Tuesday, 21 May 2013


It's been a fortnight of arts awards. Amongst the most high profile - and certainly the most worthwhile - were the RPS Awards. As Ivan Hewitt wrote in the Telegraph, 'Nothing delivers a good time as infallibly as real quality, and there was plenty of that on display'.

Yet it's a throwaway line from another bash, the TV BAFTAs that stuck in my mind. Olivia Colman, winning the first of two awards, accepted her awards with the words 'turns out it does matter.'

Yes. It matters. In the non-mainstream world of music-making that is classical music it can be very difficult to get honest feedback of any sort, let alone appreciation. By this I mean all manner of non-reception, from the complaints of the wall of silence from audition panels (for which one has often spent hard cash as well as time and effort) to the experience, such as mine last month, of performing to an audience fewer in number than that of the performers on the stage.

In the performance hinterland between college and the major institutions there are countless opportunities to perform, especially in London. The social media revolution means that advertising these events is easy and non-intrusive. Friends and colleagues, more than ever, can attend through choice rather than a sense of duty.

Those friends and colleagues that populate audiences offer welcome support. Moreover, it's great to get congratulated by those one doesn't know. There really is some reward in knowing that these people - whatever their background, or understanding of music or performance - have been affected by the event.

However, for the career musician, especially those trying to develop new work, having more concrete feedback is really useful. It's good for the artist to be able to consider; it's good for the artist to be able to share. Above all, especially for an ephemeral art like music, it is priceless having something that fixes the performance in time and fact.

On the face of it, the ease of digital creation, self-publication and dissemination might make this seem much easier. Functionally, it is. What becomes difficult, probably in direct proportion, is a sense of objectivity. Where does one find an aesthetic bulwark in the midst of this ocean of creativity and, correspondingly, of taste and ideas?

More than this, publishing opinions remains a tricky area. It's not difficult to see this. Either one is a paid-up critic or one is informally recording their own reaction to the event*. In other words the writer either feels insulated from any personal relationship by professional objectivity or excluded from being objective by their personal relationship.

Awards ceremonies, like those mentioned above, are a pleasant fudge in this respect. It's an entirely positive forum, where goodwill and celebration smothers any implication of others' work being less good. They make a virtue of being cheerfully partizan. It's how I run this blog.

In the classical music business proper (unlike its ersatz, pop-hybrid counterpart) success is built and maintained, principally, in the manner of a conventional career, i.e. incrementally, consistently and meritocratically. Yes, like any part of the entertainment industry, the sense of success is susceptible to the false gods of hyperbole, celebration of an artist's work based on concomitant issues - sales, fashion, personal investment and the like. That doesn't mean that voicing that recognition, from Tweeting, blogging and podcasting to hard publication and broadcasting doesn't count for a great deal. It might turn out to matter.

* Originally and parenthetically, 'one mustn't forget, blog = biographical log*, i.e. it's about the person writing it'. No, blog = 'web log', of course, pointed out to me since publication, so removed. I hope the broader point of the writing being personal still stands

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