classical music

classical music
   Classical music is one of the most important art forms in Britain, as it influences many other activities in addition to being a major industry and employer in its own right. The arts as a whole contribute a turnover of £5.5 billion to London’s economy every year, employing 5 percent of the capital’s workforce. Classical music is widely used for films, television and advertisements, and sells many soundtrack and theme tune recordings. The mass media have enabled more people to come into contact with music and also to discover more about those who make it. Interest in concerts increased from 1986–7 until 1995–6, when an estimated 12.7 percent of the adult population attended a classical music event.
   The mass media have become the principal means by which most people encounter classical music. The popular, easygoing style of Classic FM, a national commercial radio station (see commercial radio, national) begun in 1992 which for much of its output plays shorter pieces or ‘edited highlights’, attracted many who may have considered Radio 3 too highbrow. Radio 3 attempted to counter any such supposition by introducing lighter programming, for instance that of Brian Kay’s Sunday morning programme, while maintaining its commitment to the more ‘serious’ end of the spectrum such as organizing and broadcasting the Proms season from the Royal Albert Hall, offering live opera, and supporting new music in commissions and broadcast concerts. Classic FM also sponsors many concerts and has adopted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (see orchestras) as its resident ensemble which, through a residency at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham, escapes some of London’s orchestral squeeze.
   Classical recordings are marketed, and their sales monitored, by similar methods to those of the pop music industry, with classical music having its own sales chart in addition to a ‘classical crossover’ chart (this title has caused debate over the pigeonholing of music and whether works have been placed in the ‘right’ chart). Certain classical pieces have become immensely popular as a result of links with sporting events, film, television and advertising, and such media have often introduced huge new audiences to classical music. The 1990s saw heavy financial pressures put on the classical industry. The effect has been felt most by those earning least, but larger organizations are still feeling the pinch. An example of this was the 1993 enquiry into the future of the largest of London’s orchestras headed by Lord Justice Hoffmann, in light of the threat by the Arts Council to withdraw funding from them. Throughout the 1990s British musicians endured, along with other professions, their fair share of wage freezes, contract renegotiations and even pay cuts. Most arts organizations in Britain were extremely underfunded as the political climate was so unsupportive. Local councils, themselves under pressure through rate-capping and new demands on expenditure, were no longer able to contribute towards music funding as they once did. The Arts Council provided a certain amount, despite its own funding being cut (by about £17 million between 1994–6), and attempted to target more exciting and innovative projects. Extra funding which may have been expected from the National Lottery was initially subject to the rule that it could only be used for capital items such as building feasibility studies or instruments. Such grants, while welcomed, still left a shortfall to be made up. During the 1990s orchestras and opera companies had to devote resources to finding sponsorship in a very competitive market, with many establishing a staff department specifically for this task. There was necessarily a shift in management ethos towards dealing with these tight financial constraints, and budgets often became the first consideration in arts organizations when planning programmes, while a close eye was kept on the number of freelance personnel employed and the costs of projects. As their employment situation is precarious, many classical musicians, and freelance performers in particular, develop their outside interests with a view to making earnings in addition to their performing and teaching activities. Professional associations supporting musicians include the Musicians’ Union, Incorporated Society of Musicians, Musicians’ Benevolent Fund, Royal Society of Musicians and British Performing Arts Medicine Trust. (On the one hand, an apparently slight injury can have a devastating effect on a musician’s career. On the other hand, musicians are not highly regarded by the insurance industry; many companies will not offer them motor insurance). Market research techniques are employed by most music organizations to determine the composition of audiences. There is concern over the perceived rise in average age of the audience for live classical music, and as a result moves are being made to attract younger people into concert halls. Most ensembles promote a series of childrens’ concerts in addition to schools and other educational work. There is a feeling in many musical quarters that arts organizations should be a resource for the whole community and not just for those able to attend live performances. Most ensembles have outreach/education departments which provide opportunities for closer encounters with the workings of a professional music organization. Work in this field has been expanded through the 1980s and 1990s beyond school visits, and now typically spans a very broad audience including centres for the elderly and disabled, hospitals and prisons in addition to work with children, youth orchestras (several symphony orchestras run their own) and courses for teachers. Throughout the industry, horizons have been necessarily widened: by concert hall managements expanding their brief to encourage outside lets from promoters of non-classical and non-musical events, and by artistic directors looking for ways to entice the public through their doors to enjoy more innovative events by established ensembles. London’s Royal Albert Hall has for many years played host not only to the BBC’s Proms concerts but also to pop concerts and wrestling matches, and Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall is now an established venue on pop and light music circuits in addition to the orchestral concerts and films it has always promoted. Carl Davis’s performances of his scores to classic films by Chaplin and Lloyd, played live by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO), were a particular success. Organizers of music events have discovered new audiences away from the concert hall and there are many alternative venues being used for performances in festivals, particularly in summer when the marquees go up and the picnics come out. Many orchestras now offer ‘pops’ concerts, such as the RLPO’s summer season by the River Mersey, and there are many summer outdoor concerts given all over the country, often at grand country mansions. These outdoor concerts often take their programming from the ‘Last Night of the Proms’ formula, including popular pieces such as Puccini’s ‘Nessun Dorma’ (made famous by the 1990 football World Cup) and fireworks and cannons choreographed to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Such orchestral concerts are extremely popular. In the summer of 1996, a programme of popular classics given by Carl Davis with the RLPO and the Royal Artillery Band at Leeds Castle played to 16,000 people twice over. While concerts such as this cost a great deal to put on, with conductor, soloists, orchestra, band, stage and sound crew, fireworks and cannons to pay for, there is a good profit to be made if so many people can be enticed through the gates; the audience for one concert would fill most halls ten times over. It is suspected that many people come to such events but not to concerts through the year, and there is much speculation as to how they could be attracted to the concert halls.
