Tuesday, 28 August 2007


A visit to the Sydney Town Hall on Monday night to hear the Stuart Challender Lecture given by Norman Lebrecht. it was nice to be in the Town Hall, once the venue for most concerts, again. The building has been renovated on the inside: (I’m not sure how long ago ) and looks impressive. It’s a pity it is not used more for concerts as the character of the hall would add something to the experience.

My bookshop sold a few copies of Lebrecht’s The Maestro Myth. The publicity for his talk said that he “first gained widespread notoriety with his acidic critique of modern conductors, The Maestro Myth.” I didn’t read the book at the time thinking that the author was indeed seeking notoriety by publishing commentary designed to be controversial.

My opinion wavered a little when I heard his appearance on The Music Show via a podcast. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/musicshow/stories/2007/2012750.htm He has knowledge and ability and could be interesting.

The lecture itself sent me back to where I began. It started with a doomsday picture of music performance today. Government funding was provided on unacceptable terms; Private donors were unreliable and, if corporations, liable to go broke; the death of the classical record industry has left musicians without a source of income …and so on. All delivered with the assistance of a radio mike which enabled him to wander the stage like a TV preacher. The end was near. There was little by way of fact; many generalisations which ignored the way funding varies from country to country and the history of the many orchestras which had no contracts with the major record companies. After, I recalled the popular lawyers saying “Never let the facts get in the way of a good argument”. And in this cast the argument wasn’t that good.

But not to worry: salvation is at hand. The new technology will bring a bright future. We will all be booking our concert seats on line and grooving to our ipods. What you put on your ipod is called MY MUSIC ! We have a new sense of possession. It’s MINE.

This part of the talk included a few interesting bits of information. Internet bookings at the Barbican concert hall in London have reached 50% of the total.
A Beethoven cycle containing live performances of the symphonies by the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda was offered as a free download by BBC Radio 3 and surprised its most optimistic advocates by achieving 1.4 million downloads. UK and USA were the top countries, followed by Holland and Vietnam. This success led to opposition form the commercial music industry and there have been no free downloads since.

This was accompanied by the claim that this was the only Beethoven cycle recorded in the present century. More hyperbole: last years lecture was given by Osmo Vanska who is recording a Beethoven cycle with the Minnesota orchestra. Minneapolis is some distance from London. And, by the way, did the Minnesota Orchestra ever have a contract with a major record label?

Since I wrote this the transcript of Mr. Lebrecht's remarks has been published on the ABC web site. I wanted to comment on this passage:

When I was here last time you had two thriving opera companies, Sydney and the Victorian State Opera. Then the Victorian State Opera was shut down. Now it’s been restarted. But it’s been restarted in a very wobbly way, nobody quite knows what's going to be happening there next year.

A good example of his lack of interest in getting the facts straight before commenting. I think the Victorian Opera's Orpheus and Euridice which I saw earlier this year might be described as wobbly but that's not his point. So it was good to see Richard Gill get up at the end and state that his company is not wobbly and that its program for next year is fixed.

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