

Are these pieces really the most popular or just the pieces that Classic FM plays the most?

There’s a constant rhetoric that only the best gets voted into these types of polls.

No-ones arguing that any of these 20 pieces are anything less than stunning. Of course they are but if that is all listeners are exposed to then why expect them to pick anything else?

There were only 10 new additions to the list and none of these were in the top 100. The highest ranked was 163 so the most popular 100 pieces of music have barely changed in at least 1 year, the top 100 were definitely all in the Hall of Fame last year, probably the year before.

The only piece written by a woman was Debbie Wiseman’s The Glorious Garden, which just made it in at No. 287.

There are so many arguments about the lack of women in classical music. Women didn’t write any classical music, women didn’t write good classical music, women didn’t write music that ‘measures up to the ‘greats’.

All of this is wrong. There’s research that demonstrates that women have always been composing classical music and tons of recordings that show they have and are doing an first class job of it.

But for all this new information how many times in 2018 did Classic FM play Florence Price’s Symphony 1 or Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers or Galina Ustvolskaya’s Piano Sonata No. 6? Or any of the other thousands (and there are thousands) of exquisite, earth shattering, beautiful pieces of music written by women?

Maybe we could decide for ourselves what measures up to the greats if we actually heard some of it.

Research conducted by Donne Women In Music last year revealed that music by women features in just 2% of concerts across the world. Full stats here.

If that’s the international average and Classic FM are similar then that’s 98% of all music played on the station written by men.

How can we judge music fairly if we are not exposed to it?

Answer – we cannot. We cannot make judgements on music we don’t hear.

Don’t Classic FM (and the BBC, LPO, Wigmore Hall etc) have a responsibility to educate their listeners?

Is it just about playing the same pieces that the audience expect to hear or can they do more?

Surely part of the reason to listen to a radio station is to be educated, be inspired, be exposed to more music than the audience would usually hear.

Radio airplay has always been one of the biggest factors in determining the pop music charts. People would turn on Radio 1, listen to a song by Kylie or Spice Girls or Oasis, love it and immediately go out and buy it. Even in today’s age of digital music, YouTube, Spotify and iTunes there is still an element of this. Radio plays a smaller but still significant role, as well as these other mediums in promoting new, unknown music to the public and creating an audience.

Why can’t it work with classical music? Why can’t we turn on to Classic FM Drive and hear music we wouldn’t hear otherwise?

If Classic FM make decisions about what audiences want to hear based on these biased polls then nothing will ever change, which it hasn’t.

Also it can’t just be about ‘what the audiences want to hear’. We don’t always know what we want to hear. I had no idea I wanted to hear Elizabeth Maconchy’s String Quartet No. 6 until I heard it and it changed my world.

We listen to radio and go to concerts because we assume the people running them know more than us. They work in music, spending all their time listening and researching interesting music, paying attention to what’s hot right now so we don’t have to. We listen to have our minds blown by fantastic music. If Classic FM and other organisations don’t programme music by women how can we be expected to vote for it on these polls?

Classic FM is a big influencer of taste.

I was chatting to a current Guildhall School of Music student a few months ago and he didn’t agree with playing more women composers because we’d be ‘neglecting the men.’

Bachtrack stats says in 2017 there were 17,741 concert performances. Of those performances around 3000 performances were of each of the top (most performed) composers – Mozart, Beethoven and Bach.  So allowing for overlap that’s somewhere between 3,000 and 9,000 performances. 3000 performances – that’s around 15% of all concerts featuring one of just 3 composers, the likely statistic is somewhere between 15% and 52%. Either end of the scale that is a huge amount of performances for just 3 composers, given how much awesome classical music there is, to focus just on those 3 is incredibly limiting.

Let’s be clear here, even if Beethoven was played half the amount that he is now it would still not come anywhere near neglect. And of course it wouldn’t make his work any less awesome or popular, His Piano Concerto No. 5 will always be brilliant and I’ll always love it, as will many other people.

Why can’t a balance exist between playing the old, familiar classics and awesome, unfamiliar music. A mix of what we want to hear and music that we don’t know but Classic FM think we will like.

There is a ton of phenomenal music out there from the whole history of classical music and the internet has made it easier than ever before to find it. There are vast numbers of recordings of music by women that are easy to find on iTunes, PrestoClasssical, Amazon and Spotify. So many resources available for Classic FM to use.

So what now? Will Classic FM continue to justify playing nothing but the same music year after year by using biased data like these polls?

Or can Classic FM exert their power as a major influencer of taste, creating more balanced programming and exposing the massive amount of awesome classical music written by women?

Will the Hall of Fame 2020 tell a different story?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A-Z of classical composers – gender equal edition

A few days ago John Suchet at the BBC tweeted about composers whose names begin with B. The names he mentioned were super obvious male composers – Beethoven, Brahms, Bach and Bizet. Naturally members of the community working for gender equality, myself included, had a rant at him and replied with the names of awesome female composers whose names also begin with B. Names we mentioned included Beach, Bacewicz, Boulanger, Bonis, Bosmans and lots more.

I decided to take this a few steps further and create a gender equal alphabet of classical composers.

This is the result, an A-Z of awesome classical composers. Every one of them has written lots of awesome music.

A is for Lera Auerbach and Albinoni

B is for Bach and Amy Beach

C is for Cecile Chaminade and Chopin

D is for Debussy and Alma Deutscher

E is for Rosalind Ellicott and Elgar

F is for Faure and Louise Farrenc

G is for Ruth Gipps and Glass

H is for Handel and Augusta Holmes

I is for Adina Izarra and Ives

J is for Jenkins and Betsy Jolas

K is for Larysa Kuzmenko and Khachaturian

L is for Liszt and Elisabeth Lutyens

M is for Marianna Martines and Mozart

N is for Nielson and Olga Neuwirth

O is for Morfydd Owen and Offenbach

P is for Puccini and Florence Price

Q is for Marie Quinalt and Quilter

R is for Rachmaninov and Priaulx Rainier

S is for Ethel Smyth and Saint Saens

T is for Tchaikovsky and Joan Tower

U is for Galina Ustvolskaya and Uematsu

V is for Vaughan Williams and Pauline Viardot

W is for Judith Weir and Wagner

X is for Xenakis and Qu Xixian

Y is for Chen Yi and Ysaye

Z is for Hans Zimmer and Gaziza Zhubanova

Playlist to follow shortly.