   Perhaps one such attraction could be the rumours of activities outlined in Jilly Cooper’s racy novel Appassionata (1996), which has raised the profile of the music profession, albeit in lighthearted vein. It is set against the backdrop of a fictional regional orchestra, and while researching the book Cooper went on tour with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
   The larger festivals, such as Edinburgh, the BBC Proms, the Three Choirs and Aldeburgh, are centred on events in concert halls and cathedrals but spill out into smaller venues and often onto the streets; Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival (see Edinburgh Festival and Fringe) is as famous as the ‘main event’. Smaller festivals can be more specialized in the events they offer, as in the examples of the York Early Music Festival, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Chard Festival of Women in Music, and Birkenhead Guitar Festival.
   Chamber music is a vital part of Britain’s musical life, with many ‘homegrown’ ensembles having played together for many years, such as the Chilingirian and Brodsky String Quartets. Chamber ensembles can perform in more intimate venues which are impractical for larger groups, and many are in residence at universities and other venues. Britain has a strong and growing authentic music movement which has inspired much research and debate into period performance styles. The soloists, chamber groups and orchestras involved play music from medieval times up to the early twentieth century on period instruments or close copies, using performance techniques researched from the relevant period. Additionally, a thriving part of Britain’s classical music scene is the tremendous amount of activity on the part of amateur musicians. The major catalyst for such activity is the National Federation of Music Societies (NFMS), which celebrated its diamond jubilee in 1996. Most towns and cities, whether or not they have a professional ensemble, can boast an amateur symphony orchestra, operatic society, chamber musicians and many other people who prefer to play or sing for their own pleasure. The NFMS also arranges concerts by professional players for music societies, and this enables a high standard of performance to be presented to audiences who may not easily gain access to live music. Summer schools are an important focus for amateur and student musicians. Often linked to festivals, these typically provide opportunities for choral singers and orchestral players, with coaching available on an individual basis. One of the busiest is Dartington International Summer School, which offers a very diverse range of courses (Advanced Sonic Art, Madrigals and Lute Songs, Balinese Gamelan, and Week at the Knees on creating a music theatre piece) in addition to masterclasses and ensembles.
   Such events are in addition to the many opportunities for childrens’ music-making across Britain such as Saturday schools (where many professionals began their studies) and youth orchestra courses. Sadly, the political climate of the 1990s adversely affected music education; budgets were cut and instrumental teachers were either put on to reduced contracts or deprived of their jobs altogether. The ideal of access for all to instrumental teaching was lost through the introduction of charges.
   There was controversy in the music press on the publication of Norman Lebrecht’s book When The Music StopsManagers, Maestros and the Corporate Murder of Classical Music. Lebrecht argues that the music industry has been sold into the hands of multinational corporations and agents and that it is beholden to them rather than to artistic concerns. He outlines the history of the music business as opposed to the history of music as art, pointing out that this financial side of music has always been taboo. This book has been accused of citing a ‘doomsday’ scenario which may not exist, and of focusing merely on the economics of the profession. This is the first book to examine the links between music and business in such detail, and despite reservations held by some about its content, it has at least brought about debate on the future of the classical music industry.
   Further reading
    Carpenter, H. (1996) The Envy of the World: 50 Years of the BBC Third Programme and Radio 3, London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson.
    Lebrecht, N. (1996) When the Music StopsManagers, Maestros and the Corporate Murder of Classical Music, London: Simon & Schuster (controversial and journalistic in style, the book divided opinion as to how gloomy the outlook really is).

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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