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It's called classical for a reason...

It's that time of year again. Proms concerts are going on around the country. Middle aged, middle class people are flocking to these open-air events in their Range Rovers. Meanwhile, I sit here, listening to a Nigel Kennedy CD and wondering what this country's real relationship is with classical music.

This CD is different. You'd not expect the play list from Nigel Kennedy. You'd imagine I was listening to Vivaldi's four seasons. In fact, the current track is Autumn Leaves, the Johnny Mercer number. I'm reserving judgement about this disc. Kennedy explains, in the sleeve-notes, how the recording came about. Having spent the morning recording Elgar, he and his pianist, Peter Pettinger, had an afternoon free and so decided to knock together an hour's jazz recordings, improvised and unrehearsed. It's spontaneous and well worth the 1.50 the disc cost to find this out.

Kennedy, apparently, studied under Stephane Grapelli, who is more well known as a jazz maestro than Kennedy will ever be. The bum notes coming from Mr K's violin remind us all that he is no Grapelli. In fact, it's these notes which set me off on this train of thought. Why is Nigel Kennedy famous? What made him a household name? Is it his talent and musicality? Or was it, in fact, that he famously played Vivaldi's Four Seasons - a piece of music that people could relate to?

I am scared to think that it is the latter reason that made Mr Kennedy popular enough to think he could record the disc I'm playing right now. Not that there is anything wrong with Vivaldi's Four Seasons. At one stage, I owned a copy of this very piece (I think it was stolen and I didn't replace it). There's also nothing wrong with Pucinni's Nessun Dorma, of which I also used to own a Pavarotti recording. Indeed, I really enjoy a lot of the classical music that is widely known. I am also grateful that much of this music has paved the way for some people to become lovers of the broader range of classical music.

So why be scared about popular classics? Apart from the fact that there are about 15,000 CD's, all with the name The Greatest Popular Classical Collection In The World (or something like that), and with virtually all the same tracks on them? I am bothered that there are so many people around who think that there's nothing beyond the one or two things they have heard from a TV advertising campaign, or TV programme (usually the football). I could get all snooty about it and argue that they don't deserve to like classical music if they've only heard it from the TV, but I genuinely don't feel that way. My concern is that only a very small number of works ever get popularised (often the same piece is used in several different ways); the general public will miss out on the majority of good classical music if it is only discovered in this way.

Radio stations like Classic FM do a lot to promote more than just the usual suspects, but the Classic FM lot are quite likely to be found in their Range Rovers and would probably listen to classical music anyway. Perhaps an increase in support for music education in schools might help. When you are learning an instrument, a lot of the music you learn is classical - often it's the most instructive for technique. Perhaps more budding soloists could be encouraged. Concerts can also help. People will go to these events, and it's up to the organisers to avoid patronising their audience with a repertoire taken from the bumper book of cliche classics. But, perhaps the most important thing for people to do is to take the time to listen!

Music is a very emotive artform, and comes in many forms. I don't believe that any one form of music is better than all of the others. Those who discount classical music, or restrict their listening to things they've heard from the TV, are missing out.

Finally, can I point out that Vanessa Mae should be taken to a great height and shot! The same should be said for those brainless tarts - the band is called Bond - who mime over a sample of some classic piece or other (it's probably Vivaldi again!) with a banging dance beat behind it. I'm not really keen on modern artists using classical music to rap over, or as a riff inside their moronic R&B number (I'm referring to the bastardisation of Air on a G String for the song Everything's gonna be alright and Satie's Gymnopedie No.1, used recently by Janet Jackson).

Classical music was composed as a popular art-form. There is no reason why it cannot be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of whether they own a four wheel drive or Volvo.

28 August 2001
Ashley Frieze