Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Another attempt at classical "Reality"

Thanks to Kenneth Woods from A View from the Podium (Edit: his post on this topic has been removed from his blog) for sharing this link from the Guardian about the latest in Music Reality TV.

It seems the majority of the classical music world will likely shun this latest attempt to bring classical music back into the mainstream. I, on the other hand, wish I had a direct satellite feed from Western Canada to the BBC so I could watch every episode of this! I mean, it can't be as bad as NBC's Clash of the Choirs, where celebrity "conductors" worked with "choirs" (I keep both "conductors" and "choirs" in quotations for a reason there - if I could visualize using two fingers on each hand to emphasize the value of the quote sarcasm, I would). I posted about this last reality show earlier, which received the most comments on my blog to date from the half-dozen or so of you who read this regularly.

Here's a few of my observations about the BBC Maestro reality show that will differ significantly from NBC's Clash of the Choirs. First off, it seems that the celebrity conductors are actually going to work with a REAL orchestra, and the winner will conduct at the Proms! They are also going to receive coaching from conductors, or as the Guardian puts it "young conductors" (I wonder how I can apply to be one of the mentors?). Whereas Clash of the Choirs had nothing to do with conductors, or, amazingly enough, Choirs.

The only thing that irks me about the article are the "Reasons" behind the production of this show, which come in the last paragraph:

The BBC insists that both Classical Star and Maestro are vital in their aim of bringing the classical genre to fresh viewers. Of Maestro, a BBC spokesperson said: "This programme is still in the pipeline at present, but if it does go ahead we hope that by following different people's journeys in learning how to conduct, it will succeed in opening up classical music to a completely different audience."

I'm not sure what the obsession is with groups trying to "open up classical music to a completely different audience". There are quite a few great posts about this around, none greater than that of Ron Spieglman's on Sticks and Drones about a month ago. How is a show like this is going to help? If anything, it might put a false sense of reality on what Classical music is all about. Those who watch the show might end up buying tickets to a symphony concert expecting to see a battle on the podium between the second horn and some celebrity conductor, and instead might be treated to a Shostakovitch Symphony - which will no doubt be great, but may not be the thing to bring that person back to another concert. People who enjoy classical music go to concerts. People who don't like classical music, don't go to concerts. It's pretty simple.

I always laugh at the marketing strategy where an audience at a concert is "polled" as to why they came to the concert, and what is it that they enjoyed, or didn't enjoy about the concert in an effort to bring more people to the next concert. It's like polling people at a Star Trek convention about why they are at the convention in an effort to bring people who know nothing about, or don't like Star Trek, to the next convention. You're far better off polling the people who DIDN'T go to the concert and find out why they didn't, and what would bring them to the next concert, although, we probably wouldn't like the answer.

The bigger question is - is classical music really in trouble? Have the average numbers in audiences really dropped drastically across the globe in the last hundred years? I actually don't know the answer to this - but if it has dropped, I'm not convinced this type of programing is going to help it any.

I, however, would be setting my PVR nightly to watch it!


I am Chorus said...

Maybe we'll be able to download episodes?

Rob Kerr said...

I think the reasoning behind the opening up of classical music to new audiences is a valid one -- because reality shows like Maestro (where the public votes) are about the personalities, not the substrate of the competition, which is mostly incidental to the voting format. It is definitely true that shows like 'Strictly Come Dancing' (Dancing With the Stars in the US, I believe) and 'Dancing on Ice' have renewed interest in those pursuits (respectively, ballroom dancing and ice dancing) in viewers who would not otherwise have bestirred themselves -- precisely because they watched a reality show.

The intent, therefore, of Maestro is the use the appeal of the reality format to cross over to its audience, who might not otherwise watch any programming concerning classical music. And the use of the BBC orchestras and choirs means that high standards will be expected -- nay, demanded. Audiences will get an insight into the kind of schedules the BBCSC, the Singers, and the Chorus are used to, get exposure to rehearsal formats, and see behind the scenes -- behind the tuxedo, if you will.

I'm looking forward to it -- not least because, as a member of the Symphony Chorus, I get to be conducted by one of the celebrities at least once! :D

Tom Ish said...

Haha I don't mind at all, I get to play in the Orchestra. Hopefully will be a good laugh!

John Brough said...

It does sound fantastic - like I said, I wish I could see every episode - I'm hoping that BBC Canada will pick it up.

Anonymous said...

aaaaaaand...ACTION! Maestro already started!

Anonymous said...

As someone playing in an orchestra for BBC Maestro, I would just like to point out that we are all real musicians, most of us went to music college so there is no need for quotation marks when referring to the orchestra in the maestro series. Also having had our first session with the contestants now they have finished baton camp, they are doing incredibly well and can talk knowledgeably about the music. It is definately worth watching. Also not all the mentors are young, and they are all known within the classical music world.

John Brough said...

I don't think I did use quotation marks around the Orchestra in the Maestro series - only when referring to Clash of the Choirs. I do know it is the BBC Orchestra here - There is a new post about this on Richard Sparks' blog - definitely worth a read.

Anonymous said...

I am working on Maestro - we are well under way now and it seems like it will take quite a measured tone. One good thing is that it won't involve a public phone vote - instead, the celebrity 'students' are voted off by the judges who are two conductors and two orchestral musicians.

Watch out for David Soul, who at 62 is looking forward to learning something new, and also Goldie (the Drum and Bass musician and artist)

John Brough said...

Now I REALLY wish I could watch this - perhaps BBC Canada will pick it up - but I doubt it. Maybe I should subscribe to the online feed.

Anonymous said...

John Brough - send me your email address and I'll try to get you a dvd -

Anonymous said...

There is a group on facebook if you want to join, there are a lot of things abut Maestro!!!