At the weekend I had an unusual experience. Following the conclusion of BBC Young Musician and viewers’ anger that the result was so under-reported, I wrote a letter to The Guardian about the wider issue. We’ve heard a lot recently about orchestras folding, opera companies struggling, and arts companies disappearing as their funding dries up. Within the profession there’s constant talk of smaller ensembles such as chamber groups disbanding, disillusioned by their lack of earning power (many talented professionals have told me that it’s not difficult to get invitations to play – but it is difficult to get adequately paid for them).
Everyone says that lack of media attention – lack of reviews, previews and interviews, for example – makes it harder and harder to gather decent-sized audiences for classical music. In my letter I drew attention to where all this seems to be leading: to the risk that classical music could eventually disappear. Obviously there are many who would fight like mad to keep it, but there are also many who wouldn’t.
I’ve written letters to the press about classical music on a number of occasions. The response was always muted. But this time was different: as soon as the letter went online I started to get messages saying ‘Bravo!’ For a chunk of Saturday I was getting a message every few seconds. So far, my letter has been ‘shared’ 3500 times (update: now over 4400 times) on the Guardian website.
I had been expecting to be politely ignored, but to my surprise and excitement it seemed that people were listening. And, though you can never tell why people are ‘sharing’ things, from the responses that reached me I felt there was enthusiastic support. But why suddenly now? Is it the BBC Young Musician effect? Friends told me that they had noticed letters and articles in a similar vein in Other Newspapers. Could it be that classical music is about to have a moment? If so, we should be ready to seize it.