Monday, January 12, 2004

How the PC brigade is destroying our orchestras

By Norman Lebrecht (Excerpts)

“I went along to be enlightened and came away consumed with despair at the political realities which oblige arts managers to give up a working day for a preach-in on multiculturalism. The symposium was called 'Cultural Diversity and the Classical Music Industry' and it yammered on all day yesterday in a dreary side-room at the Royal Festival Hall, overlooking the railway cuttings. There was a sell-out attendance from just about every classical body in Britain bigger than a string quartet. This might make you think that the theme was compulsive.

Compulsory is more like it. As things stand in British arts, only an autist would dare to profess disinterest in diversity. With 7.9 percent of the population derived from ethnic minorities and the government sloganising away about inclusion, it would have been a brave orchestral boss who stayed away from diversity day. One manager whispered to me that his absence would surely have been 'noted'.

Orchestras are increasingly expected to hire 'audience development managers' and work with 'grassroots communities' if they want to carry on playing the symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms.

Roger Wright, head of Radio 3 which is getting flak from classic lovers for its output of world music, confessed that everyone at the BBC now undergoes 'diversity training'. Roger Lewis, head of easy-listening Classic FM, exhorted us, perhaps ironically 'to get out of comfort zones'.

And so it went on, a daylong drizzle of ambiguities, hypocrisies and dissimulations that could not conceal a grim inevitability. Diversity, or the policy that speaks its name, is a means of diverting orchestras from what they ought to be doing, making music, to what the Government ought to be doing, creating social harmony.

Few rose to challenge its preposterousness. Diversity is, to most of us, a fact of life. One does not have to travel far these days to find a cafe serving braised ostrich, or look beyond the next street corner to realise that forced marriages, honour killings and female circumcision exist in our midst. There are bright and dark aspects to the mass immigration of the past 30 years.

Orchestras which struggle against an already inhospitable zeitgeist are being told to change their ways, while immigrant cultures are celebrated for their supposed purity. It is absurd, unfair and inherently disastrous.

Sitting amid the Blairite blather, I was transported back to the notorious Zhdanovitsa of 1948, when Soviet composers were summoned to Leningrad to be instructed by party hacks, on pain of exile, on how to write music for the new society. There was something of that fear on the South Bank yesterday”.

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