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Heroes and foes

img  Tobias

The Deutsche Grammophon probably hadn't been expecting this. As one of the few companies that has managed to stay incredibly succesful in a business that had been in rapid decline (recording classical music) and that has managed to re-invent itself as the leading force in their field, their move to release a new series of CDs probably made sense to them. The series involves popular German stars presenting the music of their favourite composer - actress Iris Berben gets to talk about Verdi and TV presenter and "Late Night show"-host Harald Schmidt writes about the magic of Bach. In both cases, we are dealing with a box set of two CDs and an accompanying booklet. That alone probably wouldn't have raised too many eyebrows, but the press release that went with it, did. Journalist Wolfgang Halder, writing for Rondo Magazine, boiled down the press release to four claims:

  1. Classical Music isn't hard to understand, it has merely been presented in a difficult fashion
  2. A group of "Classic-haters" is trying to keep a younger generation from listening to Classical music
  3. Classical music isn't popular, because marketing hasn't changed over the last twenty years
  4. Classical Music can be made popular again, by making it part of youth culture

Halder has taken these four points as a basis for a lenghty article, in which he castigates the release and makes some clear remarks:

  • Classical Music can not be made popular by presenting it in an easy-to-digest fashion. The booklets of these two box sets once again prove that the love for Verdi and Bach come through education and a regular presence in everyday life. Classical Music has been defamed by an "anti-elitiste" movement, that sees the intellect as something evil. Halder sums up what he thinks are behind this movement: Ignorance, a lack of education, persistent puberty and a cult of the primitive.
  • The claim that marketing in Classical Music hasn't evolved can not be upheld. Rather, it has changed dramatically over the last twelve years. Marketing stunts such as the three tenor, David Helfgott or Vanessa Mae have shaken things up, without causing a turn-around with regards to the sales of CDs.
  • Marketing is all about creating a brand. But instead of doing just that, the Deutsche Grammophon has decided to weaken its name but slowly eliminating its yellow logo from CD covers, making it ever smaller.
  • Classical Music is a premium product, Pop music is a mass product. And premium products have to be sold as such and should not be watered-down. The aim of Classical marketing should be to present the music as a product that will give lasting joy instead of the short adrenaline rush of "pop-toys". It should help consumers to distinguish between "great and cheap music" (meaning Classical versus Pop again).
  • Things that are not the same should not be presented as if they were. Pop and Classical Music are different and should be treated as such. Journalists without the propper attire should not be allowed to write about high culture and Classical Music should not be listened to the way Pop music is listened to. Pop, Halder claims, is all about  distraction, Classical Music is about concentration.

There's more but we'll leave it at that. Immediately after its publication, a lively debate  ensued over the article, with most readers seeming to agree with the general tone of it.

Was Halder merely tryiny to provoke? We doubt it. Still, his article, as predictable as it is, has made us angry. Wolfgang Halder is obviously a man who fell in love with Classical Music and we can't blame him for that. But when the love for one thing turns into hate for anything that challenges it, then the conditions for a serious debate become thwarted. Classical Music is great, Pop music is cheap? Halder is not only ignoring some of the weaker works of the Classical world (as one reader put it: Not everything Mozart wrote was that good!), but he is also sadly uninformed about the current music scene. Take a look at the album charts and leave away the half-serious, half-joking affair that the singles poll has always been and you will find a treasure chest of diversity, a range of scintillating albums, that neither defy intellect, nor shy away from taking risks or even asking their listeners for full concentration. Pop music is for distraction? We would love to see Mr. Halder "distract himself" to the vocal extravaganza of Björks latest CD, to Radioheads strangely shaped structural experiments, to Tools complex Riff-conglomerates, to Meshuggas 45-minute yourney through variations of a theme, to System of a Downs intricate mixture between Armenian folklore and Metal, to the tender torch songs of Beth Gibbons or the orchestrated jazz-epics of Steely Dan. Mr. Halder naturally doesn't know these, which is not a shame in it self. But maybe he shouldn't write about them either. The same goes for his views on marketing: In order to support his thesis that the last twelve years have seen a radical change of direction, he delivers a strange combination of proof: Goreckys Symphony No 3 was a marketing success? Instead, tt was a total surprise. Nigel Kennedys "Four Seasons"? A fully "Classical" approach, nothing "pop" about it at all. Andrea Bocelli? A beautiful voice singing popular melodies just like those in the golden days of Classical Music. And a few exceptions don't change the overall picture, which is still the same as it ever was. Also, if Halder believes that a small logo is a brand, he better go back to marketing classes.

The most interesting point about it all: It's an article dating back to the year 2001. Which only goes to show that nothing really has changed since then. We leave it up to you to decide, whether that supports Mr. Halders pessimism.

Source: Rondo Magazin

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