The other day I went to an orchestral concert, at the end of which the conductor held up a hand for silence and made an emotional speech about how this kind of music needs our support more than ever, because classical musicians feel ‘marginalised’.
He said that young musicians, of whom there were lots in the orchestra, face the particular challenge of being proud of their choices and hopeful about their futures in a media environment which constantly feeds us negative images of classical music and, in recent weeks, of classical audiences too.
It is very strange. There is no such sneering at people who like Renaissance art or Shakespeare or Jane Austen. They are not accused of being elistist snobs with their heads in the sand. On the contrary: the ‘classics’ of art, theatre and novel writing are constantly being revived, and their relevance pointed out to modern audiences. Television adaptations of classic works are enormously successful and are often picked out as the highlights of TV companies’ achievements.
Why is it not the same for classical music, which has just as many world-class and timeless creative achievements as art, literature and drama? There is something very odd going on with music. Is it simply that in other fields there is no equivalent of the vast and super-successful genre of pop music? As the pop world grows in dominance, so the music of the past seems diminished. It often feels as if classical music is becoming ‘the still, small voice’ in the midst of a huge din. Yet the music hasn’t lost its relevance or beauty, so is it just a question of holding our nerve?