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Classical is the new sexy

img  Tobias

„They thought it was a ridicolous idea and that it would never work“ As I’m chatting away with Femke Colborne, editor of Muso, talking about the difficult birth of the Magazine, I can distinctly hear busy voices talking and phones ringing in the background – things seem to be going very well for Muso at the moment indeed. Yet about three years ago, close to noone would have forseen that this unusual publication would ever make it past its first months, let alone manage to churn out a fully-fledged North-American quarterly by the same name. And all of this scepticism merely because of one seemingly natural and unconfrontational idea, which the editors set out to explore: That Classical music is a genre like any other.

It’s hard to believe the commotion and distress Femke is talking about, so I ask her to send me some copies of the mag so I can check out things for myself. And already after a first, casual glance, I can well imagine hairs standing on end in the posh salons of the purist classical music lover. In the middle of each copy, there’s a “Classical Centerfold”, featuring musicians such as “cheeky chappie” Emanmanuel Ceysson or “Sexy Scot” Colin Currie, interviews take on issues such as “going out on the pull together” or topless photography and Muso comes in a special, bigger format and printed on glossy paper. It’s not exactly the stuff scandals are made of, but the contrast with the UK’s other big Classical Music papers couldn’t be bigger:

Gramophone, which unashamedly calls itself “The World’s Best Classical Magazine” is so serious and severe it sends the chills down your spine just by looking at its cover (mostly filled with serious- and severe-looking, decidedly not-cheeky people). The BBC’s “Music Magazine, meanwhile, which unashamedly calls itself “The World’s best-selling Classical Music Magazine” is aimed more at providing information than offering philosophically-tinted intellectual challenges and has even allowed stars such as Nicola Benedetti in – for their musical merrits alone, of course. The sole alternative to this duo for some time was “Classic FM Magazine”, which offered an easy.to-understand style of writing and more Cross-over artists. As you can understand, not too many people were taking them serious either in the first place.

Which has changed, now Classic FM is possibly “The World’s Most Succesful Classical Music Radio Station” (even though they modestly hide this fact). Their rise to national fame coincides nicely with the advent of Muso, which Colborne, who joined the ranks just a little later, didn’t experience live, but still knows a lot about. Which has to do with the fact that all those critical articles (who sometimes, to be honest, are hilarious in their own right) have been meticulously archived. Together with my copies of the mag, I am sent a  photocopy of a short feature on “Private Eye”, dating back to September of 2002, which talks about “the horror of a new, supposedly classical music magazine” and doubts a second edition will ever make it to the shops. They were wrong, of course.


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They were wrong, simply because the mag, at least in the very beginning, didn’t subject itself to the horrible fight at news stands and took the back door instead – by approaching universites and conservatoires. Students were the obvious target group for Muso, Femke explains: “If you’re young and have an interest in Classical Music, you’re likely to be a student. There aren’t too many people my age (she’s 26) that have an interest in Classical Music, just because it’s an interest – they have it because it’s of professional relevance” Quickly, they learnt there was a need for something like this out there, as well as a desire to read about Classical Music in a different way. They also found out that, even among students, reactions were mixed: “We do get some reader letters”, she laughs, “but they’re usually not very positive. I go out to universities, though, sometimes to talk to our readers and people genrelly very much appreciate the way we’re trying to not take it so seriously. But we do have people complaining that we’re not taking it seriously enough”. Such as Corin Long, principal double bass player at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, who comments on a feature on his instrument: “You’re trying to amuse, I know, but I’m not laughing” There’s a long way to go indeed.

Until today, Muso has managed to get 10.000 bimonthly copies into circulation, which still pales in comparison to the mighty 50.000 monthly readers of the beebs’s publication. But then, Muso is slowly making its way into the big regular outlets (it is now available in music chain HMV, for example) and is still growing – while the “BBC Music Magazine” has lost about 30.000 fans over the last four years, if their own statistics are correct. And slowly but surely, the Muso-team intends to get other people to read the mag as well, besides students, which should make for another boost. There’s also a Canadian and American edition, focussing on artists from these countries. And although it is not be expected in the near future, there have been thoughts of doing a European edition.

Chances are pretty good that they will come true eventually. For after that first, casual look at Muso, it reveals itself to be anything but out for sensations. Instead, it is an extremely well-written, informative and useful Magazine, dealing with some fascinating up- and coming artists. Just by reading these two editions, I am immediately inspired by some of the names I have never heard of before, but whom I definitely feel are worth checking out. The mix between well-known stars and newbies is excellent and I love the way authors are capable of writing exacting, but yet highly accessible articles, without the constant urge to show their readers how clever they are. Before I know it, two hours have passed, without checking my watch or feeling bored. Between artist-related news, there are also features about technological developments, educational opportunities abroad, musical city tours as well as some interesting points of view on Classical Music to keep debating. I find the publications’s claim to be very fitting indeed: “The Music Magazine that rewrites the score”.

The reason why Muso is so close to the wishes of an open-minded audience out there is probably because they’re part of it. Femke herself is a flutist and singer, who finds work at the mag absolutely perfect – she can now match her interest in music with her interest in writing. And the way the cover story/the cover artist is determined also reveals a lot about the mag’s intent and the team’s background: “It has to be somebody young, so probably under 30. And it has to be somebody who’s doing something interesting and important at the moment – we try to keep it relevant to current events.” Could it be some total nobody, who one of the editors was totally impressed by? “Not really.It could be a total nobody, but only of they’ve done something really impressive, something newsworthy.” Actually, while I’m flipping the pages, there’s enough impressive nobodies to satisfy my appetite.

Or yours, if you feel regular Classical Music Magazines are letting you down. With its unique blend of “popular” and “serious” items, Muso has definitely created something incomparable and filled a hole in a market, which sure to grow. And as to the remarks that this way of presenting Classical Music is frivolous and overtly sensual? Well, so is Classical Music from time to time – just like any other genre of music

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Muso Magazine

